Working to advance and preserve the arts at the center of Vermont communities.
Upper Valley Arts
The Vermont Movie
Amy Kolb Noyes
Opera Theatre of Weston
Milton Town School District
Fletcher Free Library
Chelsea Public School
Daniel Gottsegen & Terry Boyle
Barre Opera House
Wylie Sofia Garcia
American Precision Museum
Big Heavy World
Northfield Middle High School
Middlebury Studio School
First Night Burlington
Albany Community School
Chandler Center for the Arts
VT Symphony Orchestra
Waterbury-Duxbury School District
Women Writing for (a) Change
Kerry O. Furlani
Vermont Studio Center
In-Sight Photography Project
Sheldon Elementary School
Champlain Philharmonic Orchestra
Milton Middle/High School
Jamaica Village School
Barre Opera House
Building a Better Brattleboro
Women Writing for (a) Change
Marlboro Elementary School
Carving Studio & Sculpture Center
School of Vermont
The Vermont MIDI Project
David Budbill and Lost Nation Theater
Friends of the Opera House at Enosburg Falls
Orange Center, Washington Village & Tunbridge Central Schools
VT Contemporary Music Ensemble
Eleva Chamber Players
The Carving Studio &
New England Center
for Circus Arts
Focus on Film
St. Johnsbury Academy
Catamount Film &
MRC and Company
for the Arts
The third grader who asked the performer, “Did you really get stuck?” was right where the performers wanted him. He was full of wonder. He had just seen “Ruckus,” a new cirque spectacular show full of choreographed stunts and tricks. Amidst the contortion, acrobatics, and juggling, things are not always as they appear. That is part of the magic. Another part of the magic is the fastidious planning it takes to keep a production like this moving. That is where Serenity Forchion comes in.
Serenity was awarded a Creation Grant in FY2013 to create the show for the Nimble Arts Troupe. There were no performances during the grant period. There were rehearsals, the development of a website, and the other necessary work to get the production ready. They are touring now. During a break from rehearsal, Serenity was hard pressed to narrow down any one demographic who is attending or who is most enjoying it. “The show is really accessible for any age. Teens find it funny—hysterical, actually—and adults really appreciate the poetry and the amazing strength of the human bodies. We’ve gotten a standing ovation at every show we’ve done.” The audience reactions have been rewarding. “People seem to know they are seeing something very unique, something new and different. We’ve also gotten feedback from audience members saying they feel like they really know all the performers.”
This lets Serenity know she is right on track. She is well aware that theater and circus do not “always marry well.” Acknowledging that the “power of this show is in the talent,” she reveals her intention. “The show is about images and poetic moments; we are creating imagery for people to create their own story.” The performers in the stories are on a tight wire or trapeze, or rolling inside a german wheel.
The show has toured to Putney, Vermont; Barre, Vermont; Bethel, Maine; Hebron, Maine; and Northampton, Massachusetts; and Houston, Texas. They’re heading for Derry, NH; Lebanon, NH; and back to Stowe, VT. It’s a busy schedule, and not made easier by looking ahead.
“Theater is really challenging. In the midst of what feels like a successful tour, we’re also drumming up business for next year. That’s the reality of putting your art out there; it’s a product and you have to sell it. I’ve already moved on; I have to sell for next year.”
More information about the show and the tour schedule appear on the Ruckus website.
Vermont is a little state with a big story. Telling that story is a giant undertaking. Upper Valley Arts (UVA) has risen to the challenge, coordinating 45 filmmakers representing 10 of Vermont’s 14 counties to create a six-film recounting. The project, funded partly through the Arts Council with a Creation Grant in 2009 and a Community Arts Grant in 2010 also benefits from robust community support, recently raising $45,000 in a crowdfunding campaign. An FY14 Project Grant will help to support a tour of screenings through 11 Vermont counties inside of four months.
UVA’s summary of “Freedom & Unity: The Vermont Movie” expresses equal parts of pride and history. “From its earliest history, Vermont has been a place where the drive for personal freedom has been tempered by the importance placed on community, thus Vermont’s motto: Freedom & Unity... The result of this dynamic – from banning slavery to Act 250 to civil unions – has led both Vermont and the nation in new directions.”
It takes six separate movies, each 80-90 minutes, to cover events spanning from Samuel de Champlain stepping into a canoe to Tropical Storm Irene. Each of the movies is designed to stand on its own as the viewer moves from the writing of Vermont’s constitution (the first to outlaw slavery), the rise of unions and quarry work, George Aiken's gentle populism, and an influx of “back-to-the-landers.” Each part one screening is presented at a gala premiere, complete with a catered reception. Films two through six typically follow in nearby venues in subsequent days. Filmmakers and an authority on the content of the film will lead question and answer sessions following each screening.
The barnstorming tour begins Friday, September 27th at the Barre Opera House. The next day, part two will show at the Vermont Historical Society (also in Barre), then parts three-six in Montpelier at the Savoy in Montpelier. This tour continues throughout Vermont in the same fashion, showing up in Burlington, Middlebury, Manchester, Rutland, Bennington, Derby Line, Stowe, White River Junction, and elsewhere.
The trailer, schedule, and more information can be found on the Vermont Movie website.
When you are a poet, one thing becomes predictable. Experiences go in and words come out. Whether the poet is a child reacting to feelings about a story or a grown person old enough to live through the death of three family members in the space of a few years, the reaction will be the same. The poet will write. That is what April Ossmann does.
Probably, April was born a poet. She was reading by the time she was in kindergarten and wrote her first poem at seven. “It was an anti-violence poem about a knight who regretted having a fight.” Her family valued education. Three of her grandparents were educators. Her father was an electrical engineer and her mother had a degree in architecture. Her mother also read to April; early inspiration came from Mother Goose and fairy tales. April earned a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Dartmouth and an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. After twelve years working in book publishing, she built her own consulting business editing, writing, and teaching. Her writing earned an FY13 Creation Grant.
She was buoyed by the award both financially and emotionally. “Since I’m self-employed, any time I’m not working is time I’m not being paid. The grant allowed me to take time off to finish my manuscript.” The emotional support was an unexpected boost. “I was inspired by receiving the grant and honored to be chosen by a jury of fellow citizens. That outside support led me to challenge myself, which is how I tend to react to praise, as in, if you think that was good, watch this!” April submitted her new manuscript for consideration for publication by the end of the grant period.
April’s time off was used more for editing than writing. The way she approached her work didn’t change much. “I’m a poet more of inspiration, not the sort who gets up at 5:00 in the morning to write every day.” She sounds sly as she admits, “I’m not above courting inspiration!” How does she do that? “Reading other good poetry and prose by other writers.” Reading Paul Harding’s Tinker, which she describes as “such gorgeous, musical prose,” inspired her to write a poem about flying while flying. She uses hiking and walking as a sort of moving meditation. “It allows my brain to go into that relaxed, creative space. Sometimes I bring pen and paper, but sometimes I come back with half a poem written in my head, memorizing as I go.”
“I’m often amazed to see what my unconscious knows years before my conscious.” Marveling at what “the smarter part” of her brain contributes to poems, she shared the insight that she writes “mostly to understand things and to discover things I don’t know.” She began processing complicated feelings about the death of her brother with a poem. She recalls the night she went to bed with his favorite song in mind and woke up with half a poem in her head. “I wrote it before coffee and it said exactly what I wanted it to say. Writers call this a ‘given’ poem. It is just handed to you, sometimes nearly whole.”
As April processes her experiences, she adds to her themes. “Desire is a big theme for me. Not just sexual desire, but everything we desire, and learning to desire what you have instead of what you don’t have. Communication and miscommunication in relationships is a big theme.” She lists others: “Conscious and unconscious motivations. Faith and fear, as in negative and positive use of imagination. How shall we choose to imagine the future? With anxiety or faith?
Her newest theme is mortality and learning to truly accept it. “That was one of the surprises in writing this manuscript. I began with more familiar themes and subjects, then found myself writing poems about death. Losing my father, stepfather, and brother all in the space of three and a half years was not part of the plan. The manuscript started as ‘The Perfect Clamor,’ but I had to change the title, because I had so many poems treating the new theme. I have a theory that writers are control freaks, and poets may be the most so, but when I find myself writing about the unexpected it's a reminder of what I don’t control.”
Loves Me, Loves Me Not
that particular violence,
stripping one by tenuous
one the original
and finding an answer
in injury was right.
by April Ossmann (published by Interim)
This video includes closed captioning.
There's a place in the heart of Vermont that holds the hearts of the community thanks to a talented team that put their hearts into their work and find joy in giving performers and patrons a place to love.
That place is the Paramount Theatre in downtown Rutland.
In 2008, now-Executive Director Bruce Bouchard brought decades of experience in acting, directing, and theatre management to his interview for the position at the nearly 100-year-old venue. Despite that, there was one thing for which he was completely unprepared.
"I walked into this theatre and went, ‘Whoa, whoa, damn.’ And this is my first formal theatre,” Bouchard said. In that moment, he knew he would be accepting the job, packing his bags, leaving New York and moving to Vermont. "When I fall in love with a space I'm sunk."
And the Paramount's "wow" factor has grown since Bouchard took the helm. "My sense was it was an underutilized asset and I said, ‘Why don't we take this bad boy and kick it out as far as it can go?’" Bouchard recalled.
Bouchard and Programming Director Eric Mallette are packing the Paramount's 838 seats thanks to jam-packed seasons featuring numerous big name performers - ones that the audience wants.
"I take direction from the audience,” Mallette said. “Whatever the audience is buying is what we bring."
Paramount board member Paul Gallo points out that the audiences are showing the Paramount their appreciation financially. "We bumped up from 300 or 400 members up to 850 members,” he said.
They’re also showing their appreciation vocally.
"They usually stand up and whistle and hoot and holler and give everything that appears in this building a standing ovation,” Bouchard said of the audiences. “Now is that critically astute? I don't know and I don't care!"
The Paramount reopened in 2000 after a roughly 25-year closure, during which it fell into a state of disrepair. Now, looking as it did in its original glory days - when stars from Harry Houdini to Ethyl Barrymore performed on its stage - the Paramount is entering a new age and expanding into the building next door. The soon-to-be multi-use performance space will be shared with Castleton State College. All of this renewed energy at the Paramount is infectious.
"The biggest compliment to me, and the one I like to share the most with our audiences, is what the artists say about them, and that is ‘I had just as much fun as they did,’” Mallette said.
"Now the people who didn't want to take our phone calls before are calling us up to see if their artists can play our hall,” Bouchard said.
Bouchard says it's easy to prove the Paramount's legitimacy to big name stars when you have the numbers to back it up, and generous sponsors are leading the Paramount to what could be its best year yet. The running number is $192,000 simply for show sponsorships.
A recent benchmark study by the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing found that domestic day visitors bring at least $70 per person per day into a region's economy. Tom Donahue, who heads the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, says the Paramount draws a steady stream of visitors to the area and ensures that the cash keeps flowing in.
"If you have an 850 seat theatre that's full oftentimes for these events, that's dropping $60,000 a night into your region, not counting the cost of the ticket. That's just what's spent locally the night of the performance or the day of the performance,” Donahue explained. "So you multiply that out by hundreds of performances and you're talking millions and millions of dollars dropped into the economy locally, just from that one facility alone, per year."
But the Paramount is much more than an economic driver. It's a living piece of Rutland history. "Just a month ago, we had a dance recital in here that my daughter was a participant of and she had a solo,” Gallo said. “And as a young boy I came into this theatre with my older brother and my father, a first generation Italian American, to see The Godfather.”
Mallette often thinks about the number of performers and patrons who have stood on the stage, sat in the seats, and enjoyed themselves in the space. "That stupid line, ‘If walls could talk…’ Can you imagine? These walls would scream."
Bouchard knows that keeping the century-old theatre alive and thriving is a job that will never end.
"If you do get in this game, it's not the place to sit back and be timid or rest on your laurels,” he said. “You always have to be reinventing yourself.”
Luckily for the Paramount - and Rutland - it's exactly what he wants to do.
"A life in the arts,” he said, smiling. “What a lucky person am I."
Rachel Moore is very clear in her ambitions. She knows that community matters, and she knows she can’t live without creating. This agenda has taken her around the U.S. and Europe and has led her to make art in many mediums. It has driven her to obtain an advanced degree and to become a Fulbright Fellow. Now she is in Lamoille County.
Rachel leads a busy life and has a supportive partner. She lightheartedly used the phrase “dragging my husband all over the world for ten years” when she referred to time spent studying and working in large cities. “I found these places conducive for my social practice. I was around so many wonderful creative people who were excited about the same things.” When her husband took a job in Vermont and they moved to Johnson, she admits to taking pause.
“It seemed empty. I was thinking, ‘where is everybody?’ There is not the same populace, not the intense population. Just prior to this, I had been working in a different culture – a big city in Europe. This was an extreme contrast.” Her community work didn’t seem to fit in the same way. “I’m used to working in situations where there is a problem. Everything seemed perfect here, and completely green. I felt a little bit displaced and out of sorts.”
There is a very active creative community in Lamoille County and Rachel quickly got involved. She took the part-time assistant director job at the Helen Day Art Center; it is largely a curatorial job. “It turns out this was a natural transition, because it is based on skills that have always been a part of my practice: organizing artists, spaces, and exhibitions.” She also stepped on to the board at River Arts and is co-chair of a committee exploring the potential for an expansion project. Two collaborative projects with other artists (Ann Arbor and Mexico City) are in beginning stages. This all feeds her passion for community work, but does not address her need to create. “I started to think about making sculpture again, and what kind of projects I could do.”
In September 2012, she was awarded a Creation Grant from the Arts Council. Repeatedly, she tells us “The timing was perfect.” Not only does she need to create, she was getting pressure to create. The grant enabled her to set aside time to do that, as did a full fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center.
“I had been getting a lot of attention for my work through different publications and by galleries and museums. I was at a point where I was being asked for new work, which I desperately needed to make, but didn't have the time or resources to do. The grant from Vermont Arts Council allowed me to take this time to make new work at what I see as a very critical point. When I got the grant and the full fellowship, it allowed me to step out of my roles of assistant director, curator, and mother.”
Had she completed nothing, immersion in the artistic process was enough. “I thought even if I don’t make anything and just think for a month, it will be wonderful. This way of thinking through ideas, expressing ideas is a way of having a conversation with the rest of the world.” She ended up creating a lot. “Amazing” and “terrific” were the words she used. “I was combining experiences in a way I couldn’t do before…it was a really rich period.”
Now, she is busy making connections to get her work shown in New England. “It’s important to me to be connected to where I am. Galleries out west are interested, but I do want to focus on the area here.” Gratitude spills out of her. “Had I not received this grant, I would have missed many opportunities to further my artistic career.”
Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace is always busy. At any hour, people of all ages are there to shop, eat, browse, socialize, or just move from one point to the other. The waterfront park is the same. The bike path is used year-round and ferries shuttle across the lake several times a day. New York’s Adirondack range lies as a backdrop beyond Lake Champlain, changing hues each day. And, if you go to these places at the right time--beginning the first weekend in June--you’ll hear jazz. The music will be latin, swing, dixieland, bebop and more. Welcome to the Discover Jazz Festival, an event that makes this popular Vermont city shine even more brightly.
The Festival is in its 30th year. It started in 1984 as a weekend event. Now mature, this jazzfest takes place in 21 venues for ten days, staging 117 performances for 50,000 attendees. Every downtown hotel will be booked. The diversity of offerings are explained by Managing Director Linda Little (who thoroughly loves jazz). “Some people might be a little afraid of jazz, but it’s a broad genre. I want them to come down to the festival and take a chance. We have acts inspired by everything from hip-hop, latin to classic, be-bop and swing.”
The big acts, this year including John Scofield, Bobby McFerrin, Branford Marsalis , Poncho Sanchez and Elaine Elias, will appear on the Main Stage at the Flynn. “If you like that ‘New York club feel,’ go to the Flynn Space,” is Linda’s insider advice. You can choose from any number of bands appearing in 16 restaurants and club, or you can choose a lake cruise with a dixieland band. There are almost 100 free events, including movies (about jazz) at Burlington City Arts and Bob Blumenthal’s “Listen Here” series.
The Festival is adding social media to the mix this year. Enthusiasts will be able to follow tweets from @discoverjazzvt and the Arts Council’s @RaychFeldman during the Soul Rebels and Dumstaphunk shows in the Waterfront Bayou Tent Thursday night, and join in using #bdjf. There is also a text-to-give campaign. “It’s easy; people have the opportunity to do an anonymous $10 dollar give that just shows up on their phone bill.”
Discover Jazz has added a new $2,000 dollar scholarship for a graduating senior involved with jazz. The selection process was dovetailed into the All-State Band auditions. “We were able to name the scholarship for Ed Bemis who was from New York, taught at UVM, and loved jazz. He unfortunately passed away this year.” The recipient of the scholarship is a member of the All-State Jazz Band playing at the opening ceremony. “As a former member of the All-State band myself, I am so excited to award a young student who is excited to learn jazz and continue the music tradition," was Linda’s assessment.
The Festival is “huge on education. We are bringing back an artist in residence program,” she was proud to say. Ray Vega will travel to several organizations in area. Among other things, he’ll present a drumming workshop at the Diversity Rocks, the Howard Center, the King Street Youth Center, the Integrated Arts Academy, and Spectrum Youth. “Ray will talk about music, communication, and improvisation… all of this weaves into everyday life.” All of the kids who participate in workshops will get free tickets to his performance and can attend the reception afterward. This program is slated to expand in the future. “We’re thinking long term. We want there to be as much an element of bringing the artist to the community as there is the community going to see artists.”
Discover Jazz has taken its place in Burlington’s landscape. Linda is sure of the continued growth and success, saying "I am so excited to be able to celebrate the 30th Anniversary with the Festival, and look forward to years to come where we bring even more musicians and activities to the great state of Vermont."
The Arts Council often uses one-line descriptions of the grants we award. That description might read “to commission professional photographs for a forthcoming book of poetry,” or “to support attendance at a 2013 Novel Writing Retreat.” For Cultural Routes Grants, we always begin this way: “To support transportation costs…”
The Cultural Routes program, established in 2011, helps to send students on field trips. With a little help from the Council, school-age children attend cultural events such as live music, dance and theater performances, or exhibits at art museums. The grant program is often welcome relief to arts educators who face constantly dwindling school budgets. Students in rural parts of the state benefit greatly. In many of these outlying communities, people typically stay close to home and exposure to the arts is minimal. This grant year is rich with examples.
Laraway Youth and Family Services in Johnson works with some of Vermont’s most challenging youth (ages 5-21). "It was a magical day for our kids,” extolled Katherine Stamper after the trip to Burlington. “Lamoille County is rural, with fewer cultural offerings than more populous areas of the state. Children and families we serve often experience socioeconomic challenges which can limit opportunities to see a professional performance at a venue like the Flynn.
Fifth and sixth graders left Wolcott Elementary School for a day to attend the Vermont International Festival in Essex Junction. Teacher Amy Masse' said "What a great opportunity we all had." She also referred to isolation. “Rarely do children from rural communities like ours get a chance to journey beyond and experience what life is like elsewhere. This trip allowed us to experience cultures from around the world. Students in lower grades are eager to share this experience next year. This was such an enriching celebration of cultures from all over…[one] that maybe none of the students will ever get a chance to experience again.”
Elizabeth Pieroni Schulte described the special meaning a trip brought her. “As an artist myself and as their art teacher, it was an absolute joy to see so many students experience art in the real world for the first time. The students were blown away by the art work… ” She said the day was “a completely new experience for many of our students who had never been to a true art museum. This coincided with our multicultural unit of study on the Arts of Australia and Oceana.” This happened when Enosburg Elementary school students in grades 3, 4, and 5 traveled to Burlington to see an oceanic artifact exhibit at the Fleming Museum.
In 2011, the Council awarded 19 grants ($3,800) to benefit 1,233 students. In 2012, 13 grants ($2,600) supported activity for 688 youth, and in 2013, 16 grants have been awarded. The program will continue next year, pleasing teachers like Elizabeth, who sincerely thanked us. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you! I hope that you will be [able to] offer future opportunities like this for other school groups through these priceless grants.”
After the Universe is created, the Musician is born, carried in by the Three Fates (the Spinner, the Measurer, and the Cutter). They present her with instruments and lead her to the music chamber; she’ll continue to work from there with her 17th century Dutch-inspired palette of sounds. Is this a theater production, or the life of Vermont-based composer Karen Hansen?
It’s the opening of Vanitas, a “Devised Theater”* production she worked on with the support of an FY2012 Creation Grant. Composing the music and creating the production with Happenstance Theater--of which she is a company member--was an experience Karen described as both “beautiful and torture, not to make light of torture of course.” She also said, “I would do it again in a minute, better.”
Karen started playing trumpet at age 10. “Thus began my musical life - a strange journey which has led me to this point where I call myself a ‘composer and multi-instrumentalist.’” She described the process of writing the music for Vanitas: “We did more improvising than we’d ever done, having two goals in mind, encouraging our collective imagination and actually generating material for the show. We devoted one morning to positioning ourselves in our own ‘still-life paintings’ after choosing an emotion or an action to portray. Because we are self-directed, we often rely on the video record of rehearsals, which serves as our ‘outside eye’. While improvising, I loved being able to influence a scene with a particular instrument or chord progression.” Karen gauges her success by feeling if the hair on her arms stands up. She felt it in “The Birth of the Queen”; in “Pluk de dag” (Dutch for “Seize the day”), her tune played by the whole company on plucked instruments; in her three-part motet, “Where does the Time Go?”; and in the Harmony of the Spheres mini-opera scene whimsically titled (in fake Dutch) “De Telescoop.” In that scene, the Fool (Mark Jaster) sang the line “Heavenly objects in mirror are closer than they appear” to the Queen (Sabrina Mandell), who had confined herself to her chamber in an attempt to stave off death and decay. “I feel like I captured the characters and some of the 17th century scientific and philosophical concepts we were exploring in a three minute ‘opera’. I’m so lucky to be able to do this kind of long-term work in the DC area and live in Vermont. I couldn’t have done it as well without the help of the Vermont Arts Council. Seriously.”
Happenstance Theater’s Vanitas ran for three weekends at Round House in Silver Spring, Maryland. Coming up this fall for the company is the 4th annual Edward Gorey-inspired Cabaret Macabre, followed by Impossible! A Happenstance Circus in early 2014.
*Devised Theater is a fairly recent genre. It refers to the process of making theater without an existing script. “It sounded pretentious to me at first, but I’ve started using the phrase because it really does describe how some companies make theater these days,” said Karen.
Find out more about Karen on her website and more about Happenstance Theater here.
~photo by Mark Silva~
Three women sit beside each other in armed wooden chairs in front of a fireplace. Two are looking thoughtfully looking at someone outside of the scene. The third's eyes are cast down. She seems to be considering an idea. The photo suggests a contemplative mood, but writer Amy Kolb Noyes used the word exciting to describe it. It's a matter of perspective. If the three women are Candlewick Editor Andrea Tompa, author Lauren Myracle and author Cynthia Leitich Smith, and you are in the midst of writing a novel in verse for young readers, this weekend novelists' retreat would be exactly as Amy described: "even more fabulous and productive than I expected!"
Amy makes a living writing. She writes for papers, Vermont Public Radio and the VPR News blog. Right now, she is also working on a novel for middle grade readers, and is writing in verse. This is a growing genre, and seems to appeal to reluctant readers. "Recess Rules uses different poetry conventions - shaped verse, rhyming verse, and haikus. I'm very comfortable in verse. When I write shorter pieces I gravitate toward that. I thought it would be fun, but it turns out to be hard!" The novel is nearly three years in the making so far, and is something Amy wanted help with. The retreat at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, supported in part by an Artist Development Grant, was a great opportunity.
"It's an odd dynamic," says Amy. "Writing by nature is a really solitary activity. It's exciting when you're able to get together with other authors, and even more so to be with other people who write for kids this age. It's really unusual to be able to get together with children's authors who write in verse. There aren't that many of us!" She belongs to a local critique group, but the writers involved are all creating work for different age children and in different styles. "Without this retreat, I could not have had the opportunity to have this level of critique."
A month before the retreat, Amy sent 20 pages of writing and a synopsis of the entire book to three other participants. "You read theirs, they read yours." Once in person, there is a very specific way the feedback is given at the meetings. It's a sort of sandwich, with an unappetizing filling. "The nice things come first, then the criticism posed as a question. Maybe, 'do you think it would work to do this?' or 'why did you include this?' and then end with another positive." Not only will the feedback be delivered in that conversation, the same ideas are presented in a letter form.
"You definitely walk away and it's a little overwhelming. There is all this feedback at once on something you've worked on for a couple of years." She also came back with an idea on sorting out the feedback, from retreat organizer and author Sarah Aronson, using green yellow and red paper or ink for her notes. "Green is for 'yes-absolutely!' Red is 'no, they don't get it,' and 'maybes' go in yellow. I'll tackle the greens first, set the reds aside and look at the maybes after the first round of revisions.
Heartened by the connection, Amy returns to her writing. She hopes to have her manuscript completed and ready to send out to agents and publishers this summer.
In January 2013, the Opera Theatre of Weston presented Noye's Fludde (Noah's Flood) in their 13th season of Opera for Kids. Work on this production began long before the performance, a demonstration of their devotion to bringing quality opera performances to school children and family audiences throughout southern Vermont. Over the years, the company has developed the Storybook Opera Project, an extensive pre-performance educational outreach program. Typically, this outreach program reaches more than 1,000 students from approximately 25 southern Vermont area schools and is the base of collaborations with eleven other organizations in the region. For this season, flooding from Tropical Storm Irene provided an effective core for the student work, and had an effect the theatre’s Vice President Lise Messier described as "emotional and moving".
Benjamin Britten’s opera is based on the Noah’s Ark story and was inspired by flooding of the composer’s own hometown in 1953. It had had already been programmed when Tropical Storm Irene ripped through Vermont in August 2011. The theater was flooded by Irene, as were the homes and communities of many of the area’s students. Recalling those experiences in writing exercises developed by the OTW, first graders at Mount Holly Elementary School wrote, “I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t even go outside to play.” and “You couldn’t drive anywhere because there wasn’t a road anymore.”
Those shared experiences are what led Lise to say, “It’s always a very special thing to get kids involved. There were so many personal connections and relevance to this production because of Tropical Storm Irene. Attending the daytime school shows of Noye's Fludde was a total student audience of 2600 children. It's our mission to try and feature a children’s chorus in our productions. For this opera there were 24 kids singing the roles of the ‘Animals,’ our largest chorus to date. Performing were also six local youth portraying Noye's sons and their wives.” Pulling a lot of this together was Ashley Hensel-Browning who has performed, directed and choreographed for OTW since the company was founded in 1999.
Ashley is a dancer-choreographer who works with the Opera Theatre of Weston. She has been involved with them since her early years growing up in Cavendish. Applying her degree in Education from Harvard, she described working on a dance with students from the Ludlow and Jamaica schools. “These are relatively smaller schools, but they are places that definitely got pretty wet. The entire [Ludlow] school sent writing before-hand – a book! When I got there, they had great energy and were ready to share.” Ashley led them through a process she calls shape sculpting. Kids shape each other into different positions. Some of them were things in nature, maybe trees falling down, or an expression of their own feeling. “Kids are pretty good at coming up with a full-body expression of an emotion.”
The performances drew a large audience, who also became involved in the opera. It is written into the score for the audience to stand and join the cast in the singing of hymns as a rainbow emerges after the flood. The healing power of this show was aptly described by Katherine McNally from Chester. Her house was obliterated in the storm. After this devastating experience and then playing a part in the show she said, “As I got settled in my new home, after having been relocated by Tropical Storm Irene, the story of Noye and his family helped me to see the important things in life: love, community , peace, family, and helping others.”
Photo: Albert Marrow / Rutland Herald
High School students in Milton experiment with many different mediums in their art classes. One of their teachers, Courtney Reckord, will introduce them to everything from painting and drawing to metal working and digital art. She chooses an umbrella topic to organize her curriculum. This year, it was mythology. Within 45 days, students created maps, illustrated characters, pieced together collages, and composed digital presentations from the myth or legend of their choosing. “The kids got to know the myth or legend they chose really well. They felt invested, and found something to hold on to.” Teaching artist Jay Mead’s mask making was an easy and natural addition to her class.
The masks were first sculpted in clay. While the clay was still damp, it was covered with a layer of plastic. Three layers of paper mache were added to that and formed to retain details. When the paper mache was dry, a very light and strong mask was popped off of the clay and painted with a layer of gesso and additional layers of acrylic paint.
“It was really interesting to see not only new skills and techniques, but also how we both taught the same students. It was fun to see how Jay worked, and to observe how the students interacted with him.” Courtney knows she cannot master every artistic practice. “I had someone in last year, too. Maybe [that artist’s discipline] is something I can’t master, but I can have someone in. I can learn from them, and continue to teach it another time.”
Courtney described Jay’s teaching as “very enthusiastic and honest.” She said, “He got to know the students really quickly, and was able to connect with many of them right away. One of my most perfectionistic students had chosen Medusa. Jay picked up on that and totally supported her on that. He also has such an extensive knowledge of masks and has worked with so many groups.”
The creative process is what Courtney wants to teach. She says, “The art classroom is a way for a lot of kids who don’t succeed in other classrooms to succeed. It’s very hands on, and they are expressing themselves in completely different ways. Many of the kids say they look forward to art, and that it is their favorite part of the day.” For some, it feels like a break. “They are relaxing and working hard. It’s a different kind of work. They are involved with the right brain and doing problem solving.”
There are also challenges. “Getting used to this is hard for a lot of the students. They are so used to a ‘2+2 is 4 mentality.’ I tell them ‘there are no right answers. I want you to look into yourselves and bring that out.’ What I want is for them to do the best thing they can do. What I want them to get is that these are problem-solving skills that will take you somewhere in the world.”
Thanks to Courtney Reckord and Jay Mead, Milton students will continue their days armed with an ability to access creative thought, backed by the wisdom of legends.
Renting meeting space at the Fletcher Free Library last year meant you could use a room with a table, chairs and dry-erase board. Library-sponsored programs were allowed the use of the portable projector with a pull-down screen. Working from your laptop or tablet, you might find yourself scrunched in a corner to be near an outlet. Coming into this library in downtown Burlington, you would be asked to leave your coffee outside the building, and talk was discouraged. All of those things are different now. Up-to-date A/V equipment provided by a Cultural Facilities Grant is only one of the ways the library is evolving.
“Public libraries are re-inventing themselves, they are taking on bigger roles. They are turning much more into a community center, or a center for lifelong learning,” said Robert Coleburn. Robert was serving as co-director of the library during the grant period. Working at the Fletcher Free Library since 1992, he has seen many changes. These changes are largely a result of the evolution of electronics. Now, when an organization rents a meeting room they can use a 70-inch display with audio speakers and a microphone. “The equipment brought our meeting rooms into the 21st century. Instead of an image projected on a wobbly screen, we’ve got a display that’s 8 feet by 7 feet. The sound is probably as good as you would get at a movie theater.” People come to this space to attend discussions, presentations or movies.
The library also offers computer classes. “You’ve heard of the digital divide? We’re not just helping people who don’t have an internet connection to get online, but people looking for jobs. You don’t walk in a place to apply for a job now. People also use the computer to write their resume or look at job boards. You can’t get a job unless you can apply on line.” Classes are offered not only by speakers of English, but also by people whose first language is Somali, Burmese, and Nepali to serve Chittenden County’s large refugee population.
Spaces have been reconfigured to reflect the new ideas. The reference collection has shrunk to accommodate fourteen computer stations and there are two new tables with built in electrical outlets for users with portable devices. Seating areas with power strips accommodate other groups. “Small groups can come into the library and meet about their project, all with iPads or a laptop.” WiFi is available throughout the building’s 44,000 square feet.
All of this is an effort to balance the traditional and the new. Fletcher Free Library is still committed to books, reading and literacy. They host pre-school reading time and a very popular summer reading program. The young adult section has thousands of books to choose from, including a heavy dollop of graphic novels. Believing that youth programs are the foundation of their library, they also offer family sing-alongs, arts, crafts, dance and theatre programs. “We finally had to allow drinks in the library. This is a downtown urban setting. We’re finding ourselves in competition with book stores, coffee shops and other places.”
The library is strong, and Robert is confident in its future. One thing that remains constant: “People still really like a book.”
“…cross that bridge, now you’re chilling in my city,” proclaims the last line of the song Winooski, My Town by A2VT. It appears on their Africa, Vermont CD released late in 2012, available on cdbaby.com or Pure Pop Records and produced by David Cooper. It’s a love song. It’s a song about loving a place. The piece suits the band.
George Mnyonge (MG Man), Cadoux Fancy and Said Jilib are three African refugees living in Vermont and working hard to make a name for themselves. As their website says, “When war broke out in our home countries, we were forced to leave. Eventually we arrived in Vermont, where we now live. Now that we are here, we want to show people what we can do. We write songs. We sing. We rap.” Weaving through multiple genres and languages, they demonstrate what each of the musicians has to offer. They all have talent, work hard and want to share their music.
David Cooper is their producer and manager. He laughed when he was asked if managing bands was what he does. “Not by trade! But I am managing this band.” David is a musician with successes of his own, including studio work in New York. When he moved to Vermont in 2007 he changed his focus. “I wanted to be out playing, not in the studio all the time.” He formed the sixties tribute band Mellow Yellow and hit the road. He met A2VT working on another project, then worked with them to record the CD. He has been able to find funding sources for them: the Vermont Community Foundation, a campaign on indiegogo, an Arts Council grant (the Arts Council’s grant funded their website development and hosting). “Once I was working on the CD, I started functioning as their producer and mentor. I was working on their behalf to apply for these grants.”
“They took to the studio like ducks to water,” said David. He talked more about what it was like to work with the band. “Sometimes there are conflicts, clashes of ideas, then compromises. Whoever has the original idea usually runs the show for that piece. It’s inspiring to watch the free flow of ideas, though. It’s great. It’s exciting.”
The CD’s initial success had an unanticipated effect on David. “I didn’t realize until it happened that I was part of something bigger. This CD was the first to come out of any refugee community [in Vermont]. The work I was doing was not just about music, it had a social element that none of us saw coming. I have been told over and over about the pride this created in the community. It is their song. That has been the wider success, and has really been worth it.”
A2VT has options to consider as they prepare to record more and to tour. “The music business is tight and pigeon holed. A2VT’s music is eclectic, crosses boundaries, contains lots of styles and is in five languages. They may or may not have to choose one direction. Their first album showed all they can do. Now, they’ll have to focus on an idea.” He used the word exciting again, and said “Where it’s going, we don’t know, but it is definitely going somewhere.”
Chelsea Public School is not unusual. It is a small K-12 school seated in the midst of several farming communities. People in the region typically stay close to home, and exposure to the arts is minimal. Jennifer Chambers teaches integrated arts and music classes there. Exposure to a wide variety of music is one of her goals. Two Arts Council grants this year will help her efforts.
“How can you hate music?” Jennifer will challenge any student who tells her that. “There are a million types of music in the world; there has to be something you like!” She says she plans to shock her students with music. “I just want them to hear every type of music I can find.” So far this year, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra brought their Music in Schools program to Chelsea and Pete Sutherland came to the school for a two-day songwriting workshop (Artists in Schools grant). Later this year, students will travel to New York City to visit museums and see a Broadway show (Cultural Routes Grant).
“The work Pete did with us correlated really well. Our classes are really small. Art and music has seven kids, general music 15, the chorus is a whopping 9. Pete was just so adaptable, and really tailored his work in each of the classes to fit what they were working on.” Pete’s two days at the school consisted of in-depth workshops with high school students on their own song writing projects, a performance-based workshop with the middle school chorus, and folk-based performances, narratives and discussion with the elementary students.
Some of the most interactive work was with students who had already written their own song. “Pete shared his own process for songwriting. He’s such a humble man. It really helped the students to understand that even he can have ‘placeholder’ lyrics that he will later change, or that he might start with just two chords. He was so open and willing to share; it helped them to see that the song doesn’t have to be perfect before others have access to it.”
The songwriting process started with journaling about the word “falling.” After the initial writing was done, everyone traded clipboards. Using their shared idea, the high schoolers began to use words to paint images. “Pete showed them how to portray an idea without just spelling it out. He talked about when to use rhyming or not rhyming, and how certain things draw attention to a word. This caused one student to rewrite a song and bring it back to Pete.” There were other meaningful moments: excitement about a piece and wanting to know more about the chords, certain music creating a strong memory of a grandfather, Pete coaching someone through hip hop sound.
Knowing of the things that happened in those two days gave special import to Jennifer’s thank you written to the Council. In that letter she said, “…opportunities like this that help to shape how our student body looks at the world and gives deeper meaning and understanding to the arts.
We are looking forward to hearing more about the New York trip, scheduled for April, 2013.
Two bold paintings in a lobby launch the work that stands on the lawn. Glass panels lit from behind reiterate details from the pictures inside. The panels are mounted in metal, and hang between two trees at the front of a circle formed by mulch, shrubs and boulders. A curved grass pathway leads into the circle. The rocks are flat on top and invite you to sit. Entering the circle from the south, you see the word FREEDOM carved into the side of a stone; UNITY appears on another. Vermont’s slogan is one of countless small features in this large installation. The words also seem to describe the work itself; it is expansive and collaborative.
The latest project funded by the Art in State Buildings program is at the Vermont Department of Public Safety and Forensics Lab in Waterbury. Dan Gottsegen and Terry Boyle were chosen through a competitive process to conceptualize and create the installation. Dan was the lead artist and was excited from the beginning. He said, “It’s really fun to look at a site, and to look at the needs. As soon as I saw the site, I knew I wanted to get Terry involved in this.” Terry and Dan have worked together on other public art projects.
Dan’s ideas came from research and life experience. He spent hours combing through the State Police archives, becoming familiar with a part of Vermont most of us never see. DNA, blood smears and fingerprints were represented in one painting; police dogs, heroes and history in another. A favorite landscape and a cell phone photo taken during Tropical Storm Irene found their way into the work. Speaking about the images, Dan said, “There was a lot to cram in, and I still had to make them work. I had faith, though; I’ve been painting for decades. The challenge is to take all of the elements and play with them for hundreds of hours, to come up with something that is beautiful and coherent.”
Dan was clear that he could not have done this project without Terry. “Not only is his design wonderful, he has done the shepherding of the sub-contractors and the details of the CAD design. Many of the elements are way beyond what I could begin to do. It was truly a collaboration in that way.” Terry is a well-established landscape architect. In his part of the design, he considered everything from contour, light and wind to existing features such as trees and propane tanks. There was also collaboration with the community. Waterbury was hit hard by Irene, and the art project was stalled. When it was possible to begin work again, people from the area were invited to be a part of the creation. Words and images were carved into the bricks that now border the path on the lawn.
Experience and spirit brought the project to completion. Dan summed up the process nicely, saying, “I don’t know where ideas come from, but as you work to follow them, new ideas emerge.”
The Barre Opera House has received many grants from the Arts Council over the years. Funds have been provided for everything from operating support and ticket subsidies to soundproofing, an artist showcase and theatrical lighting. In FY2012, they were given their first Arts Learning Grant, supporting two summer theatre camps, as well as two student matinees that drew over 1,200 kids to the BOH .
“It’s a really exciting time to be at the Opera House,” said Executive Director Dan Casey. “For years, we’ve been talking about doing workshops and education programs. With the tiny staff we have, it has been prohibitive. However, as a part of its strategic planning, our Board has identified education as a priority, and this past year we’ve really hit the ground running. We ran two four-Saturday workshops this past winter, which were filled to capacity; we offered two camps over the summer, and we’ve already programmed a full matinee series for the 2012-13 school year.”
The first camp,”Acting Like You Mean It,” focused on devised theatre, creating an original work from a familiar
story line (they made Snow White & the 7 Dwarves into Snow White and the 8 Dwarves with a very creative out-of-the storybook retelling). One teaching artist and one teaching intern taught nineteen students. The second week, “Singing It Out Loud,” was a musical theatre intensive. Students learned the words and music for three Broadway tunes, choreography for four pieces, and character work that would make each number a "scene.” This workshop was led by two teaching artists and two teaching interns for 21 participants.
In addition, a portion of the grant monies were allocated to underwriting two student matinee programs: ScrapArtsMusic in April and Junie B. Jones in June.
Dan joked “When you’re getting an education program started, it always helps to have a professional theatre education person on staff.” In addition to her regular responsibilities as Executive Assistant, Cher Laston, who holds a degree in Theater Education from Vermont College of Norwich University, has undertaken the responsibilities of Education Coordinator at the Opera House, as well. She developed all of the workshops and camps, recruited the teachers and oversaw the operation of each of the sessions.
Cher spoke volumes before one of the performances when she said, “What will happen on the stage will be gone in just moments, and you won’t really get a sense of what they’ve been through.” This is important, because involvement in art teaches us so much. She described this well, saying, “At the beginning of the week, we had 21 young people who did not know each other well. To start, we explored what skills, interests and passions each person could bring. We agreed on some boundaries. From there, it was a whirlwind. These students learned music, choreography, and how to be in a space with 21 other people. Our goal was a community production; this theater really reaches out into the community.”
The motivated and engaged young singers and actors may have summed it up best of all, though, singing from Seussical the Musical, “Oh, the thinks you can think!”
The dresses are etched in gold leaf and hang at eye level--as if they have taken flight. Covering three walls in the gallery, they hang next to “Tatas,” a collection of crocheted pasties. All of this surrounds fabric dresses hung on dressmaker forms in the middle of the room. The sewn clothing is intricate, sometimes gathered, quilted and padded. Some are heavy. “Wearing one of these reminds me to stay grounded,” says artist Wylie Sofia Garcia as she hefts one of the dresses. All of this work is in a show called “Dazzle Camouflage” at the University of Vermont’s Living/Learning Center.
