Vermont Arts Council Honors Southern Vermonters
June 18 was a perfect, summery day in this corner of the state, mostly sunny, some passing showers. I had arrived in Bellows Falls early in the afternoon for an appointment, then looked around The Square to see what was new since my last visit several months earlier (you'll always find something's changed if you haven't been there for awhile). I stopped by the Village Square Booksellers to chat with co-owner Pat Fowler, an organizer of the 3rd Friday Art Walk, scheduled that evening. Multihatted as usual, she kept on counting the tickets and cash for another upcoming community event she was helping to coordinate.
Just before 3 o'clock, I headed across the street to the charming and historic Rockingham Town Hall (and movie theater!) to find my way to the Vermont Arts Council's (VAC) Annual Meeting. After wandering up a few flights and down two different elevators, I arrived in the generously sized Women's Community Room, one floor below ground but still partly windowed at the sides. It was outfitted as a combination performance and audio-visual or movie space, with a large supply of chairs and a raised stage with a curtain that was drawn in to frame a large viewing screen.
As I entered, I briefly greeted the VAC's Communications Director, Andrea Stander, with whom I share a former worklife in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although we've been e-mailing a bit for a year or two, we hadn't seen each other since 1987 ... but this was clearly not a time to remake our acquaintance--she was busily overseeing equipment preparation and simultaneously doing a masterful job at connecting up arriving guests with VAC staffers and others to whom they needed to be introduced.
Town Manager Shane O'Keefe soon welcomed the crowd of about 125 or so and spoke briefly about his community's commitment to fostering the arts and culture as part of the town's economic development plan. Robert McBride, Executive Director of the Rockingham Arts & Museum Project, commented on some of the strategic partnerships that are helping to fuel the town's revitalization. Then VAC trustees and Executive Director Alex Aldrich shared a preview of ways in which the Council will be celebrating its upcoming 40th year of service to the artists and arts organizations in the state. The kickoff will be a major musical event scheduled for October at Marlboro College. (Look for details on the Council's Web site at www.vermontartscouncil.org.)
We were then treated to a few Laotian songs by Phady Phathsoungneune, whose husband Souphine is a master folk musician from Thailand and the recipient of grants from the VAC and the Vermont Folklife Center. They arrived in Vermont as refugees in the early 1980s.
Next on the program were brief statements by other recent VAC grant recipients in this Southeastern region of the state.
· Adam Silver, Principal of Halifax School, in West Halifax, spoke of the expanding folk dance program they are planning after the success of the first 10-day residency they were able to arrnage with a VAC grant.
· Merrill Garbus of Brattleboro, who has worked with Sandglass Theater in Putney, explained how her $500 grant made it possible for her to gain recognition as a solo performer.
· John Willis, cofounder of the In-Sight Photography Project, spoke about the exchange program they have developed using photography as the cultural medium to bring together teens from Vermont, New York City, and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
· New England Youth Theater's Stephen Stearns shared the effects of the grant that helped bring a company of NEYT performers to England with a spring production of King Lear, among them lasting friendships with their British counterparts and the promise of more exchanges to come.
· Zon Eastes, Managing Director of the Brattleboro Music Center, expressed appreciation for the expansion of music programming their grant allowed, and also mentioned an emerging effort by Brattleboro area arts organizations to begin organizing and collaborating for mutual benefit.
· Helen Anglos, Managing Director of Sandglass Theater in Putney (a 2004 Citation of Honor recipient), acknowledged the importance of the VAC's grant to help with their biannual international puppet festival.
· Gennifer Sussman, Board President of the Yellow Barn Music School and Festival, explained how their VAC grant will support a series of outreach events for at-risk youth, seniors and the general community during their upcoming 35th Anniversary Season this summer and beyond.
The VAC's Executive Director, Alex Aldrich, returned to the podium to offer some historical perspective on the "state of the arts" in Vermont compared with the rest of the country. He also previewed the Vermont Council on Culture and Innovation's upcoming report and recommendations to the Governor and Legislature on ways the state can invest in its creative economy--e.g., quality arts education will be critical for an effective 21st century workforce and to keep Vermont youth on a positive track. Full text of his often impassioned and well-received remarks is posted on the VAC's Web site, www.vermontartscouncil.org.
Newly elected trustees and visiting VAC staff were welcomed and departing trustees heartily thanked, and the meeting was officially adjourned. The final item on the agenda was the 2004 Awards Ceremony. The VAC Business Award was presented to Ed and Barbara Morrow of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center; they have thrived since 1976 through their close involvement with, and support for, literary artists and their audience: readers of all ages. And finally, the Walter Cerf Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts was presented to children's book author and illustrator Tasha Tudor, of Marlboro, who was represented by her grandson, Winslow Tudor. We were treated to a portion of the fascinating and entertaining biographical film "Take Joy!"--it follows this humble cultural icon through her daily chores as she tells snippets of her life story and shares her personal views. This memorable end to the afternoon's organized activities was capped by a delicious reception at nearby Spheris Gallery.
Copyright 2004, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont