The Waterbury Rail Art Project: Engaging the Public in Public Art

Waterbury Rail Art Project

Waterbury, VT

Contact Name
Karen Nevin
Project Dates
May 2017 - September 2018
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2019
Placemaking/placekeeping, Downtown preservation/main streets, Cultural Heritage
Revitalizing Waterbury, Waterbury Rotary Club, and Sons of the American Legion, partnered to commission an original, site-specific work of art for the railroad bridge at the entrance to Waterbury. In a town devastated by a flood, residents were ready to move into the future by taking a leap of faith. A community-wide effort engaged the public in discussion of the value of public art and its place within the community. “The Waterbury Special” by Phillip Godenschwager re-imagines the historical buildings in town as train cars, and The Town of Waterbury and its community now have a physical reminder of not only the architectural history of Waterbury but the immense effort and fortitude of those willing to spend time and effort for the enrichment of their community.
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:
The northern entrance to Waterbury, via Route 2/Route 100, includes an existing railroad bridge. For year, the community has wanted to commission a work of art for the length of the bridge. The goal was to make the bridge, owned by New England Central Railroad, an attractive entrance to the downtown.

The town of Waterbury successfully recovered from the devastation of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. The downtown is once again vibrant and alive. As a community we were ready to turn our attention to another section of town – North Main Street, which is the entrance to the town and community. Work had already been completed on a roundabout, new banners hung on the historic lampposts along the road, a new Welcome to Waterbury sign was installed and businesses were beginning to thrive in the area. The railroad bridge is an important feature as the main entrance to the downtown area and was in need of an appropriate statement to enhance the vitality of the area.

The Waterbury Rail Art Project was an opportunity to reflect Waterbury’s historical sense of place, build community, and create identity for the residents and businesses of downtown Waterbury.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Though components of the project changed and adjusted over time, the overarching goal, of commissioning a work of art for the railroad bridge never changed.
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):
This project would not have happened without the involvement of people and organizations from across Waterbury. The Leadership Team was made up of Karen Nevin, the Executive Director of Revitalizing Waterbury (RW), who served as the Artist Coordinator. RW took the lead on the entire project. Barb Farr, State of Vermont Transportation Community Liaison for the Town of Waterbury. Barb is also the President of the Waterbury Historical Society. Theresa Wood is immediate Past President of the Waterbury Rotary Club, a board member of Revitalizing Waterbury and a State Representative.
WRAP Team Members:
Whitney Aldrich, an artist, Waterbury resident and small business owner of Axel’s Gallery & Frame Shop.
Monica Callan, an artist, owner of the Waterbury Grange Cultural Center, the founding member of MOXIE Productions the President of Across Roads Center for the Arts.
Charles Hunter, Assistant Vice President, Government Affairs, Genesee & Wyoming Railroad.
MK Monley, the art teacher at Thatcher Brook Primary School.
Darrick Pitstick, a Waterbury resident and small business owner of Pack & Send Plus.
Sue Scribner, a resident of Waterbury for 32 years.
Sarah-Lee Terrat, an artist with over 35 years of professional design and fine-arts experience.
Revitalizing Waterbury, Waterbury’s community development and downtown organization (provided administrative and overall organizational support)
Waterbury Rotary Club focuses on service to the community through club projects (provided organizational support, site prep and engineering consultation)
Sons of American Legion Post #59 (provided organizational support, site prep and engineering consultation)
Town and Village of Waterbury (provided organizational support, installation consultation and support and ongoing maintenance)
New England Central Railroad Company (provided permission for use of site and organizational support)

