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Alan Newman is back in town. The man with the prominent, white beard and signature round frames—that come in a range of bold colors—has a face you’re apt not to forget. But even if you haven’t met him, the name probably rings a bell. Newman is the entrepreneur behind several major Vermont-based businesses: the founder of Magic Hat Brewing Company, co-founder of Seventh Generation and Gardener’s Supply Company, and current co-owner of Vermont’s largest music venue, Higher Ground. For the last fifteen years, Newman has been out of the state, happily dodging New England winters, and doing business on both coasts, opening brewpubs in Miami and L.A. for Boston Beer and, more recently, working as a consultant on the central coast of California. However, his latest entrepreneurial pursuit has landed him at 400 Pine Street, back in the heart of Burlington’s arts district as the new owner of ArtsRiot. Other than the winter (he’s not a fan), Newman says of his return to Burlington, “It’s good to be home.”

Photo by Bear Cieri

Since it first opened in 2013, ArtsRiot, a community gathering space centered around local art and music, has been living its motto to “Destroy Apathy.” Newman was always impressed with what the previous owners had done to nurture the Burlington business’s unique culture and mystique. When owner PJ McHenry decided to put it up for sale in 2019, Newman considered making an offer, but it wasn’t until the pandemic ramped up that he seized the moment. “I put in a call to PJ and said, ‘Hey, I heard you have a buyer, I really hope that’s so, but if something happens, I’ve done enough deals to know no deal is ever done until it’s signed, let me know.’

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Soon after, he got the call that the deal had died. Newman made an offer and on July 1, 2020, he took over as the new owner. “It just came together. I’ve always been a fan of ArtsRiot, of what’s going on down here in the arts district. The building has always been appealing to me. It’s a local business, an iconic business. It’s well thought of in the community, and it needed help.”



Newman knows firsthand the challenges of running a small-capacity restaurant and music venue, which is why his business plan always included adding another element to ArtsRiot—a distillery. “I’d been wanting to do it anyway, but I also thought a distillery would be helpful to sustain the ArtsRiot business.” The new Liquid Arts Distillery will make it possible to pull in revenue beyond the physical footprint of the building. Now, with the new production facility and renovations to the event space, which include an expansive deck and garage doors to integrate the indoor and outdoor areas, ArtsRiot will be able to expand its offerings.

photo by Bear Cieri

The million-dollar question on everyone’s mind is, will ArtsRiot still serve as a venue for live music? The answer? Yes. But. Here is the caveat: there will be fewer ticketed events. The goal is to have something interesting going on every night, whether that be live music, live entertainment, rotating art exhibitions, film festivals, unique symposiums. . . . But what Newman does not want is to exclude folks from showing up on a whim to grab a drink or dinner without a ticket or an invite. “I’m not going to say we would never do weddings or rentals, but I’d like to keep it down to a low roar so that we can [stay] open and be a place where people would come hang. Hopefully, it’s a place that people make their go-to spot in the arts district.”

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As ArtsRiot’s “post-pandemic caretaker,” a title he has given himself, Newman’s vision for the business is linked to a bigger vision for the Pine Street Arts District. “I’ve talked to a bunch of our neighbors down here, and I think people are excited about the idea of putting an accelerator in the arts district.” While building brewpubs for Boston Beer in L.A.’s art district and Miami’s Wynwood, where Art Basel is held every year, Newman was entrenched in those communities. He now sees the potential of growing Burlington’s arts scene and wants ArtsRiot to help drive that effort.

Last year as the holidays approached, Newman (remember, he hates the winter—“it’s more the darkness than the cold,” he says), decided to hire someone to create a lighting installation outside of the building. Some other businesses picked up on it and joined the light show with their own installations. This has sparked an idea for a Winter Art Hop. The hope is that a few years from now Pine Street will be lit up and down with creative lighting. “Not Christmas lighting,” says Newman, “but artistic lighting that rivals the Art Hop in the summer. Those are the things that really excite me, that hopefully, over time, we can pull off.”

photo by Bear Cieri

photo by Bear Cieri

For now, the focus is on reopening over Memorial Day Weekend. Newman wants everything about ArtsRiot to strike an emotional chord in people, through the art, the music and events, through the food and drink. “If you want bland meat and potatoes, you probably shouldn’t come here. If you’re looking for bland panel discussions, you probably shouldn’t come here.” But for anyone looking for an antidote to indifference, and banality, this could be your spot. As the new caretaker of the mission to Destroy Apathy, Newman is on track to do just that.