A Burlington Illustrator Makes a Free, Multilingual Calendar for ‘Everyday Neighbors’
Ivan Klipstein likes to make art of the people, by the people and for the people. So just days before Christmas, the 48-year-old Burlington cartoonist gifted some of his art to the residents of the city he’s called home for a dozen years. It came in the form of a 13-month calendar written in English and 13 of the most commonly spoken foreign languages in Burlington: Arabic, Bosnian, Burmese, Chinese, French, Kirundi, Nepali, Pashto, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Ukrainian and Vietnamese.
Best of all, the illustrations in Klipstein’s calendar feature 170 people he’s seen and sketched while hanging out on the streets of the Queen City, Winooski and other neighboring communities.
“This calendar is for the workers, the families, the folks on the block, the allies, the everyday neighbors and strangers, the community… For all of us,” Klipstein wrote on the back cover of his calendar. His goal is to give away more than 1,000 calendars at businesses and community gathering places to the “have-nothings and the have-somethings, but not [to] the take-everythings. Not for the developers, landlords, or any professional profiteers who see us only as income or inconvenience.”
As Klipstein explained in an email interview, he’s been making himself paper calendars for years after finding most commercially available ones “too limiting and generic.”
A couple of years ago, he applied for a small Burlington City Arts community fund grant, which helped cover some of the cost of the calendar’s production. Klipstein supplemented the rest with small grants from the Ward 2 and 3 Neighborhood Planning Assemblies, as well as with ads from dozens of Burlington businesses and organizations, such as Old Spokes Home, Pho Hong, Champlain Housing Trust and Burlington Farmers Market. The calendars were printed at Burlington’s Vantage Press.
The use of a locally owned printer in the Old North End, where Klipstein lived until recently, was an obvious choice given that many of the people featured in the calendar are from Burlington’s most diverse and economically disadvantaged neighborhood.
The self-taught, working-class artist did the illustrations and text by hand using calligraphy brushes, India ink and mechanical pens. Many of his initial sketches ended up in Emerald Moon Over Dirty Lake, his 2016 picture book that came with a musical soundtrack, as well as in public exhibitions at Barrio Bakery in 2017, Radio Bean in 2019 and Battery Street Jeans in 2020.
This isn’t Klipstein’s first multilingual project. For three years, he produced bilingual tenants’ rights calendars for Project Genesis, an anti-poverty group based in Montréal. However, this is the first calendar he’s drawn and designed entirely by himself.
And while the Louisiana-born and Wisconsin-bred artist frequently travels overseas, he relied on translators from the Burlington nonprofit AALV to ensure the calendar’s 13 foreign languages were accurate and culturally correct.
“The question of language accommodation is a big one, and while Vermont as a whole does better at this than some other states, we still have a long, long way to go,” Klipstein said. “My hope is that, in whatever small way, the calendar may be a unifying influence.”