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Old North End Sculpture Plan Causes a Stir


Published November 4, 2022 at 4:02 p.m.
Updated November 15, 2022 at 7:52 p.m.

Rendering of "Embrace and Belonging" - BURLINGTON CITY ARTS
  • Burlington City Arts
  • Rendering of "Embrace and Belonging"

A plan to install a 20-foot-tall sculpture in Dewey Park  in Burlington's Old North End is generating some controversy among neighbors.

The sculpture, which will be named "Embrace and Belonging," was commissioned by the city’s Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion & Belonging in summer 2021 to be a “landmark focal point” for the community. Some residents near the park, at Archibald and Walnut streets, are voicing frustration about what they call a lack of  community engagement before the site was chosen, as well as the large scale of the sculpture in a very small park.

The sculpture will be a stainless steel depiction of two sankofa birds, which are a Ghanian symbol for drawing on lessons from the past, to represent the struggle for racial justice in America. The installation will be completed in spring 2023 and unveiled prior to Juneteenth celebrations.

The city's equity office partnered with Burlington City Arts to issue a call to artists. Since then, those involved have worked with community members to select a design, commission an artist and manage the process. The chosen design was by Humanity Memorial, a group led by artist Ai Qiu Hopen.

Planners ultimately landed on Dewey Park  for the location because it's across the street from the Integrated Arts Academy and is centrally located in the Old North End. BCA described the project to the Ward 2 and 3 Neighborhood Planning Assembly in September.

Still, some community members said they had received little information about the sculpture. Neighborhood resident Andrea Todd penned a letter opposing the site; at least 31 people signed it.

In it, Todd explained: “The real tragedy is that this process of placing the sculpture project without investigating the impact on the community is perpetuating the marginalization, dismissiveness, and displacement of the diverse communities that live, work, and use the space, all in the name of inclusiveness and belonging.”

City Councilor Gene Bergman represents Ward 2, where Dewey Park is located. He said many constituents had voiced similar concerns about the sculpture, which led him to talk to organizers this week.

“For me, it's important for the engagement process to happen,” said Bergman.

Colin Storrs, public art and grants program manager for BCA, thinks a disproportionately large rendering of the sculpture that was on the BCA website — and has since been replaced — may have caused some confusion.

Residents worried that the sculpture would displace the Old North End Farmers Market, which sets up in Dewey Park on Tuesday afternoons between June and October.

But Ben Rodgers, who manages the market, was not concerned. He assured Seven Days that the sculpture should not affect the market at all.

“I’m actually quite excited about the sculpture,” Rodgers explained. “But I'm also looking forward to finding a placement that fits everybody's needs.”

Officials backing the plan asked that concerned residents attend the Ward 2 and 3 Neighborhood Planning Assembly on November 10 to discuss the sculpture.

In a letter to Bergman, Doreen Kraft, executive director for BCA, clarified: “We are still open to a discussion of final siting within the park with the community members. Our number one goal has always been that the ONE Farmers Market continues to function as it always had.”

Clarification, November 7, 2022:  This story has been updated to reflect that BCA described the project at a Ward 2 and 3 Neighborhood Planning Assembly meeting in December.