Building a Global Arts Community in Montpelier
This upcoming summer marks the 10th anniversary of the inception of the Vermont College of Fine Arts. When myself and a number of community members decided to transform the Montpelier campus from a subsidiary of Union Institute to our own homegrown graduate arts center, we were aiming big. We were thinking globally. We envisioned a place where creators from all over the world — writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, graphic designers, and more — could gather throughout the year and nurture their art and emerge as a better, more transformative artist.
While our reach has always been international, in the beginning we saw ourselves as a “national center for arts education.” In retrospect, that view proved to be too narrow. And more recently, “national” as a term has been co-opted for purposes far different from our own values. That’s why last year we updated our mission statement to accurately depict who we are:
“Anchored on its historic campus in Montpelier, Vermont, VCFA is a global community of artists continuously redefining what it means to be an arts college. We measure our success by our ability to foster the excellence of emerging and established practitioners. We believe that the arts are central to the human experience and have the ability not only to reflect reality but also to create it.”
These words greet every visitor as they walk into the College Hall Gallery. It embodies the spirit of VCFA, which we’re expanding globally even more this year. Late in 2017, we launched our ninth academic program — the International MFA in creative writing and literary translation. Led by former faculty chair of the MFA in writing program Xu Xi, and translator and 2001 VCFA alumnus Evan Fallenberg, our newest MFA brings VCFA’s legacy of writing excellence to an international audience. Residencies will take place each year around the world, with one summer residency occurring right in Montpelier. That means Vermont will see an influx of international writers each summer. The world continues to come to Montpelier.
I remember, way back in 2007, telling anyone who would listen about how VCFA could become this beacon in the global arts world, a place that the best and greatest would seek out. Vermont College already had three world-class, low-residency Masters of Fine Arts programs in Writing, Writing for Children and Young Adults, and Visual Art. This campus had been breaking new ground for years. So why not?
Over the period of 10 years, we’ve grown our low-residency programs to include Master if Fine Arts (MFA) degrees in film, graphic design, and music composition. We developed a groundbreaking low-residency Master of Arts in teaching and Master of Arts in art and design education. In 2015, we added our first residential program, the MFA in writing and publishing, with students moving to Montpelier from all parts of the country and globe. And now we have our new International MFA in creative writing and literary translation.
Our programs bring artists to Montpelier from nearly every continent. We’re constantly interacting with people from different countries, cultures, and viewpoints. During each of our residencies, we invite the public to readings, exhibitions, concerts, and film screenings to experience the international arts community flourishing here. As I write this, our MFA in visual art students are setting up their exhibitions in Alumni Hall and College Hall. Their artwork, much of it focused on social and international issues, is some of the most groundbreaking you’ll see in this country. And it’s happening only a half mile from the State House.
I truly believe that our growing global success could only occur in place like Vermont and in a town like Montpelier. Artists are continually attracted to what makes this state special and we welcome them with open arms as they look to make the world a better place. While we prepare to celebrate 10 years and set our sights on an even brighter future, I have great faith that VCFA’s growing international artists’ community will continue to bring talented practitioners whose work will help shape the cultures in which they live.
— Thomas Christopher Greene (pictured top left) is a novelist and the founding president of Vermont College of Fine Arts. Tom is the author of five acclaimed novels, including “If I Forget You,” which was released by St. Martin’s Press in 2016.