Dazzle camouflage is not a new concept. It was used on U.S. ships beginning in World War I. Vibrant patterns in stark colors were painted on vessels. This did not mean ships would not be noticed, but when painted this way it was hard to determine where the boat was and how fast it was moving. Wylie feels a parallel between that camouflage and women’s clothing, saying, “For me, this body of work has become more of a statement on feminism. It’s about the surface and veneer of being a woman. How do you draw attention to that surface and what happens? Part of what happens is hidden and subversive.”
She believes that fashion is something everyone can relate to. “Every day we make choices about what we wear and what we choose to do. Clothing can be about making the reality you want and about making yourself comfortable in different ways. Our private, psychological inner thoughts about our bodies are something we can keep hidden.”
Raised in Houston and influenced by the culture of oil, Wylie attended more than one cotillion stuffed into an expensive dress. “Wearing those dresses and learning what I am not actually helped me to understand what I am.” And, she continues to find out what she is.
Wylie received a Creation Grant in FY2012. Paying her studio rent with that money helped her to take the commitment seriously. She was also awarded a Sustainable Arts Foundation fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center. Working toward creating every day got results. “Once I used the grant to pay for the studio, I felt like I had to be here and I had to work. It became more like a job.” She went from 3-dimensional to 2-dimensional art. She got some shows. “It was in this year that I realized I am an artist. I said to myself, ‘I can do this.’ I realized this is my calling.”
Wylie is scheduled to take “Dazzle Camouflage” to the G Gallery in Houston, Texas, to open November 3, 2012. Some of her prior work is in an exhibit at the Art Complex Museum in Duxbury, Mass. She also has been invited to be a Teaching Assistant for the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program.
We’ll be seeing more from Wylie. She loves the “unpretentious and accessible art scene” in Vermont, and says that winter is like one big long residency. “This is my home base, and I am making connections. I can branch out safely from here; that’s something nice.”
To explore Wylie’s work, go to www.wyliegarcia.com.
Sometimes, plants are used to control erosion. The roots drive into the soil and hold it in place when storm water washes over it. Only new plants surrounded the American Precision Museum in the summer of 2011. They were part of a recently-constructed interpretive garden. When Tropical Storm Irene hit, water ran through the building and blew out a doorway. While damage to the building was minimal, and no artifacts or exhibit areas were affected, a great deal of destruction occurred outside. A large retaining wall was damaged beyond repair. Parts of the grounds around the museum were washed away. But there are roots in that landscape--and they run deep.
The Museum is in Windsor. Windsor is where the first Constitution of the Republic of Vermont was signed and is the town that later served as the state capital before Montpelier. The original Robbins & Lawrence Armory was built in 1846; that building became the American Precision Museum in 1966. The Museum explores and exhibits the history of manufacturing. Over time, the Museum has established its own consistent history of restoration. Roofs and windows have been replaced, safety and access have been improved, and the building’s masonry has been stabilized and restored.
In 2011, major improvements were made to the grounds, thanks to a generous gift from the Morris Group in honor of the company’s 70th anniversary. The new outdoor interpretive area is named in memory of Dorothy Morris, who founded the company with her husband. It was a very visible acknowledgement of the Morris family’s role in the Museum over many years. The new garden, with living plants along with stone and brick work, is an enhancement of the Museum’s first garden dedicated in 1991 to Margaret Rothchild, a long-serving Board Chair. The new area acknowledges the support from both families.
According to Ann Lawless, the Museum’s Executive Director, “The beautiful setting encouraged people to ponder our site’s beginnings with water power. Our collection is made up of machine tools, firearms-- hard, metal and industrial objects. Softening the site enhanced and extended the museum experience. We want people to relax, reflect, and regenerate. Even for those who aren’t interested in a garden, I believe there is an effect.”
The effect was powerful, according to Ann. “People loved it! There was a seating area near the top, and people were just hanging out. There would be a group lingering, then a family would show up. I really believed that the site fostered well-being. It was comfortable to just sit down and talk.” Then she adds, “We miss it.”
Now, the garden needs to be re-built and the retaining wall replaced. FEMA will provide money to repair the interpretive area, but not the necessary retaining wall. Funding for the wall will come partly from a Cultural Facilities Grant. Ann admits they aren’t entirely sure yet what the next steps are. “We have to deal with the wall first. We are exploring now how to rebuild; it all has to be done with future in mind.” One thing that is clear: The American Precision Museum and its deep roots won’t be shaken.
Susan Shannon has a lot on her mind these days. She’s beginning to figure out when to hire in-studio help. She also needs to find more space for shipping product. This is the same Susan Shannon who – six months ago – said she was “yearning to expand her thinking but hadn't a clue how to do it;” the same person who “sat quietly with intimidation for two years;” the same Susan Shannon who “would wonder how people were doing this.” Susan described this stuck point saying: “I just couldn’t get the business end of it. I didn’t know what to do. Now, I’m seeing how I can be successful – how I can earn a living from my artwork.”
Susan creates this work under the name Su Chi Pottery and has been selling her wares since 2000. She has made some progress on her own but has not supported herself with pottery alone. Shortly after moving to Vermont in 2009, she began selling at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market and became a member of the Brandon Artists’ Guild. She built a website. She has talent. “I know I’m a good potter. And I can stay in the studio all day, all night. I can make pots. I was just overwhelmed in thinking about how to get organized and how to sell.”
Breaking Into Business is a two-day workshop series sponsored by the Vermont Arts Council. One day focuses on business planning, one day on marketing. For $75, artists learn how to define and structure a business and how to present themselves to the world. They learn how to connect with gallery owners, social media, accountants and other artists. These are the things Susan called “the foundational blocks for busting forward.”
When Susan decided to take the workshop she said, “I knew I wanted to do it. I just didn’t know what kind of leap it would be.” She does not recall one certain moment when her approach changed, but rather a “ton of moments.” She remembered “coming back into the studio and sitting down after wholeheartedly committing to making the changes. Things were different.”
And so the changes began. She wrote a business plan. She got an Artist Development grant to begin re-working her website. She began to think in new ways. “I know now that I want to sell forty percent from the website, forty percent from retail and twenty percent from wholesale. I’ve developed product lines and gift packages.”
Not only that, Susan has a laundry list of other projects and information that are increasing her income. “I am about to get two wholesale accounts going, and I have a list of people to cold call. I am not intimidated by the list. I know what I want to say. I’ve applied for more fine arts shows, and have put my work in front of juries. I’ve learned how to navigate application demands, how to re-size images, create a postcard, how to write a press release. I’ve learned how NOT to write a press release! I’m doing a show at the Brandon Artists’ Guild with oil painter Kathryn Milillo. Over the last six months, I feel like I have been able to put all of the business structures in place. That is how powerful the workshop was for me.”
Susan is currently in the second stage of re-building her website. Scheduled for completion in November 2012, the site will allow the user to browse new works and shop online. With both plans and passion to energize her, she continues to move forward. Susan summed it up best, saying: “This is what life is about. I didn’t even know I had such a high gear.”
You can see Susan’s work at www.suchipottery.com; www.brandonartistsguild.org; www.middleburyfarmersmarket.org.
Contact her directly at email@example.com or 802-483-4142.
If you were to walk into Big Heavy World one evening, you would find a lot of activity going on all at once. Maybe you would see two sound engineers working with a new audio recorder, experimenting with it by making some station IDs. A graphic designer might be working at his laptop, a writer could stop in to work on some profiles. Two DJs could be in the studio broadcasting their show while a project manager sits at a desk in the back office, coordinating music to install in the state's welcome centers as part of the Vermont Jukebox Project. But it’s not at all chaotic. Everyone is engaged and on task. Everyone is volunteering their time. And, with the exclusion of Jim Lockridge, everyone is in their adolescence.
Jim is the Executive Director. He describes Big Heavy World as a cultural facility, community development initiative and job skills platform. Intensely focused on activities he describes as “useful and positive,” he makes himself available here. “I’m not going to tell someone exactly how to do something. I’ll be in the background, and maybe I’ll make an observation about how the mark on the camera might help in lining it up on the tripod, and let them work with that. Ultimately everyone picks up skills and has a self-empowering experience; I just coach.”
What is everyone working on? It is, in fact, a huge undertaking which Jim has pared down to a few words. “The core of Big Heavy is preserving and promoting Vermont-made music in an independent volunteer-run music office.” That’s the core. Along the way, Big Heavy has released 15 CDs, set up an online music shop, created a music library, and started running broadcasts on their own station: The Radiator. They also have two loaner vans that are a huge help to touring musicians.
In the future, Jim envisions the operations of Big Heavy actually set up around a stage. “The bands would be in the middle, with all of this around them.” What he pictures is not much different than the way the organization operates philosophically. That is, the bands are the center of this, with a community of support all around. Jim says: “Big Heavy World is a community coming together to help itself. You’ve heard of ‘do it yourself,’ but this is do it OURselves. We are welcoming of every personality and interest; we intend to be of service to everybody and create an opportunity for positive change and support of Vermont's community of music-makers. The opportunity is not in giving a benefit to community, but in the community giving benefit to itself.”
Jim is clear that he is in this for good, and he will continue to build. He says this enterprise is not fully formed. “There are still interactions that haven’t happened. Those are still waiting to be built; the community is under construction.” There are strong relationships in place, though, with the City of Burlington, Vermont’s Department of Tourism, the Vermont Folklife Center, and the Arts Council. Jim refers to recent grants from the Council and other sources as “the oxygen they need to keep this thing alive.”
Meanwhile, he is doing what he says is his calling. “And, it ends up that I just get to do a whole lot of fun stuff, both technical and social. My world gets bigger and bigger and bigger.”
You can find out more about Big Heavy World on their website: www.bigheavyworld.com
Listen to the RADIATOR: www.theradiator.org
Stay up to date with them by way of their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/bigheavyworld
Upcoming events: Collaboration with SEABA on production of the South End Art Hop concert Friday, 9/7; producing IndieCon in November; supporting or live-broadcasting festival and fundraising concerts through the summer; a winter concert series with Main Street Landing at the Black Box Theater (a monthly concert that will be broadcast live). Next year’s HeavyFest is at Magic Hat in May, 2013.
Jerry Cassels gets excited. Words and enthusiasm pour out of him fast. If he thinks something is great, he will tell you as much as he can as quickly as he can. When he talked about a school residency with Troy Wunderle, one of the Council’s Juried Teaching Artists, all that excitement moved up another notch. Jerry entirely appreciates Troy.
Jerry is the Guidance Counselor at the Northfield Middle and High School. It is part of his job to help students understand where their skills, interests, and values lie. He used a Teaching Artist Residency Grant to bring Troy and his circus arts to the school for a week. Jerry described Troy’s time at the school saying, “What put this residency on another level was the idea that Troy would help the kids to explore careers and futures. There was a real ‘empowerment’ piece to this residency. It’s not that everyone will become a performer, but everyone can benefit from Troy’s message of focus, discipline, and practice. Being good at one thing shows you can be good at something else.”
Jerry described Troy as high energy and engaging. To illustrate, he explained how the residency ran. “On Monday morning, Troy showed up from Saxton’s River at 6:00 a.m. Three eighth grade students and I met him and helped to unpack. By the time school started, everything was ready, so Troy just hung out in the lobby spinning plates.” Jerry used the words relentless, fearless, and rigorous, and continued to describe the daily schedule Troy kept. “Troy met with grades three, four, and five in the morning, moved to the high school for grades six, seven, and eight, then even decided to throw in one ninth grade class while he was there.” His instruction technique is excellent, according to Jerry. “Troy encourages everyone to focus on what is going on in the now; he never talks about what’s next or what’s going to happen. He is very skilled at picking out the positives. His methodology is sound. He provides an introduction, models the skill, has a student model the skill, then everyone tries it.” What were the things they were trying? Stunts with everything from peacock feathers, devil sticks and diablos, to rip boards, unicycles and stilts. “Within 45 minutes, he had everyone using three different things.”
Parent conferences took place while Troy was at the school. More than a hundred kids and parents worked with him that day. “What was nice is that Troy hit all the key components. He engaged the whole team. The kids, teachers, and parents had the opportunity to learn.”
Jerry was able to try a few things as well. He claims to be “not too bad” with the devil sticks, and hopes to have the opportunity to refine his technique during a two-week residency next year.
Read about Troy and other teaching artists on the Council’s roster.
Teaching Artist Residency Grant applications are scheduled to open within two weeks.
Centering is important in making pottery. Finding balance matters. Those are two of the big lessons Kathy Clarke believes clay can teach you. “Working with clay is very grounding. It is responsive and forgiving.” When she described working with this wonderful, soft, malleable material; a material that is naturally engaging, she said, “When you make a mistake, it’s great. You just smash it and start over.”
Kathy teaches at the Middlebury Studio School, a place she calls “a jewel of a studio right on the waterfall on Otter Creek.” A strong part of the studio’s mission is to make classes available to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. The School has a strong history of working with students from Vermont Community College and from Middlebury College. A Community Arts Grant helped to support classes with participants that came from Addison Central Teens in Middlebury, adults from the Counseling Service of Addison County who live with a range of abilities and disabilities, senior citizens from Elderly Services, young mothers from the Parent Child Center, and children from Mary Johnson Children’s Center as well as CSAC.
Kathy’s talents are balanced with those of the Education Director Barbara Nelson. Barb is a jewelry maker and self-proclaimed detail person. She organizes the programs and manages the money and records. She was instrumental in keeping the School together during a transition away from Frog Hollow Craft Center, which left Middlebury in 2009. Support from the community was strong, and there was huge impetus to keep the studio alive. “Generations of people in Middlebury have taken classes here. Although we had to move some of our things into a barn at one point, temporarily set up classes with the Recreation Department, and rearrange our space with a new landlord, we’ve been able to keep this going. We were trying to get together even when there was no space, using dining room tables, or whatever we had to do.” Her passion comes from a pure love of the creative process.
What results from engagement in this creative process? Young people become so excited by what they’re learning that they begin to bring their families, caretakers, even their new puppy to class. Favorite pieces are created: a food tray that looks like a pizza, a meat-holding Pterodactyl, an owl that brings a mother to tears. Kathy summed it all up when she said, “People come for pottery classes, but it becomes something much more than learning how to throw a pot. Understand, that in the process of taking a piece from beginning to end, you have to tend it, take it through many stages, use patience, responsibility, and respond to its needs.”
Who wouldn’t love to be in a book group with Julia Zanes? She is forthright, intelligent, and thorough. She is quick to laugh and reads the books. Another fun thing: Sometimes, a story will get under her skin and prompt her to develop an amazing multimedia marionette show. This was the case with the creation of “The Green Gold Tree,” a project funded by an Arts Council Creation Grant, money from the Henson Foundation, a donation from Scott Elliott, and, hopefully, Kickstarter.
The show is derived from Goethe’s Faust, which Julia read after learning of its importance to Carl Jung (her book group reads Jung). There are twenty-six marionettes that include witches, horses, birds, the Spirit of Helen of Troy, angels, devils, even God. Julia describes the production saying, “The story is about the soul. It totally blurs the line between fiction and inner reality, and is loaded with subtext. For example there is included a depiction of global warming and the fragility of the planet. Waters rise, the land is built up, and witch creatures sing about the smashing of the Earth.” She also said that it’s just the tip of the iceberg. “Reading the entire text of Faust out loud would take twenty-two hours. We think we’ve got our show down to about two.”
Other words Julia uses to describe the project are visually dense and truly collaborative. She is clear in pointing out that she is, first, a visual artist. “Sometimes words are projected on the stage, as if we are drowning in a sea of words, which is actually how I felt when I first began to read Faust. There are also film clips running and an additional layer of curtain outside the stage.”
A lot of artistic talent has been poured into The Green Gold Tree. Julia and Donald work under the name of the Bluebird Theater. Fine artist Michèle Ratté made a gold leaf fabric used in the costumes, and helped with puppet making. For this project they hired Oliver Schemm to build the stage. Music for the show, including songs drawn from the original text, is written by Donald Saaf. The music has been in the works for close to a year, and has been a full-time endeavor for Donald since January. Donald also relies on collaboration with Duke Johnson and Rick Contino. Julie Jensen has helped with puppet making. Donald and Julia will surely end up enlisting the help of their children Isak and Ole, as well.
Rehearsals have already begun. The show will open June 23 at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center. You can see video clips, read more, and support the show on Kickstarter.
Imagine Burlington without the Church Street Mall, the Flynn, Burlington City Arts, or the Discover Jazz Festival. What about First Night? All of these places and events are landmarks in Burlington’s culture. And, each of them are about thirty years old. First Night’s Executive Director Jennifer Crowell described how First Night started.
“The celebration really does have humble beginnings. It started with one woman who attended First Night in Boston. She came back to Burlington and said ‘We have to have this here.’ She got a group of community members behind her and they did a lot of lobbying of the Mayor and the Council at the time. It did finally get support.”
Burlington was the fourth city in the U.S. to start a First Night festival. There initially were ten venues and a Bread and Puppet Theater parade from downtown to Battery Park. Compare that to the programming that happens now. Jennifer described the logistics. “It takes two different light companies and eight sound companies to put on the event. We’re in twenty sites, and have more than 300 volunteers.”
Beyond logistics, there are attitudes that keep the festival alive. “The City has been a consistent huge supporter of this event. The Mayor is always there, and it is always clear this is Burlington’s celebration.” The responsibility goes beyond that, however. Jennifer believes Vermont is the perfect state for events like this one. “Not only is there an enormous pool of talent to draw from, but you can count on people to attend. It may be snowing, or ten below. As long as there is no ice storm, I can count on 10,000 people showing up.”
This is consistent with the Council’s vision: working to advance and preserve the arts at the center of Vermont communities. Jennifer describes the effect perfectly. “The day is just so magical. When you see all of these people walking around with their First Night button, and think about all the other alcohol-fueled celebrations that will be going on; it’s really quite incredible to see so many people participating in this substance-free event.”
Find out more about First Night Burlington on their website.
Albany is a small town just north of Craftsbury and south of the Lowell Town Forest. It is not a prosperous community. The Albany Community School, grades K-8, has less than one hundred students. Twice a week, those students have Physical Education with Peter AuClair. For three weeks each year, Peter teaches dance. “I’ll teach a few basic steps,” says Peter. “They’ll learn a cha-cha-slide move and some Cupid shuffle, and they’ll create some work of their own.” This year, an Artist Residency grant helped to bring Karen Amirault to the school every day for a week. Karen is on the Arts Council’s Teaching Artist Roster. The residency ended with an evening performance. And, a little bit of magic happened.
Dance teaches a lot of lessons. While learning physical skills, Peter also focused on the concepts of working as a group, counting music, and communicating. These were easy things to accomplish. Karen has a lot of teaching experience. She has a way of systematically presenting choreography, and she will pay attention to moves the students might not be able to do and take ideas for an alternative. Another teacher who was involved said, “I liked the two-way conversations that were made.”
This is the magic: Dance can touch your soul. How do you tell when that happens? One marker is enthusiasm for the process. Peter said “Karen’s work here was impressive. It was great to see everyone become willing to perform. About 75% of the students really got into this and wanted to perform. The other 25% just did it. It can be difficult to do this kind of thing with your peers, but they became comfortable with the dance, and had the comfort of a large group.” Peter was at the school early in the residency, and again at the end. “The difference in what I saw was amazing. Ninety-eight percent of the school came back for the evening performance. Later, there were three student groups who decided on their own they would like to perform for our Fine Arts Night. This was more than half of the fourth and fifth grade, and one group from the sixth, seventh, and eighth.”
There were four student performances and Karen included two pieces of her own. This helps to expose the students to a variety of dance forms and other possibilities. The teachers, entirely willing to participate as well, ended the evening with their rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” Indeed!
People remember Weston. They remember its bucolic mountain setting and the charm of its buildings. The entire village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Seated along Route 100 in Southern Vermont, the town is an easy drive from Boston, New York, and all of Vermont. This location contributes to the success of the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company (WPTC).
More than 20,000 people attend professional theatre productions at WPTC each year, many coming from as far away as Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. “We’re seeing more and more people come from out of state, but our core audience typically comes from within an hour’s drive. We’re not very far from Bennington, Brattleboro or Rutland,” explains Development Director Heather Brown.
The company has been under consistent direction since 1988. Producing Directors Malcolm Ewen, Tim Fort and Steve Stettler were joined by Managing Director Stuart Duke in 1996. Staging everything from classics to new work, the WPTC is proud to say they are nationally known for "world-class theatre.” Last year’s Community Arts Grant from the Council supported the world premiere of a musical entitled Saint-Ex. Heather explained how the Founders believe in enriching the theatrical experience with education and outreach programs for all ages. “We really believe in bringing audiences along. We create performance guides and have Directors’ Talks before performances and talk-backs after performances. We co-host special events with area bookstores and libraries. This definitely gives the audiences some insight into the work that we do, and we think they feel more invested.”
WTPC’s outreach always includes work with nearby schools and an annual summer production especially for young families. In addition to teacher workshops, they’ll hold a playwriting program for high school age students, an "Early Stages" program for elementary schools, a school matinee program, and a student ambassador program.
