Vermont Arts Council

Art in the Time of Covid: Shanta Lee Gander

Artists everywhere have felt the social, economic, and cultural pressure of the pandemic since quarantines first began rolling out around the country. For many artists, however, the alone time has not been so unwelcome, or at least unfamiliar. Like the poet Mary Ruefle, fellow Vermont writer Shanta Lee Gander does some of her best work in isolation. To her this is an “auspicious time,” an opportunity for artists to dig deep into the work of bearing witness.

Shanta Lee has been making her mark on the Vermont arts scene for a decade now, working with organizations from Sandglass Theater in Putney to The Clemmons Family Farm in Charlotte. She has served on the Brattleboro Selectboard and was a strong advocate for the establishment of Brattleboro’s Town Arts Fund. In 2019, she co-curated and was featured in the Spotlight Gallery’s I AM… exhibit, which showcased works by artists from our ongoing “I am a Vermont Artist” series. Read Shanta Lee’s own “I am a Vermont Artist” feature here. Currently Shanta Lee is the Director of Outreach and Publicity for Mount Island, a Vermont publisher of rural LGBTQ+ and POC voices, and through the Vermont Humanities Speakers Bureau she presents on the life of Lucy Terry Prince, a Guilford woman remembered as the first known African-American poet in English literature.

As part of our series featuring creative professionals’ responses to the virus, Shanta Lee shared her thoughts with the Council.

What is the most difficult impact you’ve felt from the coronavirus pandemic?

I am wondering how this will shape the Lucy Terry Prince presentations I do as a Vermont Humanities Council speaker. Given the bulk of my work as a writer and my work with Mount Island as publicity and outreach, this has not had a huge impact in that way because my work is either online or solitary. Instead, I am trying to position myself as a helper as best I can.

How have you gained hope or solace from your arts community since the crisis began?

Despite the current uncertainty, I love this enforced alone time. Prior to this, I was self-isolating for my writing. This is a juicy opportunity to dive deeper into my writing, dig into some bookmaking, my painting, etc. As artists, this is an auspicious time for all of us to bear witness. It is also nice for the world to just pause and take stock of what is important. It makes me think of the quote from the playwright and poet, Bertolt Brecht, “In the dark times. Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.” However, in this case, I think there will be singing, dancing, making, and creating about what can be, not just the dark times.

How can people support artists like you through this difficult period?

I would say when it comes to hiring artists who also do public speaking, consider having events online and making them accessible. In terms of supporting those in the creative sector, we all can. Perhaps purchase classes being offered online whenever possible. If you have the means, purchase art from artists. Consider giving a donation to an arts organization because they will need support after this. I am thinking that the artists in Vermont can possibly pool together to offer things like, but a Vermont version so that writers, painters, etc. can keep offering things online. There will be no returning to the normal of before, but what we can do is re-imagine the normal going forward and become sustainable.

Visit Shanta Lee’s website.

Read her recent article in the NAACP’s The Crisis Magazine, “The Enduring Myth of Public Space.”

Read her recent article in Ms. Magazine, “Rebels With a Cause: What History’s Forgotten Black Women Teach Us About Ourselves.”

Shanta Lee’s work reaches from her art to her multi-faceted professional life which encompasses leadership, community engagement, PR/marketing, and translating vision into reality. Her creative life includes writing prose, poetry, investigative journalism, and photography. Shanta Lee is the co-author with her husband MacLean C. Gander of Ghosts of Cuba: An Interracial Couple’s Exploration of Cuba in the Age of Trump—Told in Images & Words (in manuscript).

Shanta Lee has an MBA from the University of Hartford and an undergraduate degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality from Trinity College. She is currently the Director of Publicity and Outreach at Mount Island—a small press and magazine dedicated to rural LGBTQ+and POC voices/artists—and gives lectures on the life of Lucy Terry Prince as a member of the Vermont Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Shanta Lee is currently completing her MFA in Creative Non-Fiction and Poetry at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.