The public was involved in numerous ways and at different times of the project:
1 – Waterbury Rotary Club took on the initial fund raising to begin the project. They held fundraisers to raise their initial donation of $12,500.
2. Community members were invited to participate on the Waterbury Rail Art Project team.
3. The WRAP Team had a public presentation of the four semi-finalists project concepts in July 2017. The public was invited to see the presentations and hear the artists speak about their proposed concepts.
4. The WRAP Team held a community vote of the two semi-finalists to select the final artist and project concept. 800 community members including approximately 300 children voted. The vote was held over two weeks and the project was on display in two locations – the municipal office and a local deli. Voting boxes were set up throughout town. Philip Godenschwager's concept of the train with historical buildings was the clear winner with over 75% of the vote.
5. The community was invited to donate towards the project during a community-wide solicitation.
6. The train engine, which was the first “car” finished by Phillip was put on display in the window of Stowe Street Emporium for two weeks for the community to see the project as it came together.
7. The Waterbury Rotary Club and the Waterbury Area Trails Alliance spent two days clearing brush and cleaning the area around the railroad bridge in advance of the installation.
8. The WRAP Team asked for help during installation. Volunteers were sought to help with traffic guidance and pedestrian control.
9. The WRAP Team held a celebration party and public lighting ceremony. The party was invitation only, however, everyone who had helped in any way to make the project happen were invited and 60 people attended. This included all donors, the Waterbury Rotary Club, the Historical Society, the American Legion, fabricators, insurance staff and even the flagman who worked the day for us on traffic control. The public lighting of the sculpture was held immediately afterwards. Approximately 40 people attended the public lighting.
10. We had four community organizations donate to the project, 7 local companies donate, and 16 community members.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
We were particularly interested in two of the previous Animating Infrastructure projects that were funded by the Vermont Arts Council. The project in Jeffersonville consisted of two large murals painted on two abandoned silos. These structures were central to town and the paintings brought the community together to envision something new. The trees project in Morrisville caught our attention, particularly how they engaged the community and involved residents in choosing the project.

Finally, I have personally been inspired by the City of Pittsburgh and their emphasis on public art. Everywhere you turn in the city you come across an exciting façade, sculpture, square, alley, lamppost, sidewalk, wall…its endless. The idea of coming across something that surprises and engages you was a primary consideration when planning the Waterbury Rail Art Project.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
We prepared a Request for Qualifications for identifying an artist for this project. The chosen artwork needed to reflect Waterbury’s historical sense of place, build community and create identity for the residents and businesses of downtown Waterbury.

The Project Team members served as the Project Selection Committee. Artists were invited to submit their qualifications for the railroad bridge art project. Each submission included a letter of interest, examples of prior work examples with descriptions, a resume/CV and an artist statement that described their overall vision and intention for the art installation. The RFQ submissions were reviewed based on artistic merit, ability to complete a large-scale public art installation and the public quality of their body of work.

The Project Selection Committee selected four finalists to participate in Round 2. The semi-finalists were invited to develop a conceptual proposal specific to the site and participated in an orientation and site visit. The four finalists each received a $500 design stipend. The four semi-finalists developed detailed proposals for presentation and review by the Project Selection Committee. The Committee evaluated the proposals based on artistic merit of concept, appropriateness to the site and to the identity of Waterbury, technical considerations and feasibility and safety and maintenance. The committee selected two proposals to be presented to the community for a town-wide vote.
The final two proposals were put on display for public comment and voting for two weeks at the Waterbury Municipal Center, on RW’s website and other locations in town. Over 800 community members voted with the final project proposal receiving 75% of the vote. The winning artist, Phillip Godenschwager was awarded the contract to finalize designs, fabricate artwork and installation. The artist received a design stipend, included in the overall artist budget, to cover incurred expense after the execution of the contract. The chosen artist was required to be available to meet with the Project Team and attend community and planning meetings as needed.

The Waterbury Rail Art Project Team met regularly to make decisions on building selection, fundraising goals, ancillary projects, commemorative plaque design, installation planning and the final celebration.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
A key component to the success of this project was the relationship with the railroad. Railroads are very difficult to work with and are not used to working with small non-profits. We were fortunate that the VP of Government Affairs for the New England Central Railroad lives in Vermont and chose to support this project. We continually had to modify our plans as we learned about requirements that needed to be completed in order to get permission to install the artwork.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Even from the start we did not truly understand how complicated it was going to be to work with the railroad. By their very nature railroad companies have extremely complex rules and regulations that had to be answered and resolved before we would be able to put the sculpture on the bridge. We were fortunate that Charles Hunter, the VP of Governmental Affairs at the New England Central Railroad was a champion for this project and participated on our Project Team.

