Vermont Arts Council

Grant to Clemmons Family Farm Supports Black Artists in Vermont

The Vermont African-American/African Diaspora Artists’ Network (VAAADAN) – now more than 200 members strong – aims not only to support Black artists professionally but also provide a safe haven for creativity and collective healing.

A variety of professional development activities and supportive experiences that took place last fall, supported by a Vermont Arts Council grant, seemed to achieve the network’s goals.

Activities included a photoshoot to create professional photos of the artists for their business portfolios, assistance in writing artist bios, and practice recording on-camera interviews. The Clemmons Family Farm (CFF), which founded VAAADAN, designed and hosted the events — all of which took place at the 148-acre farm in Charlotte.

A photo of multidisciplinary artist Rachel Stevens from the professional photoshoot on the Clemmons Family Farm. Credit: SC Visuals

The professional photoshoot took place in August in a variety of indoor and outdoor locations around the farm — even in one of the kitchens, a perfect spot for culinary artists like Alganesh Michael, a South Burlington-based chef who specializes in Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine and said she will use the photos for marketing her small business. Each participant received five professional photos for their portfolios.

Artist Djeli (formerly known as Willian Forchion) used one of his photos for a feature about him in The Commons.

The photos were taken by professional photographers and VAAADAN members themselves.

“I appreciated working with Black photographers. It was just wonderful. There’s just this whole creative thing that happens that’s unspoken,” said quilt maker Christle Rawlins-Jackson whose thoughts were captured on video after the photoshoot.

CFF retained one photo of each artist for exclusive use in a 2023 calendar. Each page of the calendar shares a photo and one-line bio of an artist, history of the Clemmons farm, and important dates in African-American history. The artists’ websites and social media handles are also included. Available for sale on CFF’s website, any sales proceeds will be used to continue CFF’s work supporting VAAADAN members.

Following the photoshoot, artists participated in video-recorded interviews, professionally edited into a three-part “Artists on the Farm” video series. The videos describe the artists’ experiences of the photoshoot, how they will use the photos, and what the Clemmons Farm means to them. “This was just an amazing opportunity, and I was really just feeling really grateful…the path that I’ve been on at this point, there have been people that have come into my life, the Clemmons Family Farm being one, that have opened up doors…I would not have been able to do this on my own,” said multidisciplinary artist Rachel Stevens in the video.

Also part of the professional development series supported by the grant, CFF partnered with the University of Vermont (UVM) Foundation to mobilize a group of UVM staff/faculty as volunteers to work with VAAADAN artists to develop different types of artist bios. The UVM volunteers and artists worked together during a series of Zoom sessions to create artist bios.

With the grant funding, CFF is also working on developing other business support for the artists, such as how to incorporate a business, set up an LLC, market and sell artwork, and other legal advice.

Artist Djeli (formerly known as Willian Forchion) used one of his photos for a feature about him in The Commons. Credit: Nani Clemmons

While a number of VAAADAN artists participated in the CFF activities, CFF co-founder and President Lydia Clemmons said that CFF is planning to explore additional ways to make opportunities as accessible as possible to artists through a VAAADAN Summit on the farm in 2023.

“We believe that gathering the artists together in a fun, friendly environment where we can promote socializing, networking and open discussion will help us generate innovative ideas and gain a great understanding to the barriers that artists are facing to take advantage of professional development opportunities. We also want to learn more from those artists who do routinely take advantage of CFF’s offerings and understand how they are overcoming any barriers to access,” Clemmons said.

For the artists who participated in the photoshoot on the farm, the day was a chance to explore the property as well as meet and socialize with each other — many had not met each other in person before. “For many, it was their first time visiting and it was an emotional experience for them to be held by and for Black people,” Clemmons said.

VAAADAN membership is free and is open to any artist or culture bearer who is a Vermont resident and who self-identifies as Black/African-American, of African descent, or of the African diaspora. To read more about VAAADAN, find an artist, or register yourself, click here.

The Clemmons Family Farm is one of the official 22 landmark cultural and historic sites on Vermont’s African-American Heritage Trail, and one of the 2% of organizations who won the prestigious 2017 National Creative Placemaking Fund grants from ArtPlace America. The farm includes six historic buildings (circa late 1700s-1800s), a spacious 1990’s residence, and prime farmland, forests, ponds and streams abundant with wildlife.