The Silo Project/Breaking out of Silos

Cambridge, VT

Contact Name
Justin Marsh
Project Dates
September 2014-August 2016
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2017
The Cambridge Arts Council (CAC) transformed two concrete lumber mill silos that had stood as foreboding sentries to a Vermont village into welcoming works of art. Now the silos themselves are a destination for art lovers and tourists alike. Recipient of a Vermont Arts Council grant, CAC focused on breaking out of silos and building trust among town members and businesses that resulted in positive effects in the local economy and provided a new source of community pride. Join us as we share the lessons learned as the project moved from concept, to design, creation, and finally to celebration of the finished murals.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
Our goals before starting this project are outlined below:

The future of Cambridge and Jeffersonville includes bringing to fruition the vision of residents developed through the recent Vermont Council on Rural Development Community Visit process to improve economic development, increase resources for the aging population and create a community center that would benefit residents of all ages—from the very young to the elderly.

This project would help realize the community’s visions by shifting the perception of both visitors and residents traveling on Route 15 to Jeffersonville away from what, at first glance, looks a bit like a wasteland anchored by gas stations and a couple of commercial properties selling alcohol, car repairs and construction, to one of a community of creative, committed residents and business owners who take pride in their town. The painted silos would attract the attention of motorists, pedestrians and cyclists and instill the idea that people here take pride in the town and are invested in its beautification and improvement. With plans already being developed for creating a public park on the property, improving the ‘walkability’ of the streets and connecting the downtown to the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, the beautification of the silos would add to the appeal to take the roads into the downtown to dine, shop and explore the treasures there such as the Bryan Memorial Gallery, Visions of Vermont Fine Art Galleries and the restaurants, stores, library, historical buildings and more.

Success of the project would be realized by the interest from the community to come together to contribute ideas for the artwork to grace the silos; to support the project with in-kind and financial contributions and to plan for the sustainability of the work.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Our goals stayed intact throughout the process and were realized more vibrantly throughout due to criticism in our selection and the project as a whole.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
We worked with dozens of individuals and companies throughout the entire process, including local government, neighbors, community boards, etc. Each had a role (some even a negative role) in our process and execution. Within the creative sector, we had a much smaller group of partners. This project truly spanned across multiple demographics with varying backgrounds and stakes.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
The former Bell-Gates property was a lumber yard for many decades in the 20th century in the Village of Jeffersonville (Town of Cambridge). For the past 15+ years, since the closing of the lumber mill, the property has sat vacant. As years progressed, parts of the mill were destructed until just an overgrown field with two concrete silos remained. In times of flooding, which Cambridge and Jeffersonville endure at least once a year, the field is basically underwater.

In 2012, Jolley Gas Stations purchased the land with the plans to construct a gas station and fast food business on the land. Due to outcry from residents, the Village of Jeffersonville Board of Trustees began the process of purchasing the land from Jolley to prevent their development plans, which would have worsened the flood situation. The residents and municipal boards decided to take matters into their own hands. On September 29, 2014, after more than two years of fundraising, lawsuits, and hoop-jumping, the Village of Jeffersonville became the owners of the property.

As the first thing you see when entering the village from the north or east (Bakersfield, Waterville, Johnson), the silos in their former state reminded locals of a defunct business and industry, and tourists saw abandoned infrastructure. What we envisioned was the beautification of the silos via a 360° mural on each, which incorporated the surrounding beauty and unique landscape of our town (i.e. covered bridges, working farms, Mt Mansfield, Brewster & Lamoille Rivers, Smugglers’ Notch, etc.). By having these structures as a showcase for art, locals and tourists alike will see that we care about our town, are proud of it, and that the arts are an important part to our community.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
Sep. 2014: Carol and Justin attended a workshop by the VAC that promoted the Animating Infrastructure grant.
Fall 2014: CAC formed a subcomittee and submitted their intention for the grant. They were asked to submit a full grant; one of ten finalists.
Feb. 2015: Grant awarded to the CAC for $15,000.
Mar. 2015: Survey distributed at Town Meeting for input on art themes and what comes to mind when thinking of our community.
Apr. 2015: Community Forum #1; Call for artists.
May 2015: Village residents approve the project.
Jun. 2015: Four finalists chosen for artists; Anthill Collective, Mary Hill, Mary Lacy, and Sarah Rutherford; community survey.
Aug. 2015: Community Panel selected to interview artists; Sarah Rutherford chosen to fulfill grant.
Fall 2015 - Spring 2016: Artist visited the community several times gathering input and inspiration for the artwork.
May 2016: Artist presented final drafts of artwork; Village residents approve artwork; silo preparation begins.
Jun. 2016: Painting begins.
Aug. 2016: Painting completed; celebration on August 12.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
Our timeline was followed fairly closely. There were some items that were delayed by a week or so, but otherwise they were as anticipated and outlined in our original proposal
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Implementation of the art had the weather as an obstacle as well as time. We had a deadline with a celebration, so the painting had to be completed by a certain date.
Community involvement, although welcomed and encouraged, was an obstacle of the project, due to its nature. However, upon reflection, the strong opposition of the project gave the project a lift in recognition and praise once completed.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Our sense of pride in the work we were doing helped us make it through the negativity. The artist, who has experience such things in other areas, also offered her experience in handling such feedback, which was helpful.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1) Go after additional funding sources above and beyond your grant amount to help supplement additional costs
2) Having a dedicated committee to handle operations of the project was crucial in our case
3) Developing a realistic project timeline and calendar and using it as a guide
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
Since it's only been four months since completion, it's hard to truly assess, but you can definitely sense a pride in our community about these massive landmarks we now have in our community.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The project was divisive at first - there was a profound fear of what we were planning. But ultimately, now that it's completed (and as the painting began in June) all negativity was met with understanding and then a realization of what this could mean for our community. There was also a level of education that came with the project. We were constantly relaying information to village voters about where the funding was coming from and what impact it would have on property values, placemaking, etc.
How did you measure this success or progress?
We are still measuring. It's hard to quantify success of this. One example though, is the fact that the Town of Cambridge is featuring the Silo Project on the cover of its annual report and is opting to spend 15 cents extra per copy to print it in color for the first time because they feel black and white will not do it the justice it deserves.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
The amount of interest from locals, commuters, and tourists was incredible this summer. That interest will continue to be seen during peak tourism seasons by the sheer amount of foot traffic and cars parked at the silos with people seeking an up-close look at the art.
CCX Workshop Handout

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