Giant trout, colorful banners, and sculptural riverine benches will soon bring new life and color to Bethel’s Main Street. Thanks to an Animating Infrastructure grant from the Vermont Arts Council and a series of creative partnerships, the Art on the River project will add vibrancy to a key stretch of town while also addressing practical community needs for seating, traffic calming and aesthetic improvements.
This spring, the Bethel Revitalization Initiative (BRI) was one of five organizations statewide to receive funding in this competitive program. The $15,000 grant will fund three public art projects that will all celebrate and highlight the White River. Renowned Burlington-based artist Mary Lacy will paint an extended mural on the retaining wall at the intersection of Routes 12 and 107, featuring rainbow and brook trout. Bethel artist and woodworker Lindley Brainard will design and build sculptural benches for downtown green spaces that mimic the shape and curves of the White River. And Teal Sallen, a Bethel artist and illustrator, will design colorful banners for historic light poles featuring icons of Bethel.
“Art has the power to accomplish many goals — from slowing traffic to beautifying downtown, from supporting businesses to creating more accessible public spaces,” said Lylee Rauch-Kacenski, a BRI member who is serving as artist coordinator for the three art projects, “The Animating Infrastructure grant will allow us to capitalize on the energy of Bethel Better Block and make noticeable and practical improvements to downtown, while creating beautiful artworks for all to enjoy.”
The mural is the largest of the three projects, and will be painted in large part by the community. It will be installed by early August, covering much of a 500-foot retaining wall at the gateway to downtown. The wall’s façade is in poor condition, and the mural is an exciting strategy to beautify the site and improve downtown aesthetics. Mary Lacy is designing the mural as the final stop on a 10-city national mural tour.
The BRI led an extensive process to gather input and ideas from the community about the art projects themselves and to build teams to work on distinct projects. Community members weighed in on the art concepts and offered ideas for themes at a community pizza party in February, at Town Meeting in March, on Front Porch Forum and Facebook, and at several other events. The BRI will soon be sharing draft designs for banners and benches with the community, and the final projects will be installed by early fall.
In addition to the Vermont Arts Council and three participating artists, a host of partners joined together with BRI to make the project happen. The Town of Bethel has been a core partner in designing the projects and ensuring they will work for downtown, and the Vermont Agency of Transportation has assisted with permitting and engineering solutions.
A digital rendering shows where the trout mural will be displayed on Main Street in Bethel.