Burlington’s South End Arts District ties together a collection of independent art studios, galleries and merchants along the Pine Street corridor. For nearly 30 years, this neighborhood has celebrated the South End Art Hop festival the weekend after Labor Day. For three days the streets are filled with thousands of art hounds enjoying the offerings of local area artists.
Back in 1993 the South End was less than artsy, it was a somewhat run-down boulevard of small factories and warehouses, a few small businesses, and a long stretch of toxic polluted wetland soil. Empty warehouses are the breeding ground for artists, with their cheap rent, high ceilings, concrete floors, and sparse accommodations built for production rather than comfort. The first Art Hop showcased 30 artists, and about 300 people (myself included) “hopped” the galleries and open studios. Nowadays the hop has become a sprawling display of art and performance from hundreds of artists, thousands of locals and tourists filling several blocks of Pine Street closed to traffic.
The grassroots arts movement transformed the Pine Street corridor over the years. What was once a post-industrial badlands is now a booming creative economy of galleries, studios, breweries, restaurants and event spaces employing 6,300 residents. The area is a success story, but (unpopular opinion time) will likely become a victim of its own success.
The area is slowly gentrifying and rents are rising. It’s only a matter of time before more areas get zoned for those expensive condo complexes and larger businesses that usually spell the end for an arts district. Even Art Hop itself is becoming less about the art and more about the nightlife. The lines to get into galleries are a fraction of the size of lines at the bars, food trucks and impromptu nightclubs. It’s inevitable, idealistic festivals all become massive drunken parties eventually, and people will one day have conversations about how they went to the event “back when it was still cool.”
But we’re not there yet. The fact remains that those people who came for the food trucks and DJ’s are missing out on the ever-more ambitious displays and productions, and every year I’m seeing what feels like the best work art hop has ever shown. Some of the studios and galleries themselves are expanding and improving, as if beating their chests declaring “This is still OUR street!” I think we have several good years to come before the doom and gloom, so come visit while it’s still cool!