Vermont Arts Council

The Network Emerges

“I am still ABUZZ from the incredible, mind-blowing summit that you put together! Congratulations! I was floored by the energy, ideas, and possibilities for collaboration and forward movement that were so evident at the event. And so impressed by the event itself! Wow.” —2015 Summit participant

On November 4 and 5, Alumni Hall at the Vermont College of Fine Arts served as the stage for the inaugural Vermont Creative Network Summit. This wonderful, light-filled venue—recently renovated—provided an apt, gracious setting for nearly 200 Summit participants.

Jim Lowe, reporting for The Times Argus and Rutland Herald, attended the summit and wrote, “Refreshing, throughout the two-day conference, was that the importance of artistic expression wasn’t trampled by discussions of ‘economic impact.’