The Company enjoys strong community support, made even more visible after the Playhouse was flooded by Tropical Storm Irene last August. Saint-Ex opened on a Thursday and Irene arrived on Sunday. As Heather described it, “The storm was both devastating and amazing. People were coming by to haul things out of eight feet of the water. A million dollars’ worth of restoration had just been completed. Now the cabaret, restaurant, orchestra pit, dressing rooms and bathrooms were submerged.” The show continued in the end. “We had a lot of help and were able to get the show up and running again within five days, but it was a really emotional time. We would watch the gifts come in online and just cry. It was overwhelming.”
Find out more about the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company and its 2012 season on their website and at facebook.com/westonplayhouse.
Bhakti Ziek stood at her loom many hours each day for several months. She wove six panels. Each panel contained 7,000 picks. When Bhakti described the process she said, “That meant throwing the shuttle 42,000 times. One inch of the panel had 80 picks and I can do about 300 picks in an hour. I don’t call it tennis elbow, I call it weaver’s elbow.” She remained inspired by the thought of a vivid blue sky and her concept of the viewer being completely enveloped in the work.
Bhakti is a textile artist, working in this medium since 1969. The new piece is entitled My Roof. It is not a commission. It is not made to use, and Bhakti doesn’t expect the piece to sell. It exists, simply, to be shown in a large space. “Not everyone understands this. We live in such a materialistic society. Some people don’t understand the part of the human spirit that can conceive of this, and then make it.”
The concept for My Roof came from a smaller creation. Sky Piece was two panels flanking a doorway; each panel was five and half feet wide and 13.5 inches high. “I saw a photograph of my husband next to the panels. That picture gave me the idea for a big piece where the viewer is totally encompassed. I thought of looking at the sky on those blue blue days that really knock me into the present moment. I wanted to capture that sense of vastness and open space, that feeling of no boundaries.”
My Roof will be divided, at first. My Roof: West will be a part of a show at the Durango (Colorado) Arts Center beginning in April 24. My Roof: East is currently showing at Philadelphia Art Alliance. All of the panels will be shown together at AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH beginning in October, 2012.
In addition to weaving, Bhakti is a teacher, lecturer, and author. She loves all of these roles. Teaching helps to pay the bills while she makes her weavings, as did her FY12 Creation Grant from the Arts Council. What was the effect of the funding? “Creating gets me to into this private place where I am very confident. Maybe I’m confident there because I’m listening to myself. I loved having the freedom to do the work. And I love the scale of it. Every day that I can get into my studio is a good day, and the grant gave me time to get there.”
To learn more about this artist, read Bhakti’s blog, and visit her website.
Compromises were made. One lane of Main Street had to be opened occasionally so the steady stream of gravel trucks could pass through. That was the situation at the 19th annual New World Festival in Randolph, held exactly one week after Hurricane Irene hit Vermont.
Months of planning go into an event this size. The community depends on the unity and good spirit as well as the income from the event. How do you decide whether or not to carry on? “There was really no time at all to make the decision,” recalls Rebecca McMeekin, Executive Director at Chandler Center for the Arts. “I knew the musicians would understand if we cancelled, but they depend on us. And I knew there were other local organizations and businesses counting on this. I thought of the tent company, for example, and I thought of all the people who had businesses where food was ordered ahead of time. We knew we were going to lose money no matter what. So, do we have fun and lose money, or have people frustrated and lose money?”
The New World Festival is an important tradition, conceived in disaster. In 1992 and 1993 there were three major fires in Randolph’s downtown. A volunteer group of citizens formed to lead the town through this crisis. “There were a lot of good things that have come from that time,” recalls Becky. “Seeds were planted. People pulled together and a lot of community pride came about. All of those things showed up again this year.”
Did she make the right decision? She believes so. “At the end of the day, it felt like a good thing. People who ordered large amounts of food for the festival said cancelling would have been another disaster. It was good for all of us to be together and share stories, and to have a little part of life outside the mud and the muck. It really pulled a lot of us together.” Her decision was validated by an outpouring of support expressed in letters to the editor. Those letters included these comments:
“But with the magical music, marionettes, crafts, dancing, and even singing (!), it proved a day of renewal to exhausted attendees. My heart goes out to the regulars who couldn't attend (you were missed) and those who never have. Although I'm certain the festival's planners were torn, I'm grateful for their decision to carry on.” (Ann Aikens)
“We came away --- way past our bedtime --- with a renewed sense of what the New World Festival meant when it began, renewed energy for the challenging weeks/months ahead and genuine gratitude for the various accidents of life that have made us a part of this remarkable Central Vermont community.” (Judith Irving and Steve Reid)
“During the week I have found comfort listening to our church bells ring, smelling and eating the Rotary's chicken BBQ, and dancing to Mango Jam. Thank you to the folks at Chandler for not letting go of an important tradition. The New World Festival lifted my spirits and recharged my batteries.” (Lee Khan)
“While the festival attendance was less than normal, and the crowd more subdued, the music definitely served to cheer and alleviate my anxiety about problems at home, especially when the all female group, Long Time Courting, invited the audience to sing along with the Stephen Foster song, “Hard Times.” What a rousing sense of solidarity came from that shared experience, calling for hard times to "come again no more". In the face of adversity, sometimes what is needed is a little break from the struggle to get back to normal. Thanks to all who provided that opportunity for me.” (Susan D’Amico)
Read more about the Festival here.
“Some audiences are more seasoned.” Those are the words of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s Development Director Mike Peluse. He was talking about considerations that are made in setting up the Made in Vermont Tour each year. “For some audience members, this may be the only classical program they have ever heard."
The challenge is creating a program to play in eight different towns (Johnson, Vergennes, Derby Line, Lyndonville, Bellows Falls, Randolph, Woodstock, and Castleton). One commissioned piece is always included. “We look for a composer with a strong connection to Vermont. Audiences vary widely in their experience with orchestral music, so that one connection is very important. After his three-year residency with the Vermont Youth Orchestra, Rob Paterson really had that."
Rob Paterson is from New York. His piece for the VSO, entitled Dark Mountains, depicted his experiences driving through Vermont at nightfall. “People did enjoy this composition, and I think it had to do with its sophistication. In some places, it was edgy, angular, and dark. The melody and the emotion depicted the sense of a journey. The conclusion became very melodic, and the piece was very accessible. We tend to know if the audience likes a work or not.”
The VSO actively looks for feedback on their programs. Audience surveys are inserted in the program, and there is incentive (often, a door prize) to return them. The staff and composer make themselves available to hear immediate responses after the performance. The Symphony also has something they call a Green Room Program, which enables several students to have dinner prior to the concert with the composer and musicians. The students are required to write a one-page response.
All of this stems from the Symphony’s mission, specifically, this portion: “It seeks to raise the common standard of musical education and enjoyment, and to provide, at moderate cost, quality performances for a broad and diverse public throughout the State of Vermont.” Saying more about that, Mike states that “It’s the support of Council and other supporters that make this happen. It’s an important service to the people of Vermont.”
Find out more about the VSO here, and read about Rob Paterson here.
Community. Collaboration. Engagement.
None of these are unusual words in a grant application. They are key components in many art projects. An accidentally well-timed project funded by an Arts Learning Grant brought all of these elements into sharp focus late last year.
For two years, the Council has funded a lantern parade in Waterbury. The first year’s grant went to Thatcher Brook Primary School; the second year’s to the school district. “We got such good feedback,” said art teacher MK Monley. “We wanted to draw in more of the community, and one way to do this was to involve more schools.”
The “we” in this story is MK Monley and artist Gowri Savoor. Gowri is a visual artist who has been in Vermont for five years now, coming from England. She is also the recipient of a Creation Grant from the Arts Council this year. “Community art is a little more established in the U.K. There is a strong tradition there, and a lot of events taking place–street theatre, community processions, and lantern parades. They’re all a great example of what is possible when people get together, collaborate with artists of all kinds, and take their creativity to the streets. It is such a visceral experience.”
Just how did they engage the participants? Gowri explains: “There were workshops to build the lanterns. These were not just tied to the school; they were for anyone. People came from Barre, Montpelier, Middlesex, Waterbury and Stowe.” Gowri blogged also, and contacted musicians to be a part of the event. More than 400 lanterns were created, some people making their own at home. Adding musicians to the parade, about 600 people marched the night of December 3. The timing was purely coincidental, but important. Enter Hurricane Irene.
“Post-Irene Waterbury is a different town three months out,” MK wrote in her final report. “This year, this event was extremely important to our community. This parade was a way to celebrate with light and hope that all is not lost.”
The damaged grounds of the Vermont State Complex were opened for the start of the parade. The streets of the village were flooded again, this time with joy. In a follow-up evaluation, one participant wrote: “The River of Light was spectacular, gorgeous and a great treat for the spirit and soul (especially after another day on post-Irene tasks at the house and elsewhere). Thanks for all that you and the creative students and volunteers did to provide this special time for all of us!”
Gowri is enthralled the parade is consistently expanding. “After a town or area can experience something like this, they’ll take ownership. It becomes their own tradition. It is such a happy experience.”
Read all about the parade here, and learn about Gowri Savoor here.
Photograph by Gordon Miller
For nearly two years, WritingInsideVT has been offered to more than 100 women prisoners in Vermont, first at Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton, now at the Chittenden facility where the women relocated this past August. The program provides incarcerated women with a weekly opportunity to explore difficult aspects of their lives in safe, confidential circles utilizing structured writing and respectful listening within a framework of community-building.
Some of the themes that the women delve into include: personal addictions, poverty, abuse, dysfunctional families, childhood memories, and relationships. The goal of the writing program is to help incarcerated women ask the big life-questions, often for the very first time, as well as to envision positive new directions. The program has been praised for facilitating personal growth, empowerment and self-responsibility.
“The overwhelming majority of Vermont’s incarcerated women hail from multi-generational poverty and struggle with serious addictions,” say Sarah Bartlett and Marybeth Redmond, co-facilitators of WritingInside. “Once inside, there is little opportunity for self-expression. Materials are limited, expressive opportunities rare, and support and encouragement are not part of the culture. Research shows that writing and art—indeed, all expressive creative activity—stimulate positive self-esteem and mental well-being. With more than half the population suffering from mental illness, this is critical work.”
In addition to funding facilitation of the program, the Vermont Arts Council grant supports the creation and development of an online blog, www.writinginsideVT.com, to share the women’s writings with the wider world. The grant also funds publication of printed anthologies of the women’s work, to be showcased during a celebratory author-reading event on Thursday, March 22, 2012, from 6-7:30 p.m., at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, including local legislators and community leaders as invited guests.
The value of writinginsideVT is best expressed by the women prisoners themselves:
- Today I pulled something good out of my life. It was hard looking at all the mistakes and not having power over them.
- I am so grateful for this group, for the gentle encouragement to release from inside all the hurt that’s trying to hide.
- Thank you for coming to grow with us through writing.
- I’m so glad I came and you came to give us an opportunity that others here don’t.
- I liked being able to find a bit of light in the darkness.
It is always good news when an artist’s business is growing. So, it was great to get this update from one of our grantees, Kerry O. Furlani: “I've recently moved into a larger studio at the Journal Press, on Main Street, in Poultney. This new location (larger and more centrally located) will greatly support the production of my studio work and allow me to launch a kind of ‘Slate Carving School,’ in which I hope to offer the public an ongoing calendar of workshops in stone lettering and relief carving.”
Kerry has been working with slate since moving to Vermont in 2001. A fiend for traditional craft, she told us she “gives life to her work using wooden and dummy mallets and chisels, a traditional method introduced to her while training at the Frink School of Figurative Sculpture in the late 1990s.” This description was part of her application for an Artist Development grant, seeking funding to work with a master letter carver John Neilson in Wales. With a review panel convinced this would advance her career, she was on her way.
She describes the time with the carver saying, “My training began with calligraphy pen and layout paper. John helped me develop a foundation in which to build my own lettering forms. He encouraged me to experiment with scale, texture, and the shapes of both formal and informal letters. After weeks of desk work, I began to transfer my designs into carved pieces. John showed me how to ‘chase’ and ‘chop’ the path of a line.”
“I also had the privilege of investigating John’s immense library. Occasionally, we took to the road to track down lettering ‘hotspots.’ From public monuments and cemeteries to medieval churches and cathedrals John offered his insights on the historical development of letterforms. We also took trips to visit some of the best letter carvers in Britain and Belgium. I witnessed a solid group of dedicated practitioners, all of them excited about their work and sustaining themselves through their craft.”
The trip resulted in her recent exhibit “Words to Stone” at the Chaffee Art Center in Rutland. She created seventeen pieces from stone gathered in nearby Vermont quarries and river beds, stone yards, and back yards. "The outlined shape, texture and color of each stone served as my palette for inspiration for the words and fragments of poetry that were dwelling inside me or came to me after sourcing a stone."
As Kerry moves forward, she describes a new perspective. “I can sense a shift within. I am clearer now about my aims, more confident with the strikes of my mallet to the letters at hand. Fueled and emboldened by the palpable experiences of my adventures in Wales, my ambition is to develop a body of lettering work in private and public spaces that sing with life and are ‘felt’ more than constructed. I wish to convey both rhythm and variety in letter forms and the whole of a text as a singular word image.”
Read about Kerry and see examples of her slate relief work.
You can view her letter carving experience in Wales and see examples of her lettering work on this YouTube video.
Twelve Artist Residency Grants were awarded in FY2011; all but one to a school. The exception funded an artist residency held in Barre at the Highgate Apartments. Highgate has 120 housing units, the rents largely HUD-subsidized. At any given time, there are about 100 youth living in the complex. Many of them will participate in some kind of program organized by Doug Hemmings, the Community and Social Services Coordinator. The programs range from food assistance to arts and crafts or sports.
These events are especially important for ten weeks in the summer. “The kids might be here the entire time,” Doug explains. “There might not be a family vacation or activity, or time away at a camp. We need to bring experiences here.” Looking always for new activities and ways to fund them, he was led to Shidaa, one of the artists on the Council’s teaching artist roster. “We knew this would be unusual, perhaps a little challenging or even a little risky. It might fail miserably or it might be just what we need.”
Doug was thrilled with Shidaa, saying “the bright and colorful materials and activities are pulsing with energy and beg you to participate. You feel drawn to this culture right away, being encouraged to jump in and move; dance, drum, make music and art, taste the food.” He describes the week further saying “It began with tales of West African culture and an introduction to Adinkra symbology. Those concepts became artwork on tapestry cloths and T-shirts. They chose their symbols for personal meaning, expressing aspirations like beauty and bravery, loyalty and love.”
“Each day was punctuated with the sound of drumming. The drumming became the soundtrack for the workshop series; it was infectious and called people to dance. Performing the dance was meant to be not only festive but also to bring good luck and good fortune in life’s toils, in this case fishing. The Highgate boys thought this was great fun and practiced it over and over again until they became quite proficient. We shared a West African meal on Thursday. Feeling adventurous and flush with new experiences, even the kids tried and enjoyed the unfamiliar dishes. The week closed with a performance for the greater community. Dancers and groups wearing the decorated clothing took the (dirt) floor while others sat in with the drummers. On the more complex drum patterns, the Shidaa drummers played all the drums while our participants did the dances.”
One tangible measure of success was the number of participants. There were more people joining the program every day. Doug says that word gets out when an activity is good. And for those who were there, he says, “I have no doubt this had a major impact on them. I’m so grateful this was available.”
You can learn more about Shidaa here: http://www.shidaafricult.com/about.php
Artists struggle with balancing the time to create and sell their work against the time to carve out an income. Throw in the demands of family, home and community and something will give. All too often, what gives is the creation of art. Prior to a residency at the Vermont Studio Center (VSC) in Johnson, a painter in Calais reported that she had reached the point where the question “What kind of art do you do?” could only be honestly answered “Nothing. I don’t do anything anymore.” Teachers who are artists suffer in the same way, often finding they have neither the time nor support to immerse themselves in creative work or to connect with other artists.
Founded by artists in 1984, the Vermont Studio Center is the largest international artists' and writers' residency program in the United States, hosting 55 visual artists and writers each month from across the country and around the world. The Studio Center received an Arts Learning Grant in FY2011. The grant supported two residencies for Vermont art and English teachers, and follow-up curriculum development and assessment activities for two others. This was part of a larger project. Ten teachers attended the Learning in Art and Culture Teacher Fellowships Program. Before the VSC residencies, some Teacher Fellows had been successful at staying engaged in their practice, some had not pursued it for months or even years. All of them left feeling hopeful, creative, awakened, and inspired.
While the teacher/artists were there, they used their work time to focus on creating in the studio. The result is best described by one of the residents who said, “In two weeks I have created more work than I have in years. This experience has allowed me to forgo daily routines and responsibilities and has given me the opportunity to immerse myself in art. This freedom has allowed my ideas to evolve and given me direction.” Another said, “What a luxury for me, a high school art teacher, to renew myself as an artist by creating all day for a week with no responsibilities,” and “To share wonderful meals with other creative people and share their words and slides in the evening has been profoundly rejuvenating.” Rejuvenation is at the core of the Studio Center’s mission.
VSC will also provide resources for the Teacher Fellows in bringing their experience back to the classroom. A focus group in October and group exhibition/reading in the spring will encourage the artists to remain engaged with their creative process throughout the year. The Fellows will check in at the focus group; they’ll discuss how they are continuing to make time for studio work, whether they prefer working towards individual and/or group exhibitions and readings in the spring, and how they have managed to translate some of their studio experience into the classroom thus far in the semester. They can also bring their students to VSC to see how artists and writers work in the studio.
To broaden the impact of these studio residencies, VSC entered a partnership with St. Michael's College to offer post-residency support and resources for the participants to incorporate some of their studio insights into the teaching of how art and writing are made. Expanding on ideas from his own residency, 2009 Teacher Fellow Matt Neckers developed a course he now teaches that specifically addresses how to translate the experience of studio immersion into the classroom through developing creative curricula and how to assess arts education. Six of the ten Learning in Art and Culture Teacher Fellowships Program will be attending this fall.
You can read more about the Vermont Studio Center at vermontstudiocenter.org
The In-Sight Photography Project is a nonprofit organization in Brattleboro founded in 1996. They teach photography to youth ages 11-18 throughout Southern Vermont, regardless of ability to pay class fees. This is accomplished partly through core classes held at their own site and partly through classes with partnering nonprofits. They have received many grants from the Arts Council over the years, the latest being an Arts Partnership grant in FY2012.
In-Sight is clear about what they are trying to accomplish. Their clearly-stated mission statement says the Project “offers students a creative voice and outlet, an opportunity to experience success, tools for self-awareness and self-worth, and encourages them to become actively engaged in their communities.” Stephen Dybas is the Director, and he talked more about that. He described two different participants who had flourished as a result of their involvement with In-Sight.
“There was one student with developmental disabilities who just really liked the process of working in the dark room. He latched on to this concrete, structured process, and he produced wonderful pictures. I never saw him as happy as the night he brought his father and grandparents to see his pictures in one of our student exhibitions. He was on top of the world with a sense of accomplishment. Another student who struggled with written language found photography to be his passion. He took classes with us for many years, and we worked hard to get him interested in applying for college. He’s in his second year at Mass Art (Massachusetts College of Art and Design) now with a full scholarship, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him become a well-established professional photographer in the future.”
Stephen has an MFA in photography, has taught at the college level, and loves his current job. He knows that being involved in art is important in itself. Stephen also believes that learning an artistic process can be a big step in growing up. He’s also quick to point out the importance of the basic skills required for photography. “People don’t always put art together with this other kind of learning. These are concrete skills and basic tools founded in science, chemistry and math that the kids will take with them where ever they go.”
You can read more about the In-Sight Photography project here.
GRACE (Grass Roots Art and Community Effort) is housed in the Old Firehouse in downtown Hardwick, but has enormous outreach. The group facilitates self-taught art in more than 500 workshops held each year in the places people live and work: nursing homes, mental health centers, senior meal sites, adult day centers, even artists' homes. Executive Director Carol Putnam is largely responsible for establishing the organization as it is today, following the work of the late founder, Don Sunseri. Don started this as a project stemming from Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury 36 years ago. A Community Arts Grant from the Arts Council will help them to continue this year.
“What makes GRACE unique,” says Carol,” is our work with diverse populations, and the fact that we go out to do the workshops. This is unusual, and also challenging.” Carol says that she loves the philosophy of fostering creativity no matter what an individual’s abilities or skills are. “All of workshops are based on the same philosophy – be yourself and do it your own way.” The workshops are non-instructional, that is, “in each place there will be supplies: water colors, acrylics, clay, pencils, and so on. It’s an open studio environment. When people come in, they decide where to be and what they want to work on. They just help themselves as much as they can.”
All the staff at GRACE are artists and each facilitate workshops; the facilitator’s role is to help in whatever way necessary to allow art to happen. Typically, that is encouragement and some technical help ( mixing colors and suggesting materials to be used, for example). Carol loves not only the artistic process, but the work itself. “I work with giving and committed people. We all give a lot, but we get a lot out of it. We get a lot back.”
