Gomez Wins Public Art Grant

February 22, 2018

Greg GomezThe Montpelier VT City Council awarded Putney-based artists Rodrigo Nava and Gregory Miguel Gomez (pictured), an Associate Professor of Art at Wheelock College, $50,000 to create a major work of public art, to be installed at the new One Taylor Street Transportation Center in the spring of 2019.

The team's design—a two-part installation involving a revolving stone bench and a split-flap counter—was chosen from among five designs presented to the public on January 31 by finalists selected from a pool of 24 applicants.

In March 2017 the city announced that, in collaboration with Montpelier Alive and the Community Engagement Lab, it had received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The money is part of a $150,000 project to create a master plan for public art and to award a $50,000 commission for a major public work of art. A seven-member selection committee was appointed to review applications and to select the finalists. The committee then recommended a winning design to the City Council, which voted last night.

The design is for a round, cast concrete bench—18-inches high and 7-feet in diameter—its shape reminiscent of the stones used in the mills that once dotted the shores of the Stevens and North branches of the Winooski River. The bench will seat seven, and when pushed by two or more visitors, will rotate slowly and smoothly. A brass circle is to be set into the bench, and when the circle passes true North a switch will engage a nearby split-flap counter—a device that presents a changeable cascade of alphanumeric text, once in popular use in alarm clocks and still in operation in transportation centers. According to the artists' presentation, the counter allows for numbers, letters and other symbols, meaning that "messages could be buried in the sign only to be discovered when the counter reaches certain numbers." In addition, the bench operates as a compass, allowing visitors to orient themselves.

"Although proposed as an indoor installation, the award is conditional on the work being sited outdoors under shelter of the porch," said Nathan Suter, chair of the selection committee. The move would ensure the work "will be accessible at any hour, by anyone."

While praising the quality of all work submitted, Suter said that the Nava/Gomez collaboration "won us over based on its elegance, durability, relationship to travel, and sensitivity to the passage of time and people relative to a fixed location—in this case the transit center and by extension, our community. "

"To my eye," he said, "the initial experience of the piece is of simplicity, which masks the long-term potential for community engagement through interactions with the millstone element, and the potential to infinitely re-program the split-flap message board."

Rodrigo Nava was born in Mexico, and has exhibited his sculpture around Vermont and the Northeast. He has done residencies at art schools in Vermont and Mexico. Gregory Miguel Gomez has also exhibited around the state and the country, is an associate professor of art at Wheelock College in Boston, and has taught at Wellesley College and the Maryland Institute of Art. Visit rodrigonava.com and gregorygomez.com.

About the Montpelier ArtSynergy Project

Begun in the spring of 2017, the Montpelier ArtSynergy Project is an initiative of the City of Montpelier, in collaboration with Montpelier Alive and the Community Engagement Lab, to develop a strategic Public Art Master Plan and community-wide vision for how public art can be integrated into the city. ArtSynergy invites those who live, work, recreate, shop in or visit Montpelier to participate in an on line survey about public art at montpelieralive.com/225/ArtSynergy-Project.

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