As the Co-op approached its 50th Anniversary this year, we sought a local artist to help us visually share our rich history and to carry that history forward into our next 50 years. We couldn’t have found a better collaborator than we did with Christine Tyler Hill. You may know Christine from her previous work as Marketing and Communications Director at NOFA-VT, or through her independent work as an illustrator, designer and storyteller. Or, you might recognize her from our South End Store’s front end mural! We spoke with Christine about why she took on this project and what City Market means to her. Check out our conversation below.
Why were you interested as an artist in developing art for City Market’s 50th Anniversary?
City Market is home! I’ve lived here for 15 years and I don’t know if any one place has been as steady and comforting as City Market. It’s probably my favorite “third place” in Burlington. It’s where I do my primary grocery shopping, where I’ve made eyes at my crushes through the chaotic downtown check-out crowds, where I’ve kicked off my most memorable outdoor adventures with the one-last-stop to grab snacks, and where strangers have become acquaintances and acquaintances have become friends simply because I’ve run into them at City Market so many times.
I moved away a few times and when I’d come visit Burlington, the first place I’d go was City Market. I’d grab a half a Chicken Pesto sandwich and post up at a café table outside, and it wouldn’t take long for someone I knew to walk by and invite me to a backyard potluck, or a bike ride, or an art show, and I’d be instantly sucked back into Burlington’s magic. When I talk about what I love about Burlington, I talk about the huge mycelial network that I feel a part of, the countless loose connections that together make me feel held by this place. I live in Burlington because I have a community that I get to invest in, and that in turn supports me back. What more could one want from this short life? City Market has played a significant role in facilitating my sense of connection and belonging to my place.
On a philosophical level, I was thrilled to make art for City Market because it’s a co-operative. I think as a community we take for granted that the primary grocery store in our city is community-owned. How radical is that! So is the fact that our local grocery store stocks as much local, organic food as possible. Many of the local farmers and food producers I know have grown their businesses in part because City Market is one of their key wholesalers. I was excited to make work that honors 50 years of people working cooperatively to birth, nurture, and grow this community-owned asset. I’m so grateful.
How did you approach this project?
Cheray and Todd provided me with a slew of old City Market material from the past 50 years: old brochures, signage, illustrations, and newsletters. They asked me to pull out elements from this material and make a sort of wallpaper of symbols and ephemera visually honoring City Market’s 50-year history.
I love old signage and advertisements. City Market was born in 1973, and the line drawings, block prints, watercolors, and typewriter typography all give back-to-the-lander, Bread and Puppet, Vermont hippie vibes. My style, politics, and general ethos are inspired by this era, so this project was a great fit for me.
We generated a list of about 30 illustrations we wanted in the pattern: we wanted a mix of people, words, and imagery. But the Co-op is such a complex place with a rich history and life that by the time we were done, I had drawn 60 custom illustrations!
Maybe this is too insider baseball, but as someone who is both a graphic designer and who also hires a lot of graphic designers for my day job, I was thrilled to provide super dynamic artwork. I made the pattern City Market asked for, but I also provided a full library of all the individual illustrations. More often than not with a creative project like this, the client doesn’t know exactly what they need until you start moving through the process, or until they start actually using the artwork and realize that it crops poorly or detail gets lost in certain placements. I was able to provide artwork that was fully customizable and flexible so that it could be optimized for all kinds of placements. It has been deeply satisfying for me to see the ways Todd is using the artwork in so many different placements!
What do you hope people will take away from City Market’s 50th Anniversary art?
I hope the art draws attention to this huge milestone for our Co-op, and I hope this milestone inspires people to ask themselves: what do we want the next 50 years to look like? How can City Market be a lever of change in this age of climate catastrophe? What is our role, as Members, in engaging with and supporting the Co-op as it navigates the myriad challenges and complexities of doing good business and doing good in the world? How can we duplicate the success of City Market across our community? What other opportunities do we have to cooperatively own valuable community resources?
How has City Market impacted you personally?
When I talk about what I like about living in Burlington, I talk about City Market. I’ll explain to someone that when I feel sad or isolated, I’ll go to City Market because I know I’ll run into someone I know and my spirit will be buoyed by our brief interaction. I’ll explain that when I’m out of half and half and I need to go to City Market right when it opens at 7am and I desperately don’t want to run into anyone, I will absolutely run into someone. And even though I didn’t want that to happen, more often than not, my spirit is buoyed by our brief interaction. That’s the rose and the thorn of living in a small community, and I’m here for it.
What is your favorite thing about being an artist?
My specialty is using design, illustration, and short-form video to help mission-driven organizations to tell their stories. I have the enormous privilege of getting to sit with change makers and learn about people and projects that are building the world we need, and then I get to create media so that more people can learn about it. This work is a salve for my own personal climate grief, and the illustrations, graphics, and videos I make allow me to share that salve with others. It’s my attempt to say: look, look, all around us there are bright spots everywhere! The world that we so desperately need is being built by smart, brave, beautiful humans, all the time! The movement to a better future is abundant, beautiful, and fun, and there’s space for you in it! Join join join and let’s go!
Thank you, Christine, for sharing your process with us and for being a truly excellent collaborator. It’s a privilege to be able to work with art that truly ‘gets’ us; that situates us in our present moment, with appreciation for our 50-year history and with hope for our future. We’re so excited for your drawings to help us tell our story for many years to come!