You can see the art of GRACE participants at the Firehouse Gallery, or in the community. It is frequently displayed in store fronts, church halls, and established galleries. Don Sunseri and staff started a permanent collection in 1997 which continues to grow. There is also a consigned collection being made by those who are creating now. It is always the artist who decides if they would like to exhibited and/or sell their work.
The big payoff for anyone is in hearing something like this from T.J. Goodrich, one of the participants: “Since attending GRACE, I have felt that freedom to create and further explore my art and visions”.
You can find out more about GRACE by clicking here (www.graceart.org), or by visiting their Facebook page.
Lyn Lauffer is the librarian at Sheldon Elementary School, and she lives in Berskshire. Sheldon and Berkshire are both small communities in Franklin County. As Lyn says, “They’re the kind of communities where everybody knows everybody’s kids, and it’s all very self-contained.” And, according to Lyn, “both schools are really making the most of that situation.”
Sheldon Elementary received two grants from the Arts Council in the last two years. An FY2010 Teaching Artist Residency Grant brought Jeh Kulu to the school for a week-long residency. An FY2011 Cultural Routes Grant brought all students in grades 1-5 to the Flynn for the VSO’s “One Green Earth” concert. Both funded activities were fully integrated with the school’s curriculum and were tied to a school theme for the year (Africa one year, sustainability the next).
Lyn describes the Jeh Kulu residency as “the perfect model. All grade levels were involved in inter-disciplinary activities. All of the teachers were involved. Everybody, and I mean everybody—teachers included—learned and performed an African dance. The music teacher was able to bring in 50 African drums for the week, including the school's own set. We ended with an evening performance that was really something to come and see. The entire school and the community took part in the event.”
The Cultural Routes Grant was tied to the sustainability theme. The committee planning the curriculum wanted an array of activities. These included projects in the school’s 60-acre forest, displays about alternative energy, demonstrations on trash and composting, and presentations by local food artisans featuring goat's milk products, maple syrup, and whole grains. Recycling was already well established and efforts to bring local foods into the cafeteria already underway. But this year, every single art project was done with recycled materials, including the creation of four 4 by 8 foot mosaics made of colorful ceramic pieces and installed on the outside wall of the school.
Students also made musical instruments from recycled materials. This is where the grant came in. All of the students in grades 1-5 were able to travel to the Flynn for a multi-media performance about green living. “The VSO’s instrument-making contest fit perfectly with our theme, and several students took part in that.” This year’s culminating event appropriately featured Donald Knaack (the Junk Man).
Lyn talked about the necessity of grant funding. “We're so grateful the grants are available. They have enabled us to work on a scale that we could not have achieved without the grants, and have allowed us to enrich our curriculum in ways we could not have funded on our own."
Julia Shipley is a writer who is also passionate about agriculture and building community. She loves poems and essays that braid disparate ideas together and it seems she lives her life the same way. Brimming with gratitude, she described the Council's Creation Grants by saying, "It is like one big round bale that you'll never finish unspooling. It just goes on and on."
When Julia learned she was awarded a grant, she took a step back. She looked at the big picture. She looked at the other awardees, seeing who they were, where they were from, and what they were doing. She had proposed to create essays about agriculture, dwelling and place. Another proposal was about transients and movement – a complementary idea, whose creator she invited to meet and share work.
During the year, she drafted, wrote and revised seven essays. She shared work in her writing group, held nine public readings, and taught a workshop on the Braided Essay (lunch was made from food she raised on her land). “But the part that is AMAZING is how this keeps leading to new things!” After reading with one of her fellow grantees at Arts Advocacy Day, she was asked to participate in the "Exposed" sculpture exhibit in Stowe. Additionally, she was invited to submit a proposal to participate in Habitat for Artists. The Habitat, a shack built of recycled materials, is installed where the public can interact with an artist. “I sometimes bring in my typewriter and type. I type out poems by poets that I love, or I write my own poems. Obviously, I can't write and talk at same time, so sometimes I’m sketching some of the tools I use on my farm.”
She finds all of this work important, crucial, and necessary. She believes we should not only eat locally and shop locally, but read locally. “Through Habitat, I am now connecting with people I am writing for. Because of receiving the Creation Grant I've stumbled into circumstances that have led me to the Habitat project which then helps me to connect to readers, arts organizations, audiences, curators, project directors, sculptors, even politicians and policies which support the arts. The whole thing has been an extraordinary connective process.”
Julia’s latest connection comes from Burlington. The Lane Series always publishes an original work in their playbill and she has been asked to contribute to that. It sounds like that big round bale will continue to feed.
You can learn more about Julia’s work here. You can also read her weekly "postcard" from the Habitat for Artists in the Stowe Reporter.
Vermont communities embrace art and culture; we are rich that way. Addison County is no exception and the Champlain Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) is a vibrant example. Musicians are on the Board, they are the players, they are community members. They are—among other things—music teachers, veterinarians, and lawyers. This is a relatively new group founded in 2004 by David Gusakov and Dieuwke Davidov, two musicians who knew they wanted to play challenging orchestral music.
The group has embraced their evolution. In FY10 they were awarded an $800 Technical Assistance Grant in to support a strategic planning retreat. The retreat was led by their Director Paul Gambill. Paul is a tech-savvy and entrepreneurial “horn player in another life” turned orchestra conductor. Paul has something he describes as “a need to build structures and organizations that create synergy with the music.” He came to this belief and polished his skills as an orchestra founder in Nashville—Music City, USA. Bent on the idea that his group’s success was absolutely contingent on exploring different ways of programming, he found his niche. “It’s kind of a blessing and a curse all in one that I have this combination left brain/right brain/creative/type A skill set,” he laments. “But I am driven to design new ways of programming, create collaborations, and engage our communities with our music in creative ways.”
There are about sixty orchestra members in the CPO. Twenty of them participated in the retreat. In two days, they were able to establish core values and design a mission statement (…to engage and inspire musicians and audiences with orchestra concerts and community projects that create transcendent experiences). “So many groups confuse what they do with why they do it,” Paul explained. “We wanted to get at why the group exists, and why are we musicians? Why do we come together? From there, the group can move to actions that further the purpose. It was a very productive two days. And the group has such a ‘We can do it!’ energy about them.”
Stepping forward with their new energy, a collaborative project with Very Merry Theater and the Vermont MIDI Project is in the works for spring, 2012; watch for that. A website is high on the Philharmonic’s priority list. Meanwhile, you can keep up with Paul’s left brain/right brain/creative/type A musings here: http://www.orchestraremix.com
Having a website is a welcome change for Becky Graber. She laughs as she says, “I’ve written ‘not yet’ when asked for a website address on all of the forms I’ve filled out in the last few years. It feels good to be able to write beckygraber.com.” An Artist Development grant this year helped her to establish the online presence she needs. The site was built by Ethan Hazzard-Watkins, a fiddler and graphic designer in Brattleboro. Jeff Woodward, a long-time friend and colleague, managed the photography.
Becky has been telling stories and sharing music for all of her life. She is on the Vermont Arts Council’s Teaching Artist Roster and on the Artist Roster for the New Hampshire State Arts Council. She makes her living through the performing arts and arts education; that has been constant. There have been times, though, when her art heads in a new direction. This is one of those times, and it is marked by a longing to create, express, and be heard in a new way. "Things have been shifting since I took a vocal improv workshop with Rhiannon a few years ago. That process made me begin to ask myself, 'what do I have to contribute?' and 'what is it that I want to express?' What I find I most want to do is to continue to touch others through well crafted performances, to collaborate with other artists from different disciplines, and to teach others - of many ages - through experiential learning. I want to teach them through experience the value of art, and I want them to go on to teach others.”
Changes in process are familiar to Becky. There was grad school in her early twenties, a time that led her to Lesley College and the New England Storytelling Center. Her move back to Brattleboro in her mid thirties led her to start the Brattleboro Women's Chorus. “I’ve always had to think not just about what I want to do, I’ve also had to ask myself how I can make it pay.” What else might be coming? “I’d love to create a one-woman show for an adult audience.” None of us will be surprised when this appears; Becky seems to be able to follow those hunches.
You can see Becky’s new website here, and her collaborators sites here: http://www.ethanhw.com/ or http://www.jeffwoodwardphotography.blogspot.com
The Arts Council launched Teaching Artist Express grants last year. Schools can use express grants to hire artists listed in the Council's Teaching Artist Roster for one or two day residency programs that emphasize collaborative learning. A five hundred dollar grant this year helped Milton Middle/High School to bring Peter Gould to the school for two days.
Milton is the 9th largest town (by population) in Vermont, and has a school committed to the arts. MM/HS has two music teachers, two art teachers, and one drama teacher; the drama teacher is Paul Curtiss. Paul's thinking was reflected in the grant request stating "The Milton Jr/Sr High School Theater and Music Departments are more often than not, the only means by which children from the town of Milton will receive any exposure to the arts from age 12 through 18. It is the mission of these departments to provide our students opportunities to experience as many forms of art as possible during their time here in school." In conversation, he went further with this sentiment saying, "I completely support having other points of view and the students having a variety of experiences."
Paul was anxious to bring in Peter Gould, one of the Council's rostered teaching artists. Peter is a performer, award-winning playwright and author, and a director of youth theater and Shakespeare camp. Peter worked with the Milton High Schoolers on their production of Macbeth, and worked with the middle schoolers on physical comedy. "All of this had enormous impact on the students," Paul explained. "Peter immediately had a great rapport with the kids. Because he shows that he is willing to take risk the students become much more willing to take risks."
Paul took a risk in staging this show, and credits his "own panic" in motivating him to find a way to get Peter's help. "There is always apprehension in putting on Shakespeare. Peter helped us to find ways to really play with it, and loosen things up." Milton's production of Macbeth did advance to the New England Drama Festival this year, a lasting effect of the artist visit.
Find out more about Peter Gould at his blog.
And more about Teaching Artist Express grants (some funding still available this year) here.
If you drive south on Vermont Route 100 you’ll eventually go through Londonderry, then Wardsboro, Wilimington, and Whitingham. Keep driving into Bennington County, and you’ll get to Readsboro, a town of about 800. Our featured grantee describes the town as “way off the beaten path.” Yet, each year since 2007, a group of artists and community-minded individuals has put together an increasingly successful arts festival. This group is Readsboro Arts which, according to their mission statement, is a not-for-profit corporation which supports the growth of the arts in Readsboro and surrounding communities to enhance the life of the townspeople and visitors to the area.
Two people on the Readsboro Arts Board are Mary Angus and William LeQuier. William and Mary have made their living as artists in Vermont for the last thirty years, and were successful in Connecticut before that. Based on their vast experience with craft shows over the years, they designed the festival to be artist friendly. They charge a low fee to exhibit and make the show as pleasant as possible. The festival is held at the village school, an accessible building. William also reports he has built additional ramps where needed to accommodate art coming in. There are opportunities for festival attendees to be an audience member, an art maker, or to buy art. Another big factor: a variety of live music is played all day long.
The Readsboro Arts Corporation used the bulk of their 2011 Community Arts grant to pay stipends to musicians such as the MacArthur Family, Skip and Laraine Morrow, and Jean Chaine. This is an important strategy. “The festival is completely free,” explains William. The music brings a lot of people in, and they do buy the art.” The approach must be working, because he goes on to say, “Our festival grows every year, and the artists keep coming back! It’s a community event that the artists and musicians enjoy as much as the public.”
The next festival will be held September 17th, 2011. You can stay on top of the plans by visiting http://www.readsboroarts.org/ or here.
You can see William and Mary’s glass art at http://www.kwilliamlequier.com/ and http://www.maryangusglass.com
Catching up with Brent and Maya McCoy isn't easy. They're busy performing internationally on the street and stage, producing Vermont Vaudeville shows in local venues like the Hardwick Town House and teaching residencies in schools around the country. All of their work is based in physical comedy with a focus on communication, empathy and circus skills. They are doing what they love to do, teaching others to do the same and enjoying every minute of it.
This husband and wife team met at Circus Smirkus Camp in the late '90s. They independently went on to pursue theater and circus, meeting again in 2006. Since then, they've toured their street and clown shows, created Vermont Vaudeville and built their own school program called YES! Theater.
YES! Theater is on the Art Council's teaching artist roster. Orleans Elementary School hosted a residency with them this year using an Arts Learning Grant. For 10 days, grades K-8 worked on clowning, storytelling, circus skills and theatrical presentation. The residency concluded with a Vaudeville Show for families and friends, complete with artwork, skits and props created by the students. Brent says, "It really energizes a community - everyone gets together to watch each other, and students always rise to the occasion." YES!Theater programs range from 1 to 10 days in length, and typically conclude with a student performance, from an informal demonstration for classmates to an evening community show.
Known to their students as "Bread and Mayo", Brent and Maya use laughter and hands-on learning to connect with kids of all ages. Maya explains, "We want them to take healthy risks, set concrete goals and overcome their fears of failure. By working together on our feet, we reinforce healthy group dynamics and positive communication. We make a safe place for them to be themselves and try!" Whether using theatrical games, skills-based lessons or free practice time, their teaching is centered on the same idea: Find something you love, and go after it. Brent says, "It's great when you see a young person's eyes light up, and you know you've reached them. That can have a really lasting effect." Maya adds: "The world needs goal-oriented, empathetic listeners who can communicate well and learn from their mistakes. Our work gets kids doing these things intrinsically. It's really cool!"
Learn more about Yes!Theater here: http://yestheater.com And, Vermont Vaudeville here: www.vermontvaudeville.com
Jamaica is a small and rural Vermont village with a heritage influenced by traditions of farming, milling, factories, and sheep herding. The Jamaica Village School serves 54 students in kindergarten through sixth grade and 7 pre-kindergarteners. Laura Hazard has been the Principal since 2007. Her philosophy, and the philosophy of her staff, is largely driven by a focus on the positive. Responsive Classroom and an approach to behavior management called Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports (PBIS) are two of the tools the school uses.
Funded partly by an Arts Learning Grant, the school recently hosted a residency with artist Terry Sylvester (she is listed on the Council’s Teaching Arist Roster). Terry worked with the students to create a WE ARE THE WORLD mural which depicts the school’s culture of community giving. “Terry was the perfect person for this project,” said Laura. “She is such a great artist, and has such a wonderful, artistic mind!” The mural reflects one of the school’s community projects implemented several years ago based on Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer’s book “How Full is Your Bucket?” This is how it works: When a teacher witnesses kindness or a posiitve action in the classroom, they mention it. The kind student puts a pom-pom into the classroom jar. Every Monday, pom-poms from all the classroom jars are poured into the school’s bucket. When the bucket is full, the school makes a connection with their community. Past connections have included donations to the local food shelf and the purchase of school uniforms for children in Africa.
The mural was created with thirty-five banners the students and staff sketched and painted. Laura describes the project as “student driven.” Her role was to administer the work (planning, grant writing, coordinating volunteers, etc.). The teachers were involved in planning and teaching; students took part in all aspects from brainstorming to sketching and painting. They used charcoal, sharpies, and paint to create the work. Laura described Terry Sylvester as “amazing.” She continued, saying, “Everyone enjoyed learning from her, working with her, and celebrating successes. She was knowledgeable, realistic, artistic and very easy to work with.”
A celebration was held at the end of the project after the panels were hung. Students presented Terri with a huge card of thanks, flowers, and fittingly sang “We Are the World.”
Find out more about Terry Sylvester’s work in the directory here.
Montpelier, Berlin, Barre Town and Barre City all lie within a few miles of each other in central Vermont. Barre Town and Barre City make up the industrial center of the region. Barre City’s history is strongly rooted in manufacturing and granite quarrying. The small downtown is comprised of retail shops, a few eateries and coffee shops, and professional spaces. The Barre Opera House is also in downtown Barre.
In addition to its central location, the Opera House (BOH) offers a 650-seat performance space with amazing acoustics, a 32’ by 30’ stage, and a Steinway grand piano. The BOH hosts everything from community theatre and school events (the Vermont Arts Council recently held the state finals for Poetry Out Loud here) to performances by the Green Mountain Opera Festival, big acts like Asleep at the Wheel, and world class performers such as Pilobolus, Shawn Colvin, Jackson Browne, and Kathy Mattea.
The location posed one huge drawback. The Vermont Agency of Transportation recently calculated the average number of vehicles passing in front of the Opera House to be 15,800 per day. This includes 18-wheeled granite delivery trucks and emergency vehicles using sirens. Add to this the sound of the crossing signal, shouts, horns, and other typical downtown street noise. Dan Casey, the Executive Director, remarks “In 1899, when the Opera House was built, Barre was a bustling town with a busy streetscape and lots of activity. However, in recent decades the noise levels had grown to such a level that some presenters, particularly those staging classical music concerts, were reluctant to use the space for their events."
This problem has been solved. With the help of a $9,250 Cultural Facilities Grant, the Barre Opera House has just completed soundproofing and weatherizing the windows. The renovations were done with the help of Aventech, an acoustic consulting company based in Boston with a strong history of consulting with theaters. Portland Glass of Barre followed the recommendations and installed storm glass panes from 1/4” to 3/8” inside the Opera House’s historic windows and balcony doors, and 1/4” storms both inside and outside the hallmark arched Victorian stained glass window. Additional funding will be used to replace emergency exit doors and to light the stained glass window.
The difference is dramatic. “The soundproofing project has elicited a collective sigh of relief from everyone involved with the Opera House and we’ll be eternally grateful to the Arts Council for facilitating its completion” says Casey.
A work by Vermont composer Laura Koplewitz will premiere at Carnegie Hall March 21. Lunatics at Large, a New York based ensemble of soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and piano will present The Sanctuary Project, a collection of work written by five composers based on poetry written by five poets. The project was conceived by Evi Jundt, the Lunatics’ Artistic Director and pianist after meeting Laura at another concert in New York. Laura is a tireless networker whose job has been made a little easier with an artist development grant from the Arts Council.
The artist development grant is helping Laura to update her website and to create collateral materials. She explained one marketing challenge for composers saying, “It’s important and very helpful in commissioning to have several short excerpts on the site. However, the challenge is to make sure the musical excerpts load quickly enough for reliable listening. " The site and the materials have already helped her. Based on an excerpt of one piece for the Parker Quartet (recent Grammy Award winners), Laura is in dialogue with the Hausmann Quartet about composing for this internationally touring ensemble. She’ll begin collaborating with them later this month. She now has descriptions of her work, her bio, and information about pieces written in the recent past ready to share. Spending time and money to have the materials ready helps her to focus on the work of networking and composing.
Laura started as a classical guitarist studying the instrument from the time she was 9 years old. She first tried composing at Hampshire College, and later through a composition fellowship at the Aspen Music Festival. Laura knew immediately this was the way she wanted to relate to music. Since then, she received a Masters from New York University and has done further doctoral studies in composition. She describes her music as “more traditional, impressionistic, and tonal,” and gives tremendous credit to two mentors: Joan Tower and Stefania de Kenessey. “Joan and Stefi taught me the importance of craft, and discipline, as well as believing in your compositional ideas and allowing the music to speak to you as you work."
You can see Laura’s website and hear excerpts of her orchestral and chamber music at: http://www.laurakoplewitz.com/
You can read more about the upcoming premiere (and buy tickets) here.
Kathy Stark is a dedicated and successful visual artist in Vermont who works with a variety of mediums. She has studied art since childhood. After a period of making intaglio prints, Kathy returned to painting. Her recent mixed media layered art—shown in New York City, Korea, New England, and throughout Vermont—includes water color on colored paper with added text. An invitation to participate in an encaustics show in New York City led her to add another layer, and began a fascination for this new form.
Kathy was well aware that she did not know the technique when she said yes to an encaustic show in NYC. Friends gave her a crash course, and she did successfully participate. The show, "Waxed in Time: 4 Takes on Encaustics", was taken to Korea and Kathy was invited to go along. This was just the beginning of a body of new work. Encaustics became exciting to Kathy. The new equipment, new sights, and new smells added so much to the pieces she had already been creating.
Kathy knew of R&F, one of the first manufacturers of encaustic paints. The company is in Kingston, New York, and they offer workshops. She was most interested in the five-day workshop. She “really wanted to know how to do ALL of it.” With an Artist Development grant from the Arts Council, she was able to attend the workshop. Hers was a small class of six. Kathy’s word for the instructor (Cynthia Winika): “Fantastic.” How she describes the class: “I can’t rave about it enough.” She experienced encaustics from top to bottom. She saw everything from how the waxes are made to what the finished product looks like. She was able to participate in experimenting with every technique they taught. By mid-week, she knew she would be investing in equipment and materials. Encaustics come in over eighty colors and are not inexpensive; she focused on choosing a color palette to work with.
Once those decisions were made, she says the work “began to show itself. Forcing new work never seems to go right. It seems you have to just let it happen.” Already, she has finished several pieces (including the piece pictured), and continues to create. Kathy is in SOHO20 Gallery in New York. She has been invited to participate in the 2011 AAF show in New York this May, specifically, in a section for women artists.
