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February 23, 2012

Burlington's Decidedly Un-arty Mayoral Candidates Speechify About the Arts

-1The last time I sat in the audience at Burlington's FlynnSpace, I was riveted by Jane Comfort's wild and inventive dancers (including one in a Superman suit) as they brought Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie to life.

This afternoon's FlynnSpace offering was considerably less inspiring.

Mayoral candidates Miro Weinberger, Wanda Hines and Kurt Wright gathered for a "conversation on the arts" sponsored by the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, Burlington City Arts and the South End Arts and Business Association. It was the only event on the campaign trail, Miro said, that was devoted to the arts.

So what did I learn?

Here's where I admit this was my first Burlington mayoral debate. My first mayoral anything. (I live in Winooski, OK?) In fact, I don't think I've ever seen Miro, Kurt or Wanda in person. I'm much more familiar with the caricatures in the Marc Nadel illustrations we've been using since the race began.

So here's the takeaway: All three are pretty satisfied with the art community's "status quo," and nobody wants (or would admit to wanting) to slash the city's art funding (duh). Miro's really into development and boosting the creative economy on a larger scale. Kurt repeatedly invoked his decision last year to redirect money from the city council account, rather than pit the city's art against its library budgets. Wanda spent most of the hour and a half shifting the questions back to the audience ("I want to hear what you want") and reminiscing about a collage she made in 1975.

Some decent questions bubbled up from the audience, most of which were diverted. The most interesting, I thought, came from a man who explained he had grown up in poverty. He credited an art teacher for turning his life around. The arts are crucial to people like him, he said, but they can often be threatening to working-class people, who see them as a sign of gentrification. He asked the candidates how they would ensure that the arts in Burlington were inclusive. The topic could have carried an entire debate, but nobody really had an anwer.

For the most part, the rest was all soundbites and stammering. Still, I did learn some interesting factoids:

Kurt Wright isn't nearly as chubby as his caricature counterpart.

Miro is a fan of American glass artist Dale Chihuly, whose installations he stumbled upon during a cross-country road trip. He called the work "a celebration of color and joy."

As a kid, he played the trumpet "until that came into conflict with braces," Miro revealed.

It's true: He really does say "fresh start" a lot. Too bad we weren't participating in the Seven Days Burlington Mayoral Debate Drinking Game; it would have brought some life to this snoozer.

Kurt gave out his home phone number and invited us to call him with questions, but I forgot to write it down (oops).

He likes the idea of getting artists into empty storefronts à la the Winooski pop-up galleries.

Wanda told us she made a clay head with curly hair called "Alfie" in the seventh grade, which she kept through college.

Aside from that and a collage, she grew up thinking of art as something that was barred to her because she couldn't afford it. These days she sees it as something that can "bridge our differences," Wanda said.

Apparently, Wanda has a catchphrase, too: "Less is bes'.'" Add it to the drinking game for next time?

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