by Jessica Neary
MONTPELIER — New York has Broadway, Paris has the Champs-Elysees. Now, coming soon to our own “Little Paris” as Montpelier is affectionately nicknamed by some —trumpets and drumrolls please — is a newly transformed Langdon Street.
OK, this might sound a bit over the top, but Ward Joyce, who created the now disassembled parklet in front of Capitol Grounds and the pocket park next to Charlie O’s was recently acknowledged by John Hollar with the Mayor’s Key to the City. That key hangs prominently in Joyce’s architectural office and brings to mind a medieval dungeon key. And that dungeon might well hold a range of local ne’er do wells, the double parkers, the vacant lot loiterers and other local rabble. So it’s Joyce who is directing the Langdon Street summer transformation with a joy that’s not unlike a child bursting with anticipation and enthusiasm for the city he has come to love and shape.
Imagine Langdon Street with a temporary (June 15 to October 1) art and sculpture installation. That innovation is in the works courtesy of Joyce and his partner Stephen Frey and it was financed by an 11-member steering committee of local business owners and public art patrons including Utton’s Muffler. Utton’s has the distinction of financing a mural.
The Langdon Street Alive project will have its phase one installation from Wednesday, June 8 to Sunday, June 12. Fifteen commissions have been awarded to regional artists but there are still additional sites for artists to fill. Interested artists should contact Ward Joyce at email@example.com. Artists should also check out the LangdonStreetAlive.org website for more information. Joyce prefers that proposals from artists be site-specific. He is encouraging artists to visit the site and prepare an original piece. The Steering Committee must then approve the project. While there is no deadline per se, artists need to know that because of the special equipment that’s required to install the art pieces, those pieces will be installed over a few specific dates. And Joyce can provide those dates.
At a March 21 and May 16 Montpelier Design Review Committee meeting, as well as a Montpelier Development Review Committee meeting, Joyce discussed the project’s status. One issue resolved is respecting the city and state’s strict historic preservation bylaws, a major function of the Montpelier Design Review Committee. Frey’s expertise with cables, special anchors and screws should satisfy history buffs … and be easy to install the art. Instead of painting directly on bricks, artists will have their work printed on site-specific banners, which Frey will then use all his ingenuity to have installed properly.
At the March 21 Montpelier Design Review Committee meeting, there was an interesting exchange between members Eric Gilbertson and John Rahill (also an architect). Gilbertson’s primary concern was that the art not dominate the historic architecture. Rahill disagreed, saying, to the effect of, it’s only when art overwhelms the senses, can such a project be appreciated.
I think we know where Joyce stands … with Rahill, in the middle of Langdon Street, surrounded by flowers, banners, ducks in the Winooski, the flock of pigeons that always wheel around the Unitarian Church steeple, and his contributions to the project, a lighted gateway and floral bridge bookending the street (Joyce plans to fill the bridge with flowers, which he himself will choose and plant) … an elfin sprite in the middle of his (and our own) Midsummer Night’s Dream of summer. Many fun events, including a 200-foot-long table for an evening party, are planned for this summer so Montpelierites can fully enjoy the exuberance of Langdon Street, arguably according to Joyce, “Montpelier’s most charming Street.”