Learning a new technique allowed Kathy and her art to continue to evolve. She is showing and selling in a way that works for her. You can keep track of her progress by visiting her website: http://www.kathy-stark.com
And can see one of the galleries where she is selling here: http://www.soho20gallery.com
Building a Better Brattleboro (BABB) is a group of community leaders who have been working since 1998 to ensure that Brattleboro’s downtown stays vibrant. They have created a public park and bus stop, purchased the old Rite Aid downtown and converted it into the Robert H. Gibson River Garden, were instrumental in improving nine building facades and adding four sprinkler systems, and have organized hundreds of events and exhibitions. One of their recent events was The 9th Annual Brattleboro Literary Festival held in October, 2010, funded partly by a Community Arts Grant from the Vermont Arts Council.
Sandy Rouse is a co-founder of the festival. She is a former book store owner with experience in organizing arts festivals, and experience as President of an arts organization. Most importantly, Sandy just loves books and always has. “I had a job in the corporate world, and even then, I was in the book store at lunch time.” Ruth Allard is her passionate co-chair. As the Director of Windham County Reads, Ruth is driven to bring literature to young people and is on a crusade to get everyone to treat literature for youth with all the respect it deserves.
The festival grew out of Book Night. Area book stores would stay open late, some hosting events. There were two important turning points. One was the voluntary involvement of Saul Bellow. He was interested in helping the town. At the same time, organizers were able to piggy-back with some events sponsored by the New England Book Sellers Association. They were touring some authors with the intent of helping small book stores. With twenty-four authors that year (2002) the festival was launched.
The Festival has a broad reach. People have come from New York, Boston, Canada, Hawaii, Germany, and New Zealand. There are volunteers who work on the festival that live in the Boston area. Sandy explains, “They attend once, then want so much to be a part of it.” What’s particularly special about this book festival? “This is not a book festival. It is a literary festival. The writers involved are award winning authors, creating some of the finest literature being written today.” Sandy believes this gives participants and the authors a better experience. Audience members have been able to meet John Irving, and Saul Bellows, and to have books signed.
Next year’s festival will be the tenth. The theme will be “Looking back and looking forward.” Expect to see some of the authors that have helped to build this festival as well as some of the newest, brightest literary stars on the horizon. “Although there are always challenges,” Sandy says, “we hope it will keep going for years and years to come.”
Ann Legunn is a puppeteer who founded The PuppeTree in 1999. The company was set up as a collaborative non-profit in 2003. Ann serves as PuppeTree’s Artistic Director, and is responsible for scripting, directing, designing, and booking. It is important to Ann to work with other artists. She says simply, “You can just create a better piece of art that way.” She hires Vermont Artists whenever possible, including Gabriel Q of White River Junction, Evelyn Gant of Fine Threads in Montpelier, and Kristina Stykos who runs Pepperbox Sound Studio in Chelsea. PuppeTree is on the Council’s Teaching Artist Roster and recently completed an in-school residency at the Coventry Village School. The project was coordinated through the school’s enrichment coordinator, Irene Dagesse.
Every student in the school participated in the project, with a school-wide performance on the fifth day. The three-act performance was based on the classic Ugly Duckling story. The egg hatching was performed by kindergarten through second grade students with hand puppets. Act 2 was “Lost in the Woods’ depicted by the third to fifth graders’ shadow puppets. Finally, the duckling finds that he is a swan (in the city!) as done by the sixth through eighth graders, who were also using shadow puppets.
Art is rich in its lessons. Creating a puppet show teaches communication and cooperation. This residency also ties to other school subjects: the physics of light, history, and language arts. The PuppeTree has lesson plans available that tie to the Vermont Standards. Ann uses the themes of old stories applied to current issues. She cites one example, explaining, “Everyone in Sleepy Hollow is a bully!” The Ugly Duckling frames themes of accepting others, self-esteem, self discovery and diversity; all still relevant in today’s schools.
Ann’s values are expressed through her work. It is important to her that students participate as audience members as well as performers. “This teaches respect for what is created,” she says. Her work is also an enactment of respect for diversity and collaborative processes. And no group will be unaffected by her ingenious re-purposing of materials. Ann laments that “We know we can’t change the whole world,” and adds enthusiastically that “we are doing our part!”
Find out more about PuppeTree at: http://vtPuppeTree.org
See the Council’s Teaching Artist Roster here.
Today in this room I was not just another inmate, I was unique
I was skeptical of the things I had to share
image of masks
not what I expected,
so many feelings -
pain still very much with me
a silent protest
uncomfortable murky waters
These are just a few self-revealing lines of writing that came from the hearts of women housed at the Northwest State Correctional Facility – words elicited within a group facilitated by Sarah Bartlett, Director of Women Writing for (a) Change-Vermont. Her organization received an Arts Learning Grant in FY11 to support art and writing groups at the prison beginning last September.
Sarah started this group well aware of the power of trust given her by participants, and with the humble intention of allowing women to “connect with who they are.” Everyone was reassured, “It’s not what you produce, it’s who you become in the process.” Treating her writers with respect helps to create a safe emotional environment for creativity. For example, she calls everyone by their first name - the only place this happens for the incarcerated. Sarah promotes empowerment by encouraging voice, and celebrating change. The writing circle allows many of the women to feel they are “being seen for who they truly are.”
The practices and process of Women Writing for (a) Change date from 1991. This includes ambiance – a center cloth, candle, flowers and music. “Ours is sacred space, and I tried to import as much of that ambience as I could to this setting.” Perhaps more important is Sarah’s holding of strong boundaries. This work is not therapy, although the results can be highly therapeutic.
Sarah has a busy schedule. How does she stay grounded? “Leading these classes helps a lot. Yes, I have my own practices outside the circle; but when I create the space and bring myself into it, I get as much as I give. I can’t imagine life without Women Writing.”
Alisa Dworsky is an artist who has worked in drawing, printmaking, and installations for more than 25 years. She has a degree in art and an advanced degree in architecture. Her site specific installation, “Transfer/Transform”, was exhibited at the Bennington Museum from May through October, 2010 and was partly funded by a Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council. This textile piece, which wrapped a 20 foot tall column on the entry façade of the building, was part of the “State of Craft” exhibit hosted at the Museum.
“Transfer/Transform” was handmade of black polyester rope using a filet crochet technique resulting in a work of black gridded lines against the white column. Alisa explains, “With this work I was able integrate two dimensional drawing into the creation of a three dimensional installation. The black rope lines allude to the black ironwork window grates and entrance gates at the site. I increased the density of the crochet in a gradient pattern that became darker at the bottom to suggest the way weight from the roof travels down the column to the ground. The joy for me was in discovering a new way of working with a material and being able to incorporate architectural ideas.”
Alisa's grant enabled her to work on this installation which had already been booked, and served as a springboard for her next large show. During the making of “Transfer/Transform,” a new idea came to her. The black netted form was being built flat in her studio. Alisa tugged at the center of this net and found the potential to create a crocheted landscape of peaks and valleys. This idea would become the work “Surface Tension,” opening January 7th in her show “ Alisa Dworsky, Drawing Strength” at the BCA Center (formerly the Firehouse Gallery) in Burlington. “This grant and working on the Bennington installation enabled me to make a huge artistic leap.”
What’s next for Alisa? “I’m focused on creating more opportunities for my installation nationally and internationally and on collaborating across disciplines with dancers and engineers.”
“Alisa Dworsky: Drawing Strength” opens January 7, with a reception on the 14th from 5-8.
Read more about all of Alisa’s work in her blog, or on her website.
Brian Mooney writes stories and poetry. He makes time for his own writing by carving out a freelance career as a speechwriter, educational writer, and occasional teacher. He’s also the creator of The Storymatic (www.thestorymatic.com), a storytelling game and teaching tool. In 2010, Brian was awarded a Creation Grant to complete his story "Ghost of Her Ghost," to revise several stories for his collection "Tonic," and to support his ongoing revision of a novel, currently titled "Plug."
Brian initially described the impact of the grant with one word: "Immense." He went on to explain, "The grant changes the weather around my work. It’s given me time to complete the stories, and even though it’s really hard to sell a collection of stories, the grant gets the attention of editors and agents. It also gives me confidence to revise ‘Plug.’"
Many things influence Brian’s work—his upbringing in the tiny village of Housatonic, Massachusetts, his graduate studies at UMass, and the more than 20 years he has called Vermont home—but one of his more recent influences has been New York City's storytelling group The Moth (you may have heard The Moth Radio Hour on NPR). A few years ago as a contributor to one of The Moth’s mainstage shows, Brian worked closely with Lea Thau, who impressed on him that he needed to move closer to his material. “Although Lea and I were working on a non-fiction story, the experience transferred to how I thought about my fiction. What did my subject matter mean to me? Where in the hearts of my characters did my own heart reside?”
This experience, which Brian calls “closing the gap,” informs his revision of “Plug.” The book was originally about a baseball player who returns home after years of toil in the minor leagues; however, after working on a freelance project about Muhammad Ali last spring, Brian realized that he needed to close several gaps. “It makes more sense for Plug to be a washed-up boxer and sparring partner. Plug’s experience is less mediated by other factors that way. I had always viewed ‘Plug’ as being about my experience as a writer—that I’m pretty good but haven’t made the Majors—but I think by making Plug a former boxer, I’m better able to heed Lea’s advice and move myself closer to Plug in a way that I hadn’t anticipated at all. That’s exciting—and the Creation Grant gives me the confidence and support to make the change.”
Circus Smirkus is a well-known and much respected enterprise in Vermont. Through camps, residencies, and the traveling youth circus know as “The Big Top Tour,” it introduces youth to the performing arts in a way that is life-enhancing, fun, and always challenging. Juggling, aerials , clowning, and acrobatics have entertained audiences under the big top for years. All of this sprang from the vision of founder Rob Mermin in 1987.
Rob, a European trained mime and international circus performer – was clear from the beginning that he wanted to keep the tradition of a traveling circus alive, and share the experience with young people. He began Circus in a pasture in Greensboro, taking it on a statewide tour the next year. 1988 also marked the beginning of a school residency program, bringing circus arts to young students. In 1990 the first summer camp was held.
Circus arts are astounding and exhilarating; but, as with many of the performing arts, most people don’t think about what happens behind the scenes. This non-profit actually has ten full-time employees and about 85 seasonal workers. In addition to producing the tour, there are many off-season tasks to attend to, including program evaluation, fund-raising, marketing, scheduling, auditioning talent and creating the next season’s show. The staff is also committed to professional development.
The Council awarded Circus Smirkus a Technical Assistance grant this year to attend a Circus Educator’s Conference in Brattleboro. The Executive Director, Camp and Residency Program Director were all able to attend, taking in workshops such as “Getting Circus in the Schoolroom Door: Connecting to Curriculum,” “Mental Health and Teenager,” “Aerial Rigging Basics for Teachers” and “Training the Trainers.” Marialisa Calta, PR Specialist at Circus Smirkus, said the workshops were valuable in enabling Smirkus personnel to “see what other professionals in the same line of work are doing all over the country. We’re certain this will help us continue to refine and improve our programs.”
Marialisa also expressed gratitude on behalf of the organization. “We greatly appreciate all of the support the Arts Council has given us over the years. Vermont is so rich in art and cultural offerings, and we appreciate the fact that the Council recognizes the value of these endeavors to the State.”
Marlboro Elementary School is a small, rural K-8 school about 10 miles west of Brattleboro. It is situated in a community that is also home to Marlboro College and the world-renowned Marlboro Music Festival. A large number of artists work and live in this region of the state. The curriculum and attitudes in the elementary school reflect the community’s commitment to the arts. In addition to art, music, band and P.E. classes, the school teaches violin to every student in grades 1-3. Every child in kindergarten through fourth grade is enrolled in “rhythms,” a movement class based in dance.
Francie Marbury is the school’s principal. She shares this positive
attitude toward artistic learning. She subscribes to concepts based in the theory of multiple intelligences, that is, the development of one kind of intelligence supports the development of all. She also believes that study in the arts helps to create good citizens, people she describes as “being able to fully enjoy life.” This led her to establish a winter workshop series at the school. Last year’s series was funded with an Arts Learning grant from the Arts Council.
The artists were all established teaching artists; some of them are on the Council’s Teaching Artist Roster. Last year’s participants were treated to Todd Roach and his approachable drumming, Ines Zeller Bass’delightful puppetry, Bonnie Sterns captivating approach to pottery, Ezra Stafford’s innovative sculpture making, Janet Picard’s resourceful work with found materials and Jamie Coulter’s fascinating Capoeira.
All of the artists taught in the school for six weeks. Younger students participated in two one-hour sessions every Monday, the older students participated in one two-hour session each week. Every staff person attended. The teachers were available not only to support the artists in classroom management, but also to model the behavior of learning new skills. At the end of the six weeks, parents and community members were invited to attend an evening showcase. One parent who attended the showcase told Francie how amazed she was at the results. “They’ve gone so far in such a short time” she said. “I didn’t expect to see this much depth in the art after just six weeks.”
In keeping with the region’s flavor, some students continue to study art on their own. Several have worked further in Bonnie Stearns’ studio, others with the New England Youth Theater. Francie is encouraged by this, saying, “It’s really exciting to see students pursue arts on their own after the workshops. It helps me believe we’re on the right path.”
Marlboro Elementary School: http://marlboroschool.net/about
Monteverdi Music is a small community music school in Montpelier. The faculty of 17 professional musicians offer individual instruction in piano, voice, strings, wind, brass, percussion and bagpipes. The program serves 80 to 100 students and is well-established in the Central Vermont community. The school received Community Arts grants in both FY 2010 and 2011 to develop and expand their workshop, masterclass, and chamber music programs.
In the workshop and masterclass component, faculty members and invited artists share their expertise in a series of two-hour sessions. These weekend workshops are open to the public and designed for small group participation. A typical workshop features 5-15 students and the suggested donation is a mere $20. Last year's topics included fighting stage fright, choral conducting, practice techniques, form and interpretation, and a special two-day masterclass with members of the Sky Meadow Chamber Players. Future sessions will include acting and singing in musical theater, discussion and feedback for "works-in-progress,” performing Baroque music on the piano, and more.
The chamber music component is expanding this year with an exciting collaboration with Green Mountain Youth Symphony. Students and amateur musicians will be placed in groups according to level and interest, and Monteverdi and GMYS faculty will provide weekly coaching. This program fulfills a much needed framework for aspiring musicians who wish to play in small ensembles, and learn how to listen and respond to one another in a collaborative adventure. Administrative Director and piano teacher Eliza Thomas said, “The school is grateful to Vermont Arts Council for their support. Music is meant to be a shared experience, and these grants are crucial in developing these new programs.”
According to last year’s participants, the workshops and chamber music classes have been enthusiastically received. One pianist who took part in a masterclass said, "The workshop was a wonderful experience for me! On the way home, I noticed the world looked brighter in my familiar community. I think it's because music adds special joy to the core of your existence." The parent of a young violinist, Monteverdi student and masterclass participant said, "What a treat it was to have such a high level of musicianship come right in our own backyard! The encouragement and supportive environment of the school and its teachers have allowed my son to mature into the serious and dedicated musician he has become. We will always be grateful."
To learn more about Monteverdi Music School and upcoming workshops visit http://www.monteverdimusic.org
Bob Gold loves Vermont. It seems that every cell of his body is in love with the people here.
For 25 years, Bob was a dentist in Manchester, NH and taught dentistry at Harvard. At 65, Bob developed an illness that forced him to retire and ultimately left him homeless. Searching for help led him to Vermont. He noticed that the ups and downs of his situation created a pattern: Each time he was in a more social setting, he improved; each time he was in isolation, he declined.
Bob is also an artist. For 50 years he has worked with charcoal, water colors, pen and ink, photography, and sculpture. He credits Vermont’s Vocational Rehabilitation with helping him continue and expand his art. “The people there have been wonderful support for me,” he says. Struggling with an old Macintosh computer he bought last year and using Photoshop “in a completely wrong way,” he has developed a new process he casually calls “digitally altered multi media.” His press kit defines it this way: “Refining and perfecting his interpretative vision of combining art and photography utilizing digital cameras software and 'giclee' style printing and archival inks have created a unique artistic style. At first blush the viewer is not sure whether they are looking at a lithograph, a print or a watercolor. It is a marriage of all three.”
Since he took part in the Arts Council’s “Breaking Into Business” program earlier this year, Bob has set up a studio and has begun to sell art. He says the workshop was pivotal in his new career. It was the first place he began to show his work to other artists, and he received positive feedback. It is also where he got his first commission. All of this gave him the drive to move forward. He says he has produced more work since that workshop than in the previous 49 years. He recently completed a show at the Ilsley library in Middlebury and sold several pieces.
Bob told us what his move to Vermont has meant to him. “What’s really important is that the people of Vermont know how important they are to my feeling better,” he said. “I’ve gone from using a walker and living in assisted living to walking on my own and living independently. I resided at Living Well in Bristol for 3 months and with their help I got stronger and healthier until I was able to live on my own. Now, I’ve got a studio in Brandon and am able to talk to other artists. I can’t even tell you how important the people who I’ve come to count on for support really are.”
Breaking Into Business participants were eligible to apply for Artist Development grants as follow-up to the concepts they were taught. Bob received a grant to help build a website has recently been completed. You can view it at http://www.robertgoldart.com
This fall a marble bench made by students at the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center will be dedicated at its permanent home in Rutland’s Giorgetti Park. The bench is a last working of public art, created in five pieces that fit together. A team of teens from Vermont and Peru collaborated on all the necessary elements to make the project come together.
Carol Driscoll, Executive Director of the Carving Studio, said that working in stone requires a great deal of planning. The groundwork for this project was laid in previous programs at the Studio. Since 2004, the Peru Exchange Program has sent instructors to Ayacucho, Peru to teach carving skills to help teens reclaim their cultural heritage. Nora Valdez is an experienced sculptor and instructor in this program. A large part of her career has been spent creating public art projects and giving workshops at a variety of urban institutions. Nora believes that in public art projects “Art becomes not just a way to explore issues of human rights but to have a direct effect on them as well.”
This year, with the help of an Arts Learning grant of $4,750, eight Rutland area students had the opportunity to work with Nora and two Peruvian students selected for advanced training as teacher assistants in Vermont. The first step was to identify the components that would make up the marble bench. Sketches and models were made individually, then discussed within the student group. This conversation included the articulation of personal visions and thoughts about the proposed designs. Through this dialogue the young carvers decided how they would express their vision of humanity being at a turning point with environmental concerns, and the immediacy of acting. The symbols chosen for the bench included hands, a face, and a landscape in relief.
“There was cultural diversity and interaction in and outside of the working environment,” Carol said. “Nora and one student spoke Spanish and could act as an interpreter when necessary. Speaking Spanish also enabled one of the area students to deepen his friendship with the Peruvians and show them Vermont’s hiking trails, lakes and a video arcade.”
The collaborative experience is one Carol would love other students to be able to experience and she believes something special happens at the Carving Studio. “Students breathe the marble dust, observe the historic remnant, and experience the creativity of a center dedicated to sculpture making!”
Imagine for a moment that you are teaching a science unit at the largest high school in Vermont. Let an image come to your mind. Did you picture yourself in the rec yard at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Center? That image could be accurate. Community High School of Vermont (CHSVT) is the state’s largest high school, serving more than 3000 students every year. There are sixteen campuses: one at every correctional facility in Vermont and at eight probation and parole offices around the state. The school is fully accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and designed to serve Vermonters involved with the Department of Corrections. For individuals in custody of the DOC and under 23 years of age with no diploma, attendance is mandatory. Attendance is optional for anyone over 23 or high school graduates.
Students in the school have individualized graduation plans. CHSVT teachers design and offer courses that will allow students to meet the goals of these plans. Len Schmidt is one of these teachers. On behalf of the school, he applied for an American Masterpieces grant from the Vermont Arts Council and received funding to bring Judy Dow to the Chittenden Regional Correctional Center campus for two activities. The first was a professional development workshop for CHSVT instructors on teaching math using handcrafts. The second was a two-week residency for students titled “The Art of Nature.” Judy taught participants about ecosystems and reinforced the concepts through creation of a traditional art project. Each student created their own felt sewing project and received course credits in either science or art.
Judy is an Abenaki master basket maker and outdoor educator focused on experiential, interactive programs to teach biodiversity and cultural diversity. She is an American Masterpieces artist and is on the Council’s Teaching Artist Roster. Len praised the learning environment Judy was able to create, saying, “There were so many elements in the residency that really worked with our students. Judy’s knowledge of the community and the connections she created made this real to them. We have people who have not been successful in traditional schools. Students really connected with Judy’s stories.”
Having a classroom in the rec yard also immerses the artist in another culture. Len recounted a story where students were working on identifying elements of ecosystems between a building and the perimeter of the yard. A tiny spider web in one of the squares of the chain link fence offered a great teaching opportunity. But as Judy reached for it, several students warned, “Don’t touch the fence!”
You can see Judy’s listing on the Council’s Teaching Artist Roster here.
The Vermont MIDI Project (VMP) is a community of music educators, college music education majors, and professional composer mentors who encourage and support music composition for students, most of whom are in Vermont. Currently, close to 4,000 youth in 37 schools participate by posting work in progress for online feedback from their mentors. There are also students who are home-schooled and others who take part without school association. Each year VMP hosts two performance events, each called an OPUS, where some of the young composers hear music they have written played by professional musicians. Having sensitive, experienced musicians play a composition is an exciting opportunity for any composer, and a cherished experience for VMP’s apprentices. As of OPUS 20 this spring, the Project had premiered 350 new works.
