Vermont Arts Council

In a New Space

Leaving a beloved old home called for a creative solution.

North Bennington’s Sage Street Mill is set into a hill alongside Paran Creek. The brick building has floor-to-ceiling windows and a smoke stack out back. For 21 years, 10,000 square feet of the old factory was the rented home of the Vermont Arts Exchange (VAE).

Matthew Perry, VAE co-founder and executive director, said the building “served us well for all these many years and it was a central gathering place for arts and education in the community.” But, it was expensive. “The building was not energy efficient and utility costs continued to rise. “We needed more income to cover taxes and utilities — we were doing obscure rentals and birthday parties. It was not a good use of our time, talent, nor the right solution.” VAE moved in the winter of 2015.

Some in the community resisted. “It was not only our home but also it had become theirs, too. Leaving the Mill was emotional but it was crucial to VAE’s survival.” The Arts Exchange now works from a 900-square-foot building on Main Street. “We really only moved about the distance of a city block, but we’re in such a different plan than ever before. Now, we spend the money on our programming.”

VAE’s programming is diverse. The staff work with war veterans, young men and women in crisis, and families in Head Start. They hold inter-generational art classes and run summer arts camps. Giving up 9,000 square fee meant they had to adjust creatively. Now about half of their activities are scheduled in their new building, and half in other spaces in town. There’s a new sense of community integration.

Matthew and his team recognized an opportunity to imaginatively assess the way VAE operated and delivered services. “In the end we discovered VAE was more than just a building. It was about people, teaching, learning, and experiencing the passion and vision of creativity.”

— This story first appeared in the Council’s FY2016 Annual Report.

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