Specific obstacles related to the railroad include:
- specifications requiring that we could not puncture, drill, or cut the bridge in order to affix the sculpture. In addition, the sculpture had to allow for viewing and inspection of the bridge, including being able to remove the sculpture if necessary.

- The railroad required us to have engineering drawings reviewed and approved. We began the fabrication of the artwork before we had the final approval.

- The Right of Way access permit from the railroad required RW to have extensive and very complicated insurance, which was difficult to obtain. We were very fortunate to have a fabulous insurance agent who worked tirelessly to understand what we needed and found providers to sell us the insurance needed.

- Communicating with the railroad was very difficult as they were not used to working with a very small non-profit. At a point when I thought everything was in place and we were waiting for a signature for the Right of Way Access Permit, the employee I was working with got sick and was out for three days. The railroad did not have anyone else who understood our project and therefore the installation was delayed for 3 weeks.

- When we had to move the installation, we had to change all of our arrangements as to equipment, traffic control and safety, volunteers and the artist and his installation team.

The good news, even with all of these unexpected obstacles which cost significant money, we were able to raise substantial funds to make this sculpture a reality. We never had to worry about affording the railroad fees and license and the additional insurance.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Having the funds to pay for the insurance and licenses required by the railroad was instrumental in the success of this project. We were able to raise $57,000, about $20,000 more than our original projected budget. This was a project that caught the imagination of people and businesses in our town. Fundraising was not difficult and we never had difficulty finding resources or in-kind donations for what we needed.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Have goals and/or aspirations for your project and put them into words. That way, artists can understand what you are hoping to have happen with the artwork and the community will understand how the artwork connects back to them.

2. Bring together a wide range of people to help shepherd the project and invite the community to participate along the way. A community that is ready to support public art has already done the hard work – of building a community, caring for their spaces and each other.

3. Plan for the unknowable and for something fun. While fundraising, understand that additional funds gives you the flexibility to move when things change with the project. In addition, we were able to fund two additional ancillary projects - a coloring book based on the line drawings for the train cars and a documentary of the making of "The Waterbury Special." The Historical Society used two images of the sculpture to create notecards to sell.
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?
The community loves the sculpture, including many original naysayers. The goal of creating a vibrant entrance to downtown has been a success. People are bringing friends and guests to show off the sculpture. We have placed a plaque by the sculpture that highlights donors as well provides a key of the different buildings on the train. The Historical Society is planning to put a bench on a grassy hill to provide a good place to sit and look at the sculpture. Most importantly, the community is beginning to understand how important public art is and is dreaming about possible new projects for after Main Street reconstruction.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The Artist, Phillip Godenschwager, dreamed and created a work of art many times larger (in scope, not just in size) than we had imagined. The resulting sculpture, called “The Waterbury Special,” is a low relief aluminum sculpture. The sculpture is 60 feet long and six feet tall, consisting of 10 “cars” made of aluminum. The aluminum cars, which are set prominently against the rusted walls of the bridge, will become muted as it weathers. At night, the entire sculpture is backlit with LED lighting allowing the windows of each building to glow.

The Town of Waterbury is proud to have such a work of art serve as the entrance to town.
How did you measure this success or progress?
We measured success in multiple ways.
- Fundraising was very successful and was important to the overall success of the program. We were able to raise significant funds to pay for the entire project.
- Community participation. Though there were many ways for the community to participate, having 800 people vote for the final proposal proved that there was interest in the project.
- Organizational participation. This project brought together a diverse group of organizations that do not normally work together. This included the Sons of the American Legion, Thatcher Brook Elementary School, Waterbury Rotary, New England Central Railroad, Vermont Arts Council, Waterbury Historical Society, and The Across Roads Center for the Arts, Waterbury Area Trails Alliance.
- In Kind support. When the time came to ask for help, businesses across Vermont stepped up. This included LEDdynamics (who donated the entire lighting for the project), SunCommon (provided electrical design support), Sisler Builders (who donated the use of their lift).
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Does smiling count? The smiles of people who drive under the bridge, who work nearby and look out their windows, of walkers and cyclists passing by. There is an incredible sense of pride about having this work of art in our community. And there are new and renewed relationships between Revitalizing Waterbury and the many organizations that supported this project.
CCX Workshop Handout

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