The first OPUS event took place in the spring of 2000. The National Symphony Orchestra was touring Vermont and, with some influence from the Arts Council, VMP was given access to the musicians. Sandi MacLeod, the Program’s Coordinator explained the impact very well in saying, “Live performance of student work brings the process of composing full circle. When a piece of music, often created with the assistance of notation software, moves from the computer to talented musicians, it comes to life and inspires emotional responses.”
The OPUS events of today have a live rehearsal where the composer and performers work together to polish the piece. Sandi gives great credit to the artists, and believes it takes a special kind of person to be a student mentor. “You can’t ask just anyone to do this. The events are interactive; there are conversations between the young composers and the musicians.” She has relied on players from the Constitution Brass Quintet, Vermont Symphony Orchestra, and Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble among others. Some groups will take a favorite composition for another performance or tour. VMP works have been heard on Vermont Public Radio, National Public Radio and in the Vermont State House. Pieces have been performed in Chicago, IL ; Portland, ME; Washington, DC; Providence, RI; and Minneapolis, MN.
OPUS events include students who are composing for the first time and experienced students with a passion for composition. Students frequently say they have “learned to listen, perform, and think differently about music.” Mark Green and Laura Gaudette of Putney said, “[This was a] transformative experience for our 10 year old daughter. Through her own hard work and creativity and with the support of all those involved with the VT MIDI project, she now not only has a deeper appreciation for music and the process of making music, but also now stands taller as she beams with pride at her achievements.”
The VMP experience sometimes inspires a lifelong interest in music composition. Matt Podd started with MIDI in 7th grade and became deeply involved in the art. He studied composition and theory at North Country Union High School in Newport, VT, delved into Composition at Ithaca College, and specialized further by going for a Master’s Degree in Jazz composition at Eastman School of Music. He is now an online mentor, workshop presenter and teacher trainer with VMP. As a high school student, he once summed up his high school OPUS experience by saying “hearing my music played live gave me a reason to compose.”
Click here to learn about Opus 20, including recent audio files from the performance as well as student bios and descriptions of the work.
See the project home page.
Meet the composer mentors.
Montpelier’s Lost Nation Theater opened its 2010 season with the world premier of David Budbill’s A Song for My Father. Simultaneously, another sort of premiere was taking place behind the scenes—an impressive array of new theater lighting was also making its debut. This particular opening night had been in the works for years and support from the Vermont Arts Council helped along the way.
In 2005, David received a $3,700 Creation Grant for the first draft of a new play: LOVE AND RAGE: FATHER AND SON. Over the next five years the somewhat autobiographical story of David’s relationship with his aging father was further developed. It’s a play “about a father and son and about the attachments and conflicts between them and how time and education separate them,” says David. “It’s about growing old and dying.”
The first staged reading of the work took place in 2008 at the Vermont Contemporary Playwrights Forum. The second was two months later at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA. The following spring, Oldcastle Theatre Company did a staged reading in Bennington. For the next year, David honed and refined the script. When it premiered in April it had a new title, a talented cast, and rave reviews. “Budbill has created a work that aspires to classic heights while staying true to his own life and, in many ways, the lives of everyone,” said Brent Hallenbeck of The Burlington Free Press.
During those same five years, Lost Nation Theater was renovating the municipal auditorium in Montpelier’s City Hall into a multi-purpose performing arts space. Their first Cultural Facilities Grant in 1999 supported the installation of a curtaining track system. Another grant in 2004 helped purchase 48 digital dimmers and some sound system components. Other enhancements have included new seats and a remote, digital communication system that makes it possible for technicians to talk to each other efficiently and quietly during performances. The final phase was to replace old lighting instruments with new, energy efficient ones. In January, Lost Nation received a $20,000 Cultural Facilities grant to do just that.
“A typical set design is often accomplished for $500 or less,” says Kim Bent, Lost Nation Theater’s Founding Artistic Director. “Therefore lighting is a particularly important aspect of our production support. The new lights will also help fulfill the Arts Center’s role as a venue for other community events, providing efficient, creative lighting for non-theatrical uses of the space.”
Installation was completed in just in time for the opening night of “A Song for My Father” and the enhancements were noted by many. Among them was Jim Lowe, Arts Editor for the Times Argus, who wrote, “The consistency of the overall production was amazing, as well as its high quality. Donna Stafford’s minimal staging was simple and effective; Jeffrey Salzberg’s not-so-simple lighting (with Lost Nation’s new lighting system) dramatically enhanced the production.”
To learn more about David Budbill, visit www.davidbudbill.com
To learn more about Lost Nation Theater, visit www.lostnationtheater.org
The Artist in Residence (AIR) Cooperative Gallery in Enosburg Falls had a problem. It seemed that some local residents perceived the gallery as expensive, intimidating and unappealing. AIR has a strong commitment to community involvement, so the gallery’s board of directors came up with a creative, collaborative outreach project.
Partnering with the Opera House at Enosburgh Falls, AIR applied to the Vermont Arts Council for a Community Arts grant. They received $2,500 to showcase members of the community through stories and art. The project organizers wisely enrolled other community partners including the Enosburgh Historical Society, Enosburgh Conservation Commission, and Enosburg Falls High School. These groups, in turn, helped engage a wide range of constituents.
Long-time residents of the town and staff at the Historical Society helped identify people to be featured in the project. Twenty-eight interviews of both groups and individuals were conducted by a team that included an interviewer, photographer, and artist.
The groups were varied and included young, old, and multi-generational “Burghers” as well as newcomers to town. Three generations of the Wright Family were interviewed. The Judd sisters, three women whose father was a prominent local physician and a part of a pioneering family, also took part. One of the individuals interviewed, Mark LaRose, is a local mechanic and gas station owner, and the second generation to own the family business. A book of stories and photographs was assembled and artists, working in all mediums, created interpretive pieces to complement the accounts.
The book was published in March 2010 and celebrated with an exhibition and community gathering in April. More than 200 people attended. Interviewees were given a copy of the book and their photograph, and an invitation to comment on the process. The afternoon was a moving experience with lots of laughter and a few tears.
The benefits of this project reached deep into this small community of 3,000. People became better acquainted with each other and with the Gallery. Visitation by residents has dramatically increased since then, and the Gallery is a stronger part of the Enosburgh region as a result. Project organizers were thrilled with the results. “This project has been so much more than we ever imagined,” said Nancy Patch, AIR’s Executive Director. “The human experience was well worth the effort. The art and photographs that emerged are truly stunning. Perhaps the intimacy of the process inspired the artist’s creativity, but over and over I heard them say this was some of the best work they had ever created.”
What do Orange Center School, Washington Village School and Tunbridge Central School all have in common? A clearly dedicated and enterprising music teacher named Jenny Chambers. Jenny recently took advantage of the Arts Council’s new Teaching Artist Express program to bring Pete Sutherland to these three schools to teach songwriting.
The Artist Express was created as a fast and easy grant program for schools that have limited experience collaborating with artists. Grants of up to $500 are available to hire artists from the Council's Teaching Artist Roster for one or two-day residency programs. The programs must emphasize collaborative learning and the Council encourages applications from schools that serve rural and underserved populations. This was a perfect match for Jenny and the schools she works in.
Pete Sutherland of Monkton is one of the artists on the Roster. Pete is a traditional musician and songwriter with decades of experience performing and teaching. Jenny was thoroughly impressed with both his musicianship and teaching style. “On day one, he sang a cappella for them and taught that concept right away,” she said. “He talked about lyrics. I loved that he was able to show the kids how the words create a slideshow; the song is a series of slides made from the snapshots of life. He also told back stories about songs he has written. The kids were completely enthralled with his experiences and his stories.”
Jenny described Pete as “just the salt of the earth,” and praised his uninhibited and relaxed nature. She credits those characteristics with really allowing the students to open up. He led them through some free writing exercises based on open-ended concepts such as sharing an early memory or a family story. From there they moved to songwriting and Jenny saw the creative process come alive. She said her students let go of a need to rhyme and the rules that govern so much of the writing they otherwise engage in. “Pete is really comfortable with silence, and allowing some room to think,” she said.
Some of the students were not familiar with Pete’s instruments–including mandolin and banjo–and Jenny said they were riveted by the live performance. Some youth had more experience, even parents who were fiddlers, and they were excited to share information about that. This is success for the Artist Express grant program and Teaching Artist Roster. As a result of those programs, three rural Vermont schools had an opportunity to engage in collaborative learning experience with a high-quality artist and an enthusiastic music teacher.
The Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble (VCME) is a group of musicians dedicated to performing and commissioning today's music. Since 1987, they have commissioned 76 new works of music, and have premiered 93. They are one of the longest-standing groups of this type in the U.S.
Steve Klimowski is the group’s founder and Artistic Director. He took time from practicing his clarinets to talk about the past season and the Community Arts Grant VCME received from the Arts Council. Steve stressed that he “shops local.” A portion of the $2,500 grant helped with artist fees for the eleven Vermont performers. The grant also helped to fund a four-color brochure featuring images by Vermont painter Frank Woods.
The 2009-10 season included nine concerts featuring seven premieres and five commissioned pieces, including one student work. The four programs, Sextet Breakdown, Kissed by the Wild, 2 New Too, and To Reach! To Sing! were each performed in Burlington and Montpelier plus at one house concert.
New this year, Dennis Báthory-Kitsz and David Gunn narrated the program in the style of their long-standing radio show, Kalvos and Damian’s New Music Bazaar. They describe their show this way: “These may be mythical guys (Kalvos & Damian) alternately played by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz and David Gunn, but they're real flesh and are both pretty darn good composers themselves.” They also created podcasts of the performances which are available on their website.
VCME’s reputation, versatility, and incorporation of technology suggests that more intriguing seasons lie ahead. “What we want to do is reach audiences with music they haven’t heard, and we want them to really ‘get it.’ We want them to enjoy it,” Steve says. He can hardly contain his excitement about the potential for future concerts. He says the new production aspect of last season was an experiment. He is toying with the idea of mixing the narrative with poetry or prose, and he muses about the theatre lighting possibilities the Flynn Space offers. Dennis is already fine tuning the program narration concept for next year and will be in charge of presentation ideas. Are these elements that will guarantee VCME’s success? Maybe. But Steve suggests he has a secret weapon that is also helpful. “Not many people are nearly as stubborn as I am,” he says.
- For more information on the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble, click here.
- To download a pod-cast click here.
- To see VCME performing a piece by Dennis Báthory-Kitz, click here.
From time to time, grantees send the Arts Council an update on their career. We recently heard from Teresa Stores of Newfane. She is currently on sabbatical from her position as Associate Professor of English at the University of Hartford (CT), and is living with her family in a small village in southern France.
“Thank you again to the Vermont Arts Council for your ongoing support of my writing!” she wrote. “I couldn't have gotten this far in my career without you! I am a three-time grantee from the VAC. My most recent novel, Backslide, (2008, Spinster's Ink) began as a collection of short stories, which was funded in 1998, my first VAC grant. The story collection, Frost Heaves, (funded with a 2006 grant) is currently seeking a book publication contract, and I am in the revision process for my young adult novel, Letters to Holden, which was funded with a 2009 grant.”
The title story from Frost Heaves was recently selected as winner of the 2009 Kore Press Short Fiction Prize. In addition to $1,000 cash prize, the award includes publication of the story as a chapbook, which just became available. Kore Press also nominated the story for a 2010 Pushcart Prize. In Tayari Jones’ review of the book she said, “Set against the beautifully drawn landscapes of a small town in Vermont, this is the story of a thaw, both literal and metaphorical.” Three other stories from the collection have also received attention. “Fisher” was nominated for the 2003 Fish Story Prize (United Kingdom), and “Big Night” was nominated in this year’s competition. The shortest story in the collection, “Labyrinth,” won 9th place in the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest and will be published in the magazine this summer.
Teresa describes herself as a late-bloomer in most things, and said that her writing career is no different. “I grew up a Southerner, listening to stories under my grandmother’s kitchen table. I wrote stories and told stories all my life, but I never really believed I could be a writer until I took a fiction workshop with Alix Kates Shulman when I was almost 30. She told me I should be a novelist. After a few years of working, I went Emerson and earned my MFA, and my thesis there became my first novel, Getting to the Point.”
Teresa says she has grown into the writing process. “Each piece, I think, tends to take on a kind of life (or dream) of its own as it progresses. That’s a little scary sometimes, like setting out on a very long dark road on a journey with an unknown destination and no flashlight. I think that the limitations I sometimes set myself (and which I often ditch) are a feeble attempt to believe that I am in control of the writing when (really) I’m not very much so. Characters do things that I do not expect (or want). Endings occur before I’m ready. Minor elements explode or sneak their way into becoming pivotal parts. Writing, for me, takes a lot of faith that if the flashlight batteries fail in the middle of the forest, I’ll still find my way to the end of the path just as I’m supposed to do. It’s scary, but it’s also a big thrill when it (finally) works. And now, at this phase of my career, I’m starting to really look forward to those moments in the dark—even hoping that the flashlight batteries will die—because that’s when the magical part of being a writer happens.”
Teresa’s experiences in France are chronicled in her blog.
For more information on her work, visit Kore Press.
Eleva Chamber Players were founded in 2006 with a very clear mission: to use music to elevate the human spirit. Founder and General Manager Willie Docto explained the programming choices as pieces “that are uplifting, fun, and lively. Our goal is for people to feel differently after the concert than before.” To set the stage, the season’s program was titled “Brilliant.” The group chose their principal players carefully and with their mission in mind, that is, players with certain abilities and sounds were selected as principals. John Lindsey is the concert master. Scott Woolweaver serves as principal violist. Linda Galvan serves as principal cellist, and Lou Kosma covers principal bass.
Eleva’s goal is to reach out to the community. To that end, they received a FY10 Community Arts grant of $1,000 to provide senior citizens with access to performances, and to offer musical coaching to youth. This season’s performances took place in Waterbury and Barre. In order to make the concerts affordable for elderly audiences, free tickets were distributed through the senior centers in both communities and fifty percent of them were redeemed. The downtown venues for the concerts were accessible which also made it easier for people to attend.
The music coaching sessions took place at U-32 Middle School. Twelve string players participated in John Lindsey’s workshop during their school day. Lindsey is an experienced educator. Docto described him saying, “He is very direct about the behavior and techniques that are expected.” Feedback from U-32 music teachers was quite positive. They commented that there was great value in infusing classroom lessons with the real-world experience a professional musician can offer. Students gained both knowledge and enthusiasm for music and live performance that day. Docto relates the coaching back to the mission, remarking that “students were very happy to receive the coaching and to hear a professional orchestra” and that it is “important to get young people involved with music.”
What’s ahead for Eleva Chamber Players? In the year ahead they are planning a series of house concerts around Vermont and beyond, expounding that intimate settings such as these is the way that chamber music was meant to be heard. The concerts help to build audiences in other parts of the state and, most importantly, inspire listeners and lift their spirit.
To learn more about Eleva, visit: www.elevachamberplayers.org
What can you learn from a shadow? Quite a bit if you are in third or fourth grade at the Georgia Elementary School! An FY10 Teaching Artist Residency grant allowed the school to hire Sarah Frechette and Jason Thibodeaux of Puppetkabob for a recent residency. Concepts from the science and social studies curriculum were introduced through shows using shadow puppets and string puppets (see Sarah Frechette’s 11/4/09 profile). The ideas were further explored as the students mixed art and design to create original puppet shows of their own.
A unit titled "Shadow and Light" kicked off with Puppetkabob’s whimsical portrayal of the life cycle of a frog. A pond, dragonflies, tadpoles, and frog shadows emerged in a story featuring Sarah as a young girl exploring the pond and its life…even kissing a frog! The third and fourth graders then turned their attention to the creation of their own puppet show while investigating the concepts of opaque, translucent, and transparent objects, depth perception and planes. Each classroom worked from different visual story boards, all of which Puppetkabob linked to the science curriculum. The resulting shows depicted the life cycle of a salamander, butterfly metamorphosis, underwater food chain, the cycle of a seed, states of matter (snow to rain to ice), recycling, and germs. A shadow theater was set up in the Georgia School's small gym and each class performed behind the shadow screen as all the other third and fourth graders cheered them on from the other side.
Sarah was very pleased with the way the project came to life. She said, “Jason and I were really happy with how focused the kids were during the building process and then even more so during rehearsals for their final show. It was very important to them to perform well for their friends and peers. Having the students perform for each other created a very cool energy. We had so much fun! There was a feeling of pure JOY in the end.”
Students learned a number of skills in this project including research, drawing from personal experience, and teamwork. With vivid interest in Sarah’s work as a puppeteer and Jason's work as an artist, questions came up about making a career as an artist. On the last day of the residency Sarah performed her newest marionette show "The Snowflake Man.” It was an educational and entertaining treat for the students after their week of hard work!
Judith St. Hilaire is one of the teachers who brought the project to the school. “We are finding art is the perfect tool to bring the students’ attention to these ideas,” she said. “Students were able to make connections that would not have existed prior to the residency. The learning opportunities provided were of the highest quality, and I would love to see more promotion of artists like Puppetkabob throughout our Vermont schools.”
Puppetkabob is one of the 78 artists on the Vermont Arts Council’s Teaching Artist Roster. Grant funding for programs featuring artists from this roster is still available.
Click here to view the Teaching Artist Roster.
To learn more about Puppetkabob, visit www.puppetkabob.com.
The Paramount Theatre in downtown Rutland is alive and well! Executive Director Bruce Bouchard says the theater is “rapidly achieving its goal to be the night time economic driver of south-central Vermont!”
The Paramount received a Cultural Facilities grant in FY09 of $13,313 for the "Big Flicks at the Paramount" initiative. They installed a state-of-the-art large screen and both 35mm and digital projection systems. To date, the “Big Flicks” Series, which focuses primarily on classic film from the AFI Top 100, has brought in 3,614 patrons for ten events (18% were under twelve, and many of them were having their first “Big Screen” experience). They plan to continue the initiative, with another thirty-six screen events scheduled this year. Additionally, the Theater continues to function as a rental space for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, other performers and promoters, and recently hosted the Vermont Arts Council’s “Breaking Into Business” workshops in the Brick Box meeting space.
The Paramount is in the midst of their “Passages at the Paramount” series. The series is presented in association with Young Concert Artists, Inc, an organization that has been fostering young classical musician careers through annual international competitions since 1961. Among the celebrated alumni are Emanuel Ax, Dawn Upshaw, and Pinchas Zukerman. Two more concerts are scheduled this season: violinist Noi Inui (February 26) and clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester (March 13). Previous concerts in this series have functioned as “warm up sessions" for artists about to make their professional debuts. Soprano Carolina Ullrich debuted at the Kennedy Center, cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan at Carnegie Hall and marimbist Pius Cheung at the Lincoln Center.
The Paramount received an FY10 Community Arts Grant of $2,500 to hold master classes in conjunction with the “Passages at the Paramount” series. Prior to their concerts, the artists conduct master classes at Rutland High School with students from other schools in the region. Ullrich’s master class was attended by 125 students. Students in that session learned about the context of art songs and lieder, with five singers receiving coaching on singing technique. Her pianist, Marcelo Amaral, fully participated in the educational exchange, managing to make the class appreciable to players as well as singers.
Bouchard projects the Paramount Theatre’s economic impact on the greater community to be $1.5-2.0 million during the 2010-2011 Season. “In the new era of the Paramount, we dreamed of de-mystifying the theatre experience, removing the “elitist” label, and truly becoming a theater for everyone,” he said. “With ticket prices to two of our series at $15 and $10, offerings for a wide range of tastes, and the advent of the “Big Flicks” series at $6 and $4, we have finally laid in the final brick in our programming dream. There is so much potential in Rutland – it is just a matter of discovery, entrepreneurship and hard work. We sense a rich and rewarding future.”
To see the wide variety of upcoming events at the Paramount, visit www.paramountlive.org
Brendan Taaffe is a teaching artist whose school residencies focus on the dance traditions of North America and the British Isles and on world folk tales. In addition, Brendan plays for contra dances and concerts with his band, Magic Foot, and leads adult singing workshops through the vehicle of Turtle Dove, an arts organization he founded and directs. After being accepted to the Vermont Arts Council’s Teaching Artist Roster, he applied for and received an FY10 Artist Development Grant of $400 to create a color brochure. He was completely clear in his application about what his goals are: “…a full time musical career that balances school residencies, performances, and adult workshop experiences.” When you speak with Brendan he is just as clear. “This is what I want to do,” he says with resolve.
Brendan’s first career was as a vegetable farmer. He left farming because it was exhausting, but brought certain lessons with him that are useful in his art. “There is a certain attitude of resourcefulness that comes from farming,” he explains. “The margin of survival is so slim. That ingrained a certain attitude in me. When I need to do something, I ask myself what resources are available. I ask myself how I can do what needs to be done without paying someone.” He says that the payoff is that he doesn’t have to feel limited by income. Describing his life as full of a rich diversity of experiences, he is currently on his way to Scotland to lead singing workshops. “What could be better than that?”
