SWANTON — The art board on Route 7 got a facelift Saturday, thanks to a small group of folks determined to bring the community together through art at the Swanton Paint and Chow.
“I think it's welcoming,” said Joann Parahreiter, president of the Swanton Arts Council. “Arts is an important way of bridging the community. It adds to the ambiance of a place.”
The event was hosted by the Swanton Public Arts Network (SPAN) and invited those who enjoy painting and creating to leave their mark on the art boards. Participants could also enjoy cookies and music and hang out with local artists like David Winchester and Swanton-based “Van Joe.”
The art board on Route 7 heading south now has a stained glass maple leaf in a rainbow of colors on one side and a Halloween-inspired scene on the other. The maple leaf was the vision of Winchester, while “Van Joe” designed a sunset in a spooky Swanton.
Previously the Open Art Walls program was cancelled after there was concern for “public safety,” according to SPAN member Michelle Nordberg. But over the course of 2020, the community formed SPAN to work collectively to bring the boards back.
Art boards removed
In July 2020, a mural expressing solidarity with the "Black Lives Matter" movement was repeatedly painted over with white paint, sometimes within hours of the mural going up.
The painter was Swanton resident David Hemingway, who said he disagreed with the message. At the time, the Open Art Walls program was a free-for-all art board where anyone was allowed to express themselves at any time.
"There were no rules or regulations. It was just an open forum to paint," said SPAN spokesperson Priscilla Connelly in a July 8 interview with the Messenger.
The boards had been abused with stickers representing the white supremacy group Patriot Front a month prior, according to a June 12 Messenger article. The Swanton Village Trustees motioned to remove the boards on July 13 until more regulations could be put in place.
The first new art board was installed in July 2021 and depicted a scene honoring Native American heritage. It also came with a set of rules and regulations.
SPAN created a set of rules that artists must adhere to in order to have their artwork displayed, including signing a yearly agreement stating they have read through and will abide by SPAN's rules.
The art must adhere to "family friendly" images that do not include words or letters, moving parts or electricity.
In addition, individual artworks are given a two-week window following completion where the artwork is protected from being painted over. The artist must write the date of completion on the piece.
"That's the main thing, that you have two weeks for that piece of art to be up on that board before anyone can come and repaint, restart, reinstall another piece of art," Connelly told the Messenger in a July 8 interview .
Once an artwork is completed, the artist must send SPAN a picture and the date of the piece in order for the group to keep track of the different art works. SPAN also now has a grievance process for people who may have an issue with an artwork.
Following the Paint and Chow, Nordberg said SPAN’s next program will be a community mural.
“I think artistic expression is a huge part of the culture of a community,” she said.