A month after I arrived in Vermont I found myself driving on snowy back roads to a meeting in the Northeast Kingdom. Forty-five people gathered on this freezing cold night in the basement of a Unitarian church to explore the idea of a new incubator space in Greensboro. Participants in small brainstorming groups envisioned the potential of such a space for artists, entrepreneurs, and students in the community. Our group included people from more than a dozen towns, and I was struck by the wide range of backgrounds represented: graphic designers, high school and college teachers, the owner of a hair studio, an IT professional, a retired businessman, a glass artist, an agricultural policy expert, and a librarian. The excitement in the room was captured by a high school student who turned to his mom and said, “This is cool.”
A few days later, I gave a talk at Champlain College examining the challenges and possibilities of new digital technologies for the arts and humanities with my colleague Peter Gilbert, who directs the Vermont Humanities Council. During the lively discussion, we asked ourselves how digital engagement might foster new forms of connection even as it erodes face-to-face communication; in what ways digital tools challenge us as teachers, artists, and humanists to re-imagine our practice; and how digital spaces open up access, inviting new voices and perspectives.
Asking the Questions
Ultimately those two conversations boil down to the same set of questions being asked in towns and villages across our state:
What is the meaning of community? What do Vermonters want our communities to look and feel like in the future, for ourselves and our children and neighbors? And how will art, creativity, and innovation shape the future that we build together?
I’m grateful and tremendously excited to be in Vermont joining conversations like these, where art and creativity are positioned at the heart of developing and sustaining vibrant communities. When you work in Washington, D.C. (as I did for 19 years) you learn to view the arts and culture world from 30,000 feet up, rather than at the grassroots level where art is part of the fabric of daily life. The recent Vermont Creative Network Summit revealed how deeply embedded creativity and innovation are in communities across our state. Speakers from state government, business, and the creative sector all affirmed the centrality of art to Vermont’s identity. What was equally apparent at the Summit is how critical it is for us to build a sustainable infrastructure to nurture and support that creative energy.
Taking a Look
In the coming year, the Vermont Arts Council will be examining our grant programs and our work with individual artists, schools, and cultural organizations to find ways that we can strengthen and empower Vermont communities through the arts. Look for a series of guest blogs examining the questions: Who are Vermont artists? And what makes a creative community? We hope you will contribute your ideas and energy to the conversation.
— Karen Mittelman is the executive director at the Vermont Arts Council
— contact WonderArts about the Greensboro incubator project