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S. Burlington Opts for Aesthetics

State of the Arts


Published March 7, 2007 at 3:15 p.m.

Is the proposed City Center for South Burlington going to be an art park? Maybe not quite. But planners for the massive new, 45-acre downtown district - bordered by Dorset Street and Hinesburg Road, Williston Road and Kennedy Drive - do envision a significant artist-made "gateway" area. This will surround the new version of Healthy Living Market, which is moving into, and extensively renovating, the former quarters of the Buick/GMC dealership on Dorset. Healthy Living will be an anchor store for this massive urban-planning project, which will include not only commercial and municipal facilities but also residential, recreational and cultural - which is where the art comes in.

Last year the city hired South Burlington design and communications firm JZA Associates to help formulate a public art plan that will "create and maintain a distinct sense of place for the district," according to a press release. Creative Director John Zwick elaborates: "We're working toward a percent for art - 1 percent up to 3 percent, which would be phenomenal," he says. For the highly visible gateway project, "It's important to set the tone early and be able to replicate it in the future."

Zwick isn't wasting any time getting the project rolling. He just issued an RFP to artists, with a deadline of March 21 for initial proposals, and another month for further refinements. "The art selection panel will recommend one [design] to the city council and hopefully be under contract by the end of May," Zwick says. Talk about fast track. "Well, we have been talking about this for three years," he notes. "This opportunity came up with Katy [Lesser, owner of Healthy Living] in January, and we said, 'Go for it.'" The health-food market is expected to break ground on its new quarters in April.

Zwick is already anticipating proposals from more than half a dozen Vermont artists, including Burlington sculptor Kate Pond. This first, arguably most critical public-art project is open only to Vermonters, Zwick notes. The artist or team chosen "must be able to conceptualize and identify artwork appropriate for the proposed project in partnership with a jury comprised of South Burlington residents, business owners, local officials and working artists," the RFP reads.

Design by committee? Sort of - but that's the reality of public art. And for a city that's never even had a downtown before, the stakes, and emotions, may be especially high.

Design specifications are detailed in the RFP, which can be downloaded from the City's website at http://www.sburl.com - scroll down to "Urban Art and Design Competition."