LYNDONVILLE, Vt. — Fifty artists, most of them local, contributed work to a month-long art exhibit in ten businesses and empty storefronts throughout Lyndonville in the hopes of inspiring others to invest in the village.
Joanne Axelrod and Linda Palmer are retired school teachers from Lyndonville. On the first day of November they wandered through the village checking out the art along the walk.
“Whenever you see something like this in a town, and I’ve seen it in other towns, it really adds to the community,” says Axelrod. “It gives you a good feeling.”
“And it’s so nice to see some of the empty store windows all dressed up with something intriguing,” Palmer adds. “They’re really attractive.”
The two friends are among the first people to check out the Lyndonville Art Walk. Fifty artists, most of them local, contributed work.
Kim Crady-Smith is chairperson of Lyndonville’s Downtown Revitalization Team. She also owns a bookstore and a cafe in the village. Standing in her store, she says the art walk is intended to bring some beauty to the downtown, as well as showcase its potential. And that lines up with the team’s long-term revitalization goals.
“There’s a lot of traffic through our downtown, but there’s not a lot of people stopping to sort of get out and look around,” she says. “And so, what we want to do is create like a corridor where people are like, ‘Wow, look at this cool, funky town. Let’s stop.'”
Lyndonville is home to a state college and a town academy high school, both of which attract out-of-town students. But there’s no industry left in town and downtown businesses have struggled to stay open.
Some chain stores have opened near the Interstate 91 exit, keeping through-travelers who pull off the highway from ever making it downtown.
Catherine Dwyer is a volunteer with the Downtown Revitalization Team. Standing at the corner of Depot and Broad Streets, she remembers when Lyndonville was a destination.
“There was an amazing train station on the corner,” she recalls. “A huge Victorian hotel, drug store with a little ice cream counter that you could sit up to. That was a little grocery. This was a drive-through gas station which was very funky and cool. Department store. Two restaurants. It was happening here.”
Now, Dwyer says, people don’t need to leave home to shop.
“It’s difficult with bricks and mortar now because of online shopping,” she says. “So everything does change, but it’s unfortunate that it took our downtown.”
Project coordinator Martha Elmes says the art walk is just the first step in their effort to draw visitors back to the village.
“We’ve looked at a lot of empty storefronts for a long time,” she says. “And it’s depressing to see the town which … used to be very vital, now is empty. And so the idea was to try to get tourists to come into town, people to come into town. Rather than just driving through to Burke, make their stop here.”
Volunteers have been cutting out dozens of tarpaper crows that lead viewers along the art walk. Elmes estimates there are about 150 works of art, all loosely themed around the month of November. She says about half the art includes crows, which are something of a mascot for the event.
“We called it ‘The Transitional Month of November,’ and the crow being part of that transition and part of that theme,” she says.
Dwyer and Elms are hoping the Lyndonville art walk will be, not just transitional, but transformative. And even as the artwork is still going up, Dwyer says she’s seen and heard some encouraging things:
“People just used to walk by — there’s all empty storefronts,” she says. “So, suddenly I see people stopping. I heard one couple, who were coming from the book store, and they were obviously not from here. And right before they got in their car they said, ‘Charming.’ I honestly don’t know if that’s ever happened before.”
If it works as planned, the art walk will entice visitors to peer into the windows of Lyndonville storefronts, and maybe even step inside and have a look around.
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