South End Art Hop marks 30 years of bringing art, music and food to Burlington
It's a warm Friday evening, and a crowd of people surround a line of drummers playing near the Maltex Building — the former site of an old cereal factory in Burlington.
The performance is part of the South End Art Hop. Over the course of three days, Sept. 9-11, thousands of people will flock to the Queen City's South End to get their fill of art, food, and entertainment.
Art Hop was created in 1992 to celebrate the visual arts coming out of repurposed warehouses and factories in the South End. Featuring more than 100 art studios, restaurants, maker spaces, galleries and other businesses along closed down city streets — it's become a major revenue generator for storefronts and artists in the district.
After the sun goes down, Art Hop organizers will project colorful trains across the Maltex Building’s brick face. It’s a nod to the first Art Hop 30 years ago, when the entire event was small enough to fit inside a couple passenger cars sitting on the train tracks in front of the building.
Inside, people peruse several floors of art for sale, including Chris Copley.
"I’m a big fan of the art hop," he says. "I’ve been to probably 25 of the years.”
The Richmond resident says Art Hop has evolved over the years, expanding its focus from art to a wider range of dining and entertainment. Some might call it a party.
"More people want the full experience with the food and entertainment. Evolution," he says. "Have a change. It shouldn’t have to be the same. And it’s not a stuffy art event. It’s for everyone; it’s great.”
There’s choices at Art Hop — whether that means visiting a gallery selling $1,000 art pieces, or visiting a vendor selling trinkets by the sidewalk. Patrons can listen to a noisy garage band, or a DJ playing dance music atop a food truck called the Broccoli Bar.
Courtney Power-Freeman was a fan of the drumming, herself. The Williston teacher attended last year’s scaled down Art Hop, due to COVID, and says it didn’t compare to this year’s event.
Power-Freeman watches a glass blowing demonstration inside one of the open-house studios — something she’d never seen in person. Artists are pulling molten glass out of red-hot ovens, before working it into drink glasses and other pieces.
She says Art Hop is like a maze, with new discoveries around every corner.
"We had one place we wanted to go to," she says. "Since then it’s been choose-your-own-adventure, wandering around.”
Art Hop also offers more introspective fare.
Farther down on Pine Street, away from the festivities, a crowd gathers in a parking lot in front of a huge spider web of twine tangled over a metal frame, with each strand tied to a rock. Eerie ambient music plays over speakers nearby.
Eventually, at the lead of South Korean-born artist Juhyung Lee, who co-designed the piece, attendees each take a rock, and together begin to untangle the string in front of them.
Polly Williams is watching them do it. She came from Barre to check out Art Hop with some friends.
She's content to watch from outside — saying it looks like a bunch of white people are working through the maze, while sounds from a village in another country are playing over the speakers.
“It’s uh… it’s interesting," Williams says.
But some of her initial reticence seems to shift as she watches.
“They have these balls all out here for folks to grab and sort of untangle this craziness. And maybe it was untangling the craziness of the world, and you come around to it and maybe it makes sense the white people are doing it," she says. "I’m kind of psyched on what I just came to here.”
Christy Mitchell leads theSouth End Arts & Business Association, which organizes Art Hop. She says some of the art should be challenging.
"I think events like this are important to really showcase that there's stuff to see that maybe you're not used to or maybe you're not even comfortable with," she says. "You know, get yourself inside an art gallery, inside of an artists' studio and just enjoy it and experience it — even if it’s just for the first time. I think that really helps you learn how to interact with art and artists in the future.”
Mitchell’s seen South End community members go from hobbyists to full-time artists during her 18 years around the event. She says there’s something encouraging about that, especially considering Art Hop has played a role in revitalizing an area that had struggled after industrial jobs left the South End.
"The fact that there's so much life in these old buildings, that are 100-plus years old, and have been repurposed to re-utilize warehouse spaces to turn into these creative spaces — it really shows that anyone can do anything they want to do," she says. "Like, even you could say, ‘OK, I have a passion. I'll see what happens. You know, I'll start in this little studio space and see if I can make it work.’”
Mitchell says the next step is to make the South End more of a year round arts destination, not just a place people flock to during big events like Art Hop.
One way to do that: keeping up many of the event’s installations for three months after Art Hop ends.
Vermonters who weren’t able to make it in person last weekend still have time to visit, or find a new piece of art online.