Controversial Burlington Mural Prompts Debate Over City’s History

By LUCY TOWNEND

PUBLIC DOMAIN
“Everyone Loves a Parade,” the controversial mural on Church Street Marketplace.

The controversial mural titled “Everyone Loves a Parade” on Church Street Marketplace in Burlington was vandalized for the second time in two weeks on Thursday, Nov. 1. The 124-foot long mural located on the main pedestrian thoroughfare, which focuses on portraying Burlington throughout its history, has been criticized for excluding the histories of the Abenaki and people of color.

The vandalism involved defacing the faces on the left side of the mural with chemical solvent and then spray-painting pink dollar signs onto the mural in what is believed to be an act of political protest. The damaged portion of the mural is currently covered in blue tarp. Jon Murad, chief deputy of operations for the Burlington police department, told The Campus that while the department has “unidentified persons of interest,” they have “not identified any suspects at this time.”

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger immediately condemned the act of vandalism, stating in a press release that the “vandal(s) has disrespected those engaged community members and the democratic rule of law.” Murad echoed the mayor’s statement, saying that “the suspect or suspects also unilaterally set themselves above the community, and arrogated to themselves the decisions that belonged to the community.”

A task force designated to determine a course of action in regards to the mural voted on  Oct. 15 to have the mural removed by August 2022. This date allows the city to comply with its agreement with the artist and the businesses that funded its creation. A plaque is to be added explaining that the mural does not represent the entirety of Burlington history. The recent vandalism incident has not impacted the decided date of removal of the mural.

An incident had occurred previously on Oct. 19 in which the word “colonizers” was sprayed above the mural. The spray paint used in this incident was easier to remove than the most recent vandalism as it was located above the main images depicted in the mural. Police have reason to believe that the two incidents are related.

In October of 2017, activist Albert Petrarca spray-painted “Off the Wall” on the plaque accompanying the mural. Petrarca and his Off-the-Wall coalition have been the most vocal advocates of removing the mural, claiming that the recent decision of the task force promotes white supremacy. Albert Petrarca was charged with unlawful mischief in January. He did not respond to a request for comment.

There are ways to protest yet maintain respect of legal authority.”

— OLIVIA JIN

The mural was designed by Montreal-based artist Pierre Hardy and uses a technique called trompe-l’oeil, in which figures appear three-dimensional and to scale with their surroundings. The mural commemorates the 400th anniversary of the “discovery” of Lake Champlain by Samuel de Champlain. It features a portrayal of Lake Champlain history through important figures and businesses in Burlington, from Bernie Sanders to Sweetwater’s American Bistro to Ethan Allen.

The mural, according to critics, does not accurately include the role of Native Americans, especially the Abenaki tribe, in the history of Lake Champlain and Burlington. In response to a reply-all email from Patrarca to councilors and media, Chief of the Abenaki tribe Don Stevens condemned the protests as “counterproductive.” In May, the Abenaki Alliance and the mayor announced a partnership to promote Abenaki history in lieu of participating in the task force concerning the mural. Such a partnership may potentially result in displays of Abenaki artifacts in Burlington airport and at a summer festival on Church Street.

Olivia Jin ’20, president of Middlebury College’s Amnesty International club, expressed concern for the exclusion of Native Americans from historical narratives. 

“The removal of Native Americans from U.S. history is a nationwide problem, and the exclusion of the Abenaki tribe in the portrayal of the Lake Champlain history is problematic,” Jin said. “Native Americans have been, and still are, vulnerable to human rights violence in the U.S., and as a human rights group, we stand by Native Americans and support the movement to change the narrative.”

The controversy surrounding the “Everyone Loves a Parade” mural invokes questions regarding the proper form of action in protest of selective histories and racism, reflecting national discussions concerning the removal of monuments and artwork that people believe promote racism. Burlington serves as an example of a city struggling to reconcile an accurate portrayal of history with artworks already in place.

Responding to questions about appropriate forms of protest, Jin said, “I personally think there are ways to protest yet maintain respect of legal authority.” She acknowledged that “the impacts of these actions are slow to see,” which can lead some to “question the extent to which these methods are effective and choose other forms of protests.” 

The authorities in Burlington have made clear that this crime will be taken seriously regardless of its motive. The mural and the actions surrounding it have generated public discussion of diversity, inclusion and protest in the city of Burlington. Weinberger claimed in his press release that “when arrests are made we will seek full prosecution of the perpetrators.” Regardless of the outcome of the case or the motivations of the crime, Murad told The Campus that the police department is “taking the crime very seriously.”

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “Controversial Burlington Mural Prompts Debate Over City’s History”

  1. Chief Don Stevens on November 16th, 2018 5:31 pm

    I wanted to clarify that I am Chief of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe. There are Chief’s of the other three recognized Abenaki Tribes in Vermont. However, they have asked me to be the spokesperson on this issue.

    Abenaki Leaders look for positive ways to uplift our people and have respectful dialogue on issues affecting the Abenaki Community. Constructive Activism is a good thing in society if done appropriately. Actions should be determined based on the threat level to those you are trying to protect.

    In this case, there was no direct threat to Abenaki people, only an omission and incorrect version of history depicted. Educating the public of our history is what is appropriate in this case. That is why we chose to take a different path on this particular issue while others chose destructive means. People who are causing this destruction and taking matter’s into there own hands, do more harm for race relations around the City of Burlington and Vermont than they do helping those they say they support. When individuals cause this sort of destruction, it closes avenues of dialogue and turns officials off from working with people trying to make positive changes for their people. So if the individual(s) causing this destruction and protesting the loudest is not of ethnic minority, you have to really ask yourself, what is the real motive behind their actions. Especially if their actions harm those they are saying they represent. Maybe it is for their own self interests?

    Whether you take down the mural, change it, or leave it in place; you are only addressing the symptom and not attending to the root cause of the problem. The Abenaki are working on the root cause by wanting to educate the public. This is why funding projects like the Airport display and holding cultural events on church street are so important for the Abenaki people and the City of Burlington.

    My hope is that other ethnic minority leaders will follow our lead and find ways to work with the City of Burlington and others. We should work to promote everyone’s rich heritage and celebrate diversity which will only increase as we move forward into the future.

  2. Rich Holschuh on November 17th, 2018 7:09 pm

    I’m glad to see Nulhegan Abenaki Chief Don Stevens has commented here, to keep the record clear. It is gratifying to witness the growing public awareness of historic and ongoing marginalization of the indigenous people of this land. But it is a continuing frustration that the intended beneficiaries of some activist’s actions are not consulted as to what they themselves see as needed, or most helpful. Even well-intentioned actions that do not take their direction from the source are another form of co-opted agency and power. If folks would like to know what they can do to help, ask!




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Controversial Burlington Mural Prompts Debate Over City’s History