Vermont Arts Council

Passion at Work

“It’s really a blessing when you get to love what you do.” Heather Geoffrey, the new managing director at Main Street Arts in Saxtons River said that about her job. Few people are as qualified as she to make that statement. Heather teaches people to uncover self-expression through art and through the shaping of their life. She has decades of experience in nonprofits; having served as education and outreach coordinator, executive administrator, assistant director, and director in different organizations. She is also an artist, painter, poet, and photographer. She is a teacher. How about mystic or healer? “All of those are accurate,” she says.

Always an Artist

Heather is named after the flower; she was born with purple eyes. The color changed by the time she was two but she posits that set the beginning of her story. She has Native ancestry and was raised “very Catholic” in a “very rural location” (Newport, Vermont). She was always “very much in nature and always dedicated to a study of religion, mysticism, and art.” She recounts a childhood informed by religion and spirituality, ritual, nature, and art, remarking “Art for me, and the creation of art, is how I made sense of my world and how I told a story I didn’t have words for.”

Heather studied throughout her life; it was a Masters of Fine Arts from Goddard College that provided the container for all she pays attention to: art as medicine, artist as keeper of ancestry and lineage, artist as vessel, and borderland theory and expression in contemporary art. After earning her degree, she went to New Mexico where she studied with indigenous healers, was bestowed with the title of medicine woman, and eventually lived on a property with space for artists. Creatives in residency would learn how to write a business plan, put together a C.V., or strategize a social media presence and engage in practices to nurture their creative spirit.

Shoring Up

Heather is “right at the six-month point” at Main Street Arts. Some things will change, many will not. “I really believe in valuing what has been there before; I’ve been trying to see the history and the culture.” Infrastructure offers room for improvement. This means pulling data into one platform and revising the chart of accounts to reflect growth, which has come since adding an artistic director to the staff in 2015. “ David Stern coming in … has changed how Main Street Arts functions on some levels. The increased theater programming and David’s skill brought in a lot more people.”

Heather is “looking at trends and how classes fill — or don’t fill.” For artists she instituted “classes and resources to help with their career — Social Media 101,’ ‘How to Write an Artist Statement or C.V.,’ and ‘How to Apply for a Grant.’” Curation in the gallery is ramped up: “This is the first time in recent history it is booked for a full year out.” The Great River Theater Festival, now in its third year, will return in summer 2019. There’s a possibility for adding a commercial kitchen, a space for food and art to meet. This is the current work of two directors and half-time administrative coordinator.

Detail from “Heather,” acrylic on canvas.

Use the Force

Heather lives what she teaches. For decades, she has helped individuals, groups, and organizations find the bright intersection of creativity and work. “There’s so much that can cover us over in this day and age. We have such a supply of data and information. Do (the people she teaches) know when they are accessing their creativity? Sometimes, they have lost the markers inside of themselves.”

Exploring on a larger scale she might ask how an organization is accessing creativity. “Is there a wide enough group? Are they honoring the group that is there, and fostering where people shine? Can you see where their creativity and spark is, and do they get to feel alive in that way?” It makes a difference. “People have to be passionate about what they’re doing. They have to feel they are creating some kind of change, some kind of impacts.” A culture shift is evident “when you watch people start to open up. They begin sharing and asking questions. When they engage — if you can see them engaging; and it’s different for everybody — that’s when it starts to get fun.”

— Main Street Arts is one of the Vermont Arts Council’s Arts Partners.

Susan McDowell

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