Vermont Arts Council

I am a Vermont Artist: Shanta Lee Gander

Shanta is a multidisciplinary artist who transformed a challenging childhood into a creative career as a photographer, poet, investigative journalist, and advocate. Her education includes an undergraduate degree in women, gender, and sexuality as well as an MBA. She’s currently completing an MFA in creative nonfiction and poetry at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is also one of the managing editors and an editor of creative nonfiction for Mount Island, a literary magazine focused on rural LGBTQ and POC voices. Despite her busy schedule, Shanta found time to share some of her thoughts about being a Vermont Artist.  

How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

Vermont is where I first fell in love with the idea of photographing abandoned things. Also, I’ve re-engaged with my former urban landscape in my poetry and writing while also expanding new ways for me to see and appreciate other types of landscapes. Vermont gave me the opportunity to take chances to become, it is a fertile ground for risking.  

What is something about your art that has changed over time?

For me, my art has shifted from being personal and private to something I had to share with others.  

The funny thing about my writing is that I was first introduced to it as a punishment, not as art! As a punishment, my mother would assign me to write the sentences, “I will not ____” on sheets of paper until she told me to stop. In sixth grade, I had a teacher who would assign dictionary pages as punishment. Oddly, this did not deter me from writing. I would often stand at my windowsill in my room, and use the lights from the apartment buildings to write. I would’ve gotten in big trouble if it was discovered I was writing instead of sleeping. In this way, I was willing to risk a lot in order to express myself.

Photography has a bit of a different path. When I left for college, I stole my dad’s Nikon, but didn’t engage in using it as I should’ve. It was ultimately living in India for five months that prompted me to invest in a camera and do some travel writing that I shared with others. I did my first exhibition, Surrender, with my shots from India upon my return. The private-public shift in my creating also included taking opportunities that involved creating spaces or forums for others to engage in discussions about creativity.  

I still walk between the tension of keeping my work to myself versus putting it into the world.
What is your vision for the next several years?

One of my goals includes thinking about the set of questions I would like my work either to pose, answer, or both, in my artistic work. I would like my work to inspire inquiry and critical thinking as well. I also am interested in eventually owning gallery space where I can continue to engage various communities with different forms of art. I want to continue to challenge myself by working in some of the new mediums that I’ve started to explore (like my watercolors). I also envision eventually publishing my photography, a book of poetry, and my memoir.

Watch an interview with Shanta on Brattleboro Community Television.
Watch a spoken word performance.
Read “Becoming the Cartographer of Her Own Life” in Ms. Magazine.

The “I am a Vermont Artist” series explores how artists’ creative expressions reflect their experiences of ethnicity, gender identity, religion, disability, or age. Covering all artistic disciplines, and a range of backgrounds—from New Americans to the state’s first residents—we hope to amplify voices that deepen our understanding of what it means to be a Vermont artist.

Visit the series archive.