Architect Montpelier Ward Joyce is a warrior for public art | Visual arts | Seven days

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  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven days
  • Ward Joyce in front of a mural by Mauricio Ramirez

A vibrant new mural by Chicago artist Mauricio Ramirez covers the side of Shaw’s supermarket in Montpelier – every 150 feet of it. It is the newest and largest of the capital’s public art installations. However, it is not found in Travel + LeisureMontpelier’s recent description as one of the “9 Best Small Towns in America for Art Lovers”.

The online magazine briefly observes, “Art is everywhere, from the rotating exhibits at the State House and the Supreme Court Building to every co-op, gallery, and cultural institution in the city.” What he fails to note are the large-scale paintings and photos adorning building exteriors, flower arrangements on city bridges, sculptures suspended over the river, pocket parks and other improvements. of public space.

But whatever. Local architect Ward Joyce would argue that these amenities are meant to improve the lives of residents, not to impress visiting travel writers.

Joyce, 59, is behind many projects that he calls “corporate utility space work”. Aided by scholarships and occasionally by his Vermont Technical College alumni, he designed and built parklets—including the very first in Vermont—as well as pocket parks, bike rack structures, and a human-sized chessboard. He has been instrumental in installing outdoor artwork, including several projects on Langdon Street over several seasons. And, Joyce noted, during this work he climbed ladders to dizzying heights, repainted weathered surfaces and watered plants.

“Public spaces are where we build our communities and our ability to work together,” Joyce writes in a section of her website titled Creative Placemaking. “These are the spaces that define our communities, whatever their scale.”

During an interview in his office above Bear Pond Books, he put it this way: “I’ve been like a warrior for the public space. I have this theory that we have the right and the ability to help shape our cities.”

Luckily for Montpellier, Joyce has like-minded compatriots. He chairs the city’s seven-member Public Art Commission, which advises and reports to the City Council on all matters relating to public art and oversees the juries, placement, and maintenance of public artwork.

“The idea was to formalize public art as a mission,” Joyce said, “to put the city on the map as a public art entity.”

In 2018, the commission obtained a grant to develop a public art plan for Montpellier. Joyce credited Paul Gambill, executive director of the local non-profit Community Engagement Lab, for authoring the beautiful 88-page publication, which serves as a model for current and future city administrators when considering Montpellier’s visual environment. .

The plan begins with a witty statement: “The Montpelier Method is a culture of collaboration, reflection and ingenuity.” It then describes guiding principles, site-specific strategies, suggested funding sources, and ways to review progress over time.

“The commission has set $20,000 a year to pay for the projects,” Joyce said. “The idea was not to give us a lot of money but enough to make choices. Our responsibility is to decide how to spend this money.”

“I think we’ve accomplished a fabulous amount, given our meager budget and small group of volunteers,” said commissioner Bob Hannum. A professional art restorer with a local and international clientele, Hannum noted that the group has “engaged business leaders, individuals and foundations to contribute financially to our efforts.” This effort, he added, is “not just a success but a duty to our taxpayers.”

When the pandemic hit, Montpellier’s public art efforts slowed, as did their funding. Now the commission is back in motion.

“One thing we’re going to do now is catalog the work we’ve done and use that as a mechanism to get back to the city,” Joyce said.

According to the Public Art Master Plan, private donations are part of the funding mix. The mural at Shaw’s is a good example: supermarket chain and building owner Ernie Pomerleau has partnered with the project to the tune of $10,000. The commission and Montpellier Alive responded with $5,000 each.

Most “low-cost, high-impact” art projects in the city are by Vermont artists, Ward said, but the commission accepts national submissions for larger projects. For Shaw’s mural, he received 55 submissions, paid four artists to develop and submit a plan, and ultimately selected Ramirez for his abstract spray can design.

“Some local artists were disappointed that we chose an out-of-state artist,” Joyce acknowledged. “But we have 11 or 12 projects around the city, and all but one are done by locals.

“You will never please everyone,” he added. “It’s almost the definition of public art.”

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  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven days
  • “Document #27” by Peter Schumann

Other recent projects include a banner by Bread and Puppet Theater founder Peter Schumann at Rabble-Rouser Chocolate & Craft; an enlarged painting of Kristine Chartrand on the side of the North Branch Café; and a five-panel Plexiglas sculpture and painting on Main Street by Barre’s Arcana studio. Susan Calza’s “Red Oculus” installation, parked in front of City Hall at the start of the summer, will be completed this fall with a video projection on downtown buildings.

Joyce noted that the commission just won a five-year grant from the Vermont Agency of Transportation to fund murals at the Highway 2 underpass. Artist Carolyn Shapiro approached the group in February asking support for a pair of murals at this location. But, Joyce said, “Because Gateway Park has 16 huge concrete pylons under the freeway, the commission felt this was an opportunity to make it an even bigger project.” The area will host a number of murals, the content of which will be subject to VTrans’s approval.

The Public Art Commission is not the first or the only entity to champion such projects in the city. The Montpelier Alive association has been doing this for years. The two organizations have similar goals and sometimes collaborate, said local sculptor Rob Hitzig, former president and current vice-president of the commission who also sits on the Montpelier Alive design committee. Shaw’s mural was an example, he said; the two organizations also pooled their funds to purchase a large projector.

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  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven days
  • “Defying the Odds” by Kristine Chartrand

“It’s a little confusing for people, but there’s a lot of overlap, and it creates more art and more ways of doing things,” Hitzig said.

He applauded Joyce for her role in these efforts. “Ward is a go-getter with passion and cutting-edge engineering,” Hitzig said, noting the architect’s willingness to tackle sometimes precarious installations.

For her part, Joyce believes that “individual heroic acts have no longevity.” When it comes to public art and infrastructure, it takes a village.

“The essential thing about public space is to have it institutionally supported, funded and maintained,” he said.

But Hannum insisted that public art also needs a persuasive ambassador.

“Not all of our citizens approve of what we’re doing, and that’s one of the many reasons I’m grateful for Ward’s leadership,” he said. “He is patient and kind to opponents. I wanted his experience, intelligence, talent and passion in our team.”

Vermont’s capital can expect more public space improvements as the commission evolves — and Joyce has a birthday. “Architects don’t get good until they’re 60,” he said.

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