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Burlington's South End Revival

Jennifer Brandt
/
VPR

Burlington’s South End has built a reputation as place where like-minded artists can feed off each others’ energy.

Graffiti artist Brian Clark is one of those artists trying to make ends meet doing what he loves. Clark and another artist, Scottie Raymond, have worked together on commissioned murals around Burlington.

“We worked on the wall behind Handy’s Shell station in downtown Burlington, and that was a mural where about six artists got down on that same wall. And it’s been two years since we did that piece, and there has been no vandalism. So that’s been huge to see that that work was respected, and the mission of putting graffiti in a spot that was previously vandalized has really paid off.”

Creating visual beauty in an industrial neighborhood is part of what makes Burlington’s south end art scene thrive. It’s an effort supported by the South End Arts and Business Association, a group that promotes an arts-friendly culture in this part of town.  Adam Brooks, the executive director of SEABA, says they want to beautify Pine street.

“Whether that includes art, whether that includes safety crosswalks, a bike path. We want it to be a beautiful place for people to come down to. There is some great art down here.”  

SEABA plans events that range from monthly art walks, to a yearly festival called the “Art Hop.” They say last year’s Art Hop drew 30,000 visitors to the South End.

One of the artists who has benefited from the South End’s supportive community is painter Johanne Yordan.  She left a professional career 15 years ago to pursue art full time. Yordan says that sharing studio space with other artists in the neighborhood keeps her connected to the community.

“I think it’s important because a lot of people would give up. Once you have each other and you have that community you stay stronger together as a group, rather than an individual.

Yordan works in a large sunny studio in an “arts incubator” in the South End. The incubators offer shared studio space with cheap rent to give new artists a starting point. Commercial rents in this part of town are a few dollars less per square foot than the rest of Burlington. Karen Unsworth owns two large arts incubators with her family. She says her tenants worry about gentrification, and she says she charges some of the cheapest rents in town.

“It is a no-frills building. Some of the other incubator facilities in town have conference rooms and fancy things that we don’t have. Ours is basic space and the people who are there generally like it that way.”

This works for graffiti artists Scottie Raymond and Brian Clark, who share studio space in one of Unsworth’s buildings.  But Raymond says that art doesn’t support him full-time.

“I have a full time day job. You know graffiti and or just art in general has become a part of my pay scale I guess, but it’s still not the sustaining piece of my life by any means. It’s really something that we continue to do because of the passion for doing it.”

Artists may come and go from the South End. But they say the sense of community is unchanging -- and so is the feeling that they are part of something bigger, something special.

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