Many self employed artists struggle with marketing and promotion but Brendan has a good handle on that. He has an attractive and easy to navigate website, gets his name listed in directories and rosters, and is creating brochures for broad distribution. He says, “It would be great if we could just be artists. I would love to wake up, think ‘I’ll compose a new piece today’ and do just that. But I make time to pay attention to other things because I want to play music and work with people as a musician. I also don’t want to be desperately poor. People aren’t going to beat down the door.”
Another challenge artists face is the lack of a clear boundary between work and the rest of life. The day often flows between things that are clearly work related, things that aren’t, and those unclear things in the middle. But those middle-ground events might feed creativity, so it all comes full circle. For Brendan that could be a walk outdoors, taking a bartered puppet lesson with Eric Bass, or making a table. “Good food and wine also seem to help,” Brendan adds.
The Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in West Rutland received an FY09 Cultural Facilities Grant. The funds were used to make their 155 year-old building more accessible to the public. The $18,000 grant help support a number of enhancements including building an accessible door and ramp for the main building, restoring an existing historic door with access in mind, installing a new ADA-compliant door in Winter Studios Building, and creating an accessible parking area near the ramp. These improvements are the result of thoughtful planning, and according to Executive Director Carol Driscoll, the work wouldn’t have been possible without the grant.
The Carving Studio is facing the challenges of growth. They needed to expand into the Winter Studio next door. At the same time, they had to be sensitive to access while preserving the historic nature of their building. Their plans are broad and proactive. They developed a master plan for the property that was prioritized by Tom Warner, an architect from Middlebury. They are using the current economic climate to focus on some of the necessary building issues and have been able to rely on Nancy Boone, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer for the Division of Historic Preservation, for guidance.
Frequently, people equate access strictly with wheelchairs. “Universal Design” is actually a much broader concept, intended to create spaces that are usable by all people, whether they're young, old, tall, short, with or without limits to mobility. The renovations had an immediate impact. “As soon as the ramp was done everyone began using that instead of the steps quite naturally,” said Carol. “Also, between the two buildings, there are two long picnic tables. That became an active space.”
Last fall, the Studio hosted a literary event with about twenty-five members in attendance. This included members who are elderly and have disabilities. Carol reported that everyone accessed the facility through the new ramp and automatic entrance. “Since then we have hosted several tours through the main building, down the access ramp and into the Winter Studios building without concern,” she added.
The Carving Studio’s vision for further improvements continues to be realized. The Board considers this lean time perfect for implementing a plan that anticipates growth in the next ten to twenty years. The next step is a low cost improvement that demonstrates change and viability. They will be working in the sculpture garden to add pathways and to remove invasive plants.
To learn more about the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center, visit www.carvingstudio.org.
The New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) teaches circus skills to students of all ages and abilities. This year, they received an Arts Learning grant to create a circus arts curriculum in collaboration with the Windham Regional Career Center (WRCC).
By their nature, circus arts are non-competitive, culturally diverse and socially inclusive. NECCA describes their courses as a place where “creativity and hard work trump traditional discriminations such as gender, sexual orientation, skin color and physical shape and size.”
WRCC is a natural partner for developing a circus arts curriculum. Students at the Career Center attend local high schools for the academic courses necessary for graduation. They also receive credit for their career and technical education courses at WRCC. Programs choices vary from accounting and digital electronics to automotive technology and performing arts.
Director David Coughlin has been supportive of the Circus Arts curriculum as an outlet for students needing non-traditional education paths to help them learn important career tools. “Working with the Center for Circus Arts will allow us to expand our programs, providing the necessary balance students require to successfully move forward to Arts careers after high school. Circus Arts provide an engaging way for our students to learn about working with a group, long-range planning, and connecting science, math and language in a cohesive course with clearly visible goals and accomplishments. And in this age of childhood obesity, adding the physical component is also a benefit.”
The idea has been percolating for some time. “We’ve been entertaining the concept for years,” says Elsie Smith, the Artistic Director at NECCA. “The possibility of a grant was the catalyst in moving toward the creation of an actual curriculum. When the Arts Campus first was conceived, there was the hope that the WRCC would be a part of it. The possibility of receiving funding and having enough growth in our business to support this kind of project were clear indicators that it was time to proceed.”
The grant has allowed NECCA to meet with a variety of circus arts educators to begin designing the curriculum. In addition to the physical learning, students will study history, writing, math and science using circus as a starting point. Students will write about famous circus personalities through the ages, and because of NECCA’s international reputation, they get to interview some of these people as they travel through the area. When learning about the physicality of certain skills, students will investigate anatomy and physiology and how it relates to the movements they are working to accomplish. NECCA is still developing the day-by-day outlines, and specifics about the staffing and homework assignments.
To find out more about the New England Center for Circus Arts, click here.
The Green Mountain Film Festival (GMFF) began in Montpelier in 1997 with a short series of films and no real intention of becoming an annual event. It is an annual event, however, and has grown steadily every year. In 2009, there were 113 presentations and nearly 10,500 attendances for the 10-day festival.
The 2010 Festival will be the largest yet with three film venues in Montpelier (the Savoy Theater, City Hall Arts Center and the Pavilion Auditorium) and satellite screenings at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury. Montpelier’s events will take place March 19-28 and St. Johnsbury’s events are April 9-11.
Focus on Film is the organization that presents the Festival. Last spring they were awarded an ARTS JOBS* grant of $5,000 to support the positions of Chief Programmer, Graphic Designer and Web Designer. Funding for these positions has a significant impact on the organization and the Festival’s future course.
“Film programming is the single most important aspect of festival planning,” says Executive Director Donald Rae, “and a more complex process than many would imagine.” The Programmer strives to bring films from all over the world at an affordable price. Film selection for the GMFF is carried out year-round with the assistance of a loose-knit body of about 16 volunteers.
The internet plays a key role in the Festival's promotional strategy. They have maintained a presence on Facebook for several years, and are increasingly using Twitter (@Festivius) to communicate with festival goers. The majority of festival goers are from Central and Northern Vermont, but visitors are drawn from all over the region. Invited guests travel from much further afield: New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, and on one occasion, Tel Aviv.
“Social networking and a functional website are both very important to us,” says Rae. “We have become ingenious by necessity. The real genius is our web designer Carter Stowell of Fig Rig Webcrafters, who every year elegantly bridges the gap between what is possible and what is affordable. The same is true of Linda Mirabile of Ravenmark Design, our Graphic Designer. They’re both based right here in Montpelier. They both like the festival. Online and on paper, our design dollars go a long way.”
To find out more about the Green Mountain Film Festival, visit: www.greenmountainfilmfestival.org
* In August, 2009, the ARTS JOBS program, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, awarded $606,000 in grants to 42 Vermont arts organizations. The purpose of this funding is to help preserve jobs in Vermont’s nonprofit arts sector that have been threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downturn.
Gordon Stone has been writing and performing banjo and pedal steel guitar music for more than thirty years. His music has been described as “a blend of jazz-flavored groove-driven funk and buoyant bluegrass.” Gordon recently received a Community Arts grant to support the creation and performance of a collection of new songs that reflect Vermont's ethnic diversity. The result of that grant was a performance piece titled The Sacred Forest.
His goal in this project was to work musically with a portion of the diverse cultures that exist in Vermont. The inspiration for the collaboration began on a day Gordon wore his African-made mud cloth jacket to Shaw’s supermarket. The jacket sparked a conversation with Elhadji Mamadou Ba, a Senegalese percussionist, and led to Elhadji’s playing hand drums on Gordon’s CD, Night Shade. Elhadji, who also teaches dance, choreographed a group of dancers for the two performances of The Sacred Forest (one in Burlington and one in Barre). The result was both an interesting new piece of music and a DVD. Gordon said he believes this is the first collaboration involving American pedal steel guitar and banjo and Senegalese drumming and dancing.
Gordon described a noticeable difference in the relationship between music and dance in the American and Sengalese cultures. In traditional genres, American dancers respond to the music. In the Senegalese style, the lead players leave the groove of the ensemble and follow the dancer emotively. During the Sacred Forest performance the djembe player actually moved around on stage with the dancers.
Gordon and his partner, Jennifer Harwood are looking forward to more projects like this as well as the possibility of beginning a new non-profit organization. They have already made contact with Brazilian, West African and Rwandan musicians living in Vermont. The goal would be to bring the sound of Vermont’s own world music to the rest of the globe.
To learn more about Gordon Stone and his music, visit www.gordonstone.com
St. Johnsbury Academy is a private school with a large international attendance. Vermont students can also attend this school by way of a voucher system. The Academy has a widely diverse population and a philosophy that learning is most effective in a community atmosphere where collaboration and respect for others is part of the common daily business.
The school received a Teaching Artist Residency grant of $1,000 this year to support a residency and culminating performances with Vermont poet Verandah Porche. Verandah, who is from Guilford, VT, conducts performances, workshops, residencies, and collaborative "told poetry" projects. Students from the Academy’s ESL (English as a Second Language) Program and local students worked together during an 8-day residency that explored international poetry forms.
Prior to Verandah’s arrival, students shared memories and life stories via email. She wrote back, and introduced them to the concept of stories becoming poems. During the residency she helped students set their narratives in poetic form. The poems were shared with each other as well as the St. Johnsbury community.
Robyn Greenstone, the ESL teacher who coordinated the event, described the results saying, “Cross-cultural friendships were made, international poetic forms were experimented with, poetry positively infiltrated the school, and new interests were born.” One student echoed, “…my classmates’ poem helped me know more deeply about their feeling, and I think they also did the same, so that helped us understand each other to help a better friendship.”
Poetry to touch anyone’s heart came from the residency. A student named Trevor wrote this remembrance of his grandmother:
When I was born,
She hold me on her hand
And I cried
(in) the first crying
Three years old
Fighting with neighbor friend
My eye was injured
She took me to doctor
When I was crying
I came back to city
With my parent
I cried, and
I have gone
To visit her
She got sick
When I was six grade
In the hospital she was so weak
Until one night,
She has gone
I cried a lots
And for her…
Find out more about Verandah Porche, who is listed on the Council’s Teaching Artist Roster. Or, click here for more information about St. Johnsbury Academy.
The Catamount Film and Arts Center is in downtown St. Johnsbury. The organization was founded in 1978 and currently resides in a structure rebuilt in 2008 to house two theatres, two classrooms and a gallery space. Catamount presents films, exhibits and performances. They were given an FY10 Community Arts Grant of $2,500 to support the presentation of Vermont performers in three performance series: Music at the Morse (look for Banjo Dan and the Midnite Plowboys in December and the Star Line Rhythm boys in January), School Time Performances (to include Jennings and Ponder, the National Marioneete Thetre, Jeh Kulu and Inkas Wasi) and the Catamount Cabaret (featuring a monthly singer/songwriter series).
Jody Fried is the Executive Director at Catamount Film and Arts, which is one of St. Johnsbury’s current success stories. He has been the Executive Director since March this year. He is a Vermont native who spent years in the area’s small business community, and took this current position to allow him to return to the arts. In this short time, Catamount’s membership has almost doubled and programming has dramatically increased. Increasing membership and programming is usually a parallel; an increase in one will push the other.
Jody talked about the programming, saying “There is an incredible infrastructure available in St. Johnsbury. We have the Atheneum, the Fairbanks Museum and Catamount Film and Arts. With the grant and other funding sources, we have been able to put some excellent programming in place. On any given weekend you might have opera, a poetry reading, or open mic for high school students. We have offerings to rival any metropolitan setting here in this small town in the Northeast Kingdom.”
The Council’s objectives for Community Arts grants include raising awareness of, and respect for, the value of the arts in community; fostering collaboration between artists, arts organizations, schools, community groups and businesses; and to advance and preserve the arts at the center of Vermont communities. Most recipients of the awards (the Catamount included) acknowledge the role the funding plays in helping to build partnerships and to leverage other funding. These are exactly the kind of cooperative and united alliances grant funding can help to enable.
Find out more about Catamount Film and Arts by clicking here.
Sarah Frechette makes her living as a puppeteer. She has loved playing with dolls, costumes, and stages since her childhood in Georgia, Vermont. When she was little, Sarah and her dad would build stone cities on the shores of Lake Champlain, complete with stone characters. She was drawn to the drama program in high school and her interest in creating masks and costumes inspired her to attend the University of Connecticut’s unique Puppetry Arts Program.
Sarah received a $3,000 Creation Grant in FY09 to create a puppet show titled “The Snowflake Man.” It is the story of Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, the Jericho, VT native who attracted world attention with his pioneering work in the area of photographing and studying snow crystals, commonly known as snowflakes. The characters in the play are primarily string puppets but Sarah is also in the show.
Sarah’s grandfather was her inspiration for learning about Snowflake Bentley. He was a fan of Bentley’s work and owned three snowflake prints which he had purchased in 1927 for five cents each at Camp Abenaki. She describes both her grandfather and Bentley as “gentle Vermont characters” and has created marionettes of both men.
A commitment to learning is a big part of Sarah’s success. She also stresses the importance of collaboration and relationship building. Sarah learned about technique and materials from German Master Puppeteers Albrecht Roser and Phillip Huber (Huber performed the marionette manipulation in Being John Malcovich). The woman who taught her to sew, Kathy Wieland, made the 1927 outfit Sarah wears in the show and her Aunt Donna Ryalls knitted the mittens. Her Uncle Don Bell who “has warmed up to this vagabond puppeteer,” allowed her to use his shop to create the puppets. Artist Jason Thibodeaux sculpted and painted the puppet's heads, and is the show’s director. Puppeteer Carole D'Agostino helped carve puppet bodies and composer Oviedo Menedez will create the music. The stage is a handmade pop-up book with pages painted by watercolor artist Bruce Lee.
Sarah, who is on the Council’s Teaching Artist Roster, says “this project would have been impossible without the Council’s support.” The funding allowed her to purchase most of the materials and to pay a stipend to the other artists involved. “Much of what I do is inspired by the people around me,” she says. “It has been a blessing to have some of my closest family and friends as an instrumental part of this production.”
For more about Sarah’s work, click here.
Waitsfield’s MRC and Company, Inc. is one of fifteen recipients of this year’s Arts Learning Grants. Their $4,000 award supports the Vermont Young Singers’ Chorus (VYSC), a choral program with high-level musical instruction and outstanding performance opportunities. The program is staffed by Conductors Piero and Andrea Bonamico, Assistant Conductor and Manager Alexis Murphy-Egri and Accompanist Mary Jane Austin-Reynolds. Four groups have been formed. Their five-concert season began in September and will conclude at the Barre Opera House on June 6, 2010. About sixty young people from Central Vermont are already involved in the program and applications for additional singers can still be submitted.
VYSC was created by the Bonamicos with several guiding principles: there is a strong focus on teaching musicianship; enough personnel are available to create an outstanding musical experience; instrumentalists are involved in the performances; and rehearsals are accessible to a broad population. Rehearsals take place at U-32 High School in East Montpelier and at Crossett Brook School in Waterbury. Although not every school has taken advantage of the opportunity, every music teacher in the region has been invited to send two singers (one boy and one girl) at no cost.
Andrea is the Choral Music Teacher at U-32 and Piero has been involved with the Mad River Chorale community chorus since 1996. From MRC also came the Mad River Theatre Troupe (now Café Noir) as well as VYSC’s predecessor, the Mad River Kids’ Chorale. As a conductor and pedagogue, Piero’s sentiments for community chorus are absolutely passionate. He believes that focusing on common good, enabling artistic expression and empowering potential are all part of the process of making music. “These are critical elements in the development of dynamic life skills,” he says. “A community chorus is like a small miracle. People of different backgrounds, interests, and levels of experience come together and make something beautiful.”
Click here to find out more about the Vermont Young Singers’ Chorus.
Bethel Schools received a FY10 Arts Learning Grant to support a dance residency titled Bethel Gets Up and Movin’. The impetus for the project came about at this year’s town meeting when residents called for more dance to be brought to the community. Susan Rule, Bethel Schools’ music teacher, worked with other members of the school community to respond to this demand by hiring Karen Amirault for a week-long school program. Karen is one of the Vermont Arts Council’s American Masterpieces artists and a member of the Council’s Teaching Artist Roster.
Ms. Rule said that many parents and faculty still remember an Amirault residency that took place twenty years ago, and even one of the school’s lunch ladies was excited to hear Karen would return. Every student in the school had the opportunity to work with Karen. Elementary students spent 30 minutes four times a week and high school students had 90 minutes three times a week. Art teacher Wendy Wells got involved by helping students create journals about their experience. On the last day of the residency students reviewed video footage of their work and engaged in self-assessment and further reflection.
A final performance took place on September 24, with eight dances. Kindergarten students kicked off the event, followed by four two-grade clusters of 1st through 8th graders, and finally two high school groups. The finale featured school staff and administrators in a routine to Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” that brought down the house. One parent commented, "It was so good to see K-12 and staff-- ALL participating in the ARTS!" And many students talked about what a great way it was to start out the year working together as a school.
Andra Bowen, assistant to the principal, noted that while every student participated in the residency, there were a notable number of high school boys missing at the evening performance who may have gotten cold feet at the last minute. But what stood out was the excellent performances of the students who did participate. One high school student showed up decked out in a head-to-toe tie-dyed outfit, complete with matching wrist and headbands. One parent reflected, "My son gained a new perspective on life during these two weeks of dance."
Karen’s awareness and expertise in modern dance made a strong impression on students who learned that strength and conditioning are critical to the execution of dance. Vermont’s Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities lays out a clear pathway for the skills students should learn in school--and dance is considered a core subject area. However many schools lack the resources to provide an ongoing dance curriculum. Bowen said the $2,787 Vermont Arts Council grant “helped enormously” to bring this residency to the school. Funds were also contributed by the Bethel Council on the Arts, the school Parent Boosters, and the Bethel Historical Society.
Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph received an FY10 Community Arts Grant of $5,000 to support the 17th annual New World Festival. The festival is a celebration of Celtic and French Canadian music, dance and culture and is held every Labor Day Sunday. Rebecca McMeekin is the Executive Director of Chandler Center for the Arts and the person who administers the event. Talking to her about the New World Festival is a conversation about relationships and community.
McMeekin lists a number of community players who help create the festival, including Kevin Dunwoody. Kevin has served as the volunteer Music Director since the Festival’s inception and has worked to maintain strong relationships with the artists. Each year he mixes some of the best and most established artists with up-and-coming performers. On one end of the spectrum, there’s Claude Méthé and Dana Whittle. They performed separately at the festival 17 years ago. This year they performed and brought their children as part of Les Poules à Colin, a five-member group of performers under the age of 16. On the other end, there are emerging artists like Hot Flannel, a group grounded in the traditions while exploring new boundaries.
McMeekin sites Randolph’s business community as a key partner in promoting the event. Chandler Center developed a strong marketing plan that included area merchants selling advance tickets and conducting a drawing. Anyone who spent $50 at a local business was entered into a raffle for free admission to the festival. 230 people signed up. The Festival drew about 2,000 attendees from all over New England. They shopped, dined and stayed in the area, thereby returning the investment to local businesses.
Despite economic challenges, the New World Festival has continued to garner sponsor support. “A few reduced their sponsorship levels this year and some passed on the opportunity,” said McMeekin, “but the Arts Council’s grant helped to bridge the gap.”
To find out more about the New World Festival, click here.
Tim Tavcar is the recipient of an FY09 Arts Council Creation Grant and the artist who created WordStage Vermont. According to Tavcar, “Using letters, diaries, recorded conversations and contemporary chronicles underscored with musical compositions of the era, a WordStage Vermont performance will entertain, inform and educate audiences who have a love of the performing arts and humanities in their purest forms.” Tim says, “Everyone knows who Beethoven is, but including this source material paints a more interesting picture—not so academic.”
Tim has completed the second season of WordStage Vermont performances and is in the process of planning the third. Subjects for the upcoming season include Moliere, Lully and the Court of Louis XIV; Master Luthier Antonio Stradivari; Marcel Proust and Reynaldo Hahn; and members of the infamous Algonquin Round Table. Tim cites the Vermont Arts Calendar as a valuable tool for scheduling presentations and avoiding conflicting dates with other performances.
The “Buy Local” movement is important to Tim and a strong thread in all that he does. In addition to his online research, Tim has purchased many books in local bookstores to pursue the self-described nosiness which drives this enterprise. Tim also feels strongly about hiring artists who have chosen to make their living in Vermont.
How did the Creation Grant help the project? Tim says he was able to put aside some of his contracted commitments (it’s not unusual to find him writing for The Bridge, serving as Chorus Master for Green Mountain Opera, and holding down an administrative position at T.W. Wood Art Gallery all at once), in order to develop a strong second season. The scheduled performances led to two additional commissions and have provided him with momentum for marketing further work.
Tim hopes to use recorded material in marketing efforts that will enable him to take his shows beyond Central Vermont, and eventually, beyond Vermont. He’ll be applying for a Technical Assistance grant to help with that effort.
Click here to learn more about Wordstage Vermont.