Featured Image Above Courtesy of Montgomery Sheridan
Written by Signe Daly
Next time you’re in the Old North End, swing by the Old North End Community Center on 20 Allen Street – the ONE Center. Wander into the building, up the stairs to the second floor – the CORE – and check out the mural on the wall in the hallway. Stop at the mural and take a closer look at what’s there – zoom in and zoom out. Before reading the artist statement, think about the following questions: What does this mural say? What does it do? Who is it for? Who made it? Why is it here? When was it made? Who is represented? And how are they represented? Reflect on your own answers (and if you were in BCL, we would have you write in your journal for a few minutes – you can do that too!)
These are some of the many questions Burlington City & Lake Semester students considered deeply during this past spring semester when thinking about art and community in Burlington, and more specifically, in the ONE Center. We had the privilege of working with Corrine Yonce, a local artist whose work focuses specifically on community, marginalized people and their voices. While we got to know our neighbors in the ONE Center, by sharing stories and experiences with them through various activities and events, we also got to know Corrine and her work.
The unifying theme of our semester is a question: What does it take for a community to thrive? As we engaged in this community art project, we contemplated what art can do to help us thrive: Why do we have art? What does it mean? For whom? We explored public art in Burlington, of which there is so much (check out Burlington City Arts’ Art in Public Spaces to experience amazing art on your own right here).
With Corrine, BCL students developed and designed the mural that you will see in the ONE Center. It is a representative mural of what a group of students and an artist learned about community in a complex neighborhood, and in a dynamic building. The art itself embodies the ONE Community and the many organizations and people who use our historic community building every day. The fact that this space is the home to BCL is amazing. How lucky are we?!
On May 17th, BCL and Corrine held our “Putting Unity in the Community” event to engage the ONE Community Center members and other community partners in creating prints for the mural, to share food and tell stories, and to continue to build unity. The participation exceeded our expectations, as the morning filled with The Family Room and Robins Nest preschoolers joining us for print making, followed by Vermont Adult Learning and Family Room families also making their mark on the mural and joining the fun, while many of the seniors from the Senior Center looked on and smiled. Participants made beautiful prints, some added to the mural, and good, ‘messy’ fun was had by all. We even made the local news! Overall, the event was a true celebration of the ONE Community and the new mural.
BCL students showed appreciation for Corrine’s work and the mural in thank you letters they presented to her on our final day of BCL, May 24th, as Corrine was putting finishing touches on the wall. Here are a few excerpts:
“You also put a lot of effort into the ONE center mural and I am especially impressed with how you were able to incorporate the rest of the ONE center into its production while still making it look good. I remember when you were teaching me how to do the flower prints and mine came out terrible yet they somehow ended up looking nice around the border of the final product. The mural not only shows your artistic talent but also your creative thinking in how to include everyone.”
“I also wanted to thank you for making this project your own yet at the same time giving us ownership over it. I honestly don’t know if that was on purpose or not but it was perfect. Somehow you allowed us to show you what our community is and while you helped focus that vision you still let it be our own.”
“Looking back now, I think we learned an important lesson that day: making the art is just as great (or hopefully better in this case), than the final project.”
“I have had a lot of fun working with you on this process…We formed a strong, lasting bond with you. This was a direct result of weeks of collaboration. I really liked early on how you would come and eat lunch with us, bonding over food and unregulated conversation.”
“Before our class met up, us students were asked what art meant to us, and after my time with you I’d say art to me is something used to bring people together, to form and create new bonds with others.”
Together, BCL students and Corinne created an artist statement which is seen next to the mural. It reads:
The students at Burlington City & Lake Semester, Spring of 2019, partnered with local artist, Corrine Yonce, to make this community mural. The mission of this piece is to bring community together, and to ensure this mural would have an enduring, inclusive message for all communities that use the space now and to come.
To make this piece, Burlington City & Lake Semester students interviewed folks from the many different community organizations that use this space. From the gathered stories, the students gleaned that it was important use this platform to reflect the true diversity of ages, cultures, and ways people use the space. The students loved the activities that bridged communities- food, play, sports. They wanted people to see themselves in the mural, no matter who they are.
A big thanks to Megan Humphrey who contributed photos from the Old North End to this mural, to Burlington Parks and Recreation who contributed materials to make this mural, to Champlain Housing Trust for hosting space to these critical community organizations, and to everyone in the Old North End Community Center who participated in and supported the making of this piece.
So, we hope to see you at the ONE Community Center. Come see what Burlington City & Lake is up to, meet some of the many interesting people who make this such a special place, and check out the community mural for yourself. The spring, BCL students and Corrine Yonce really did help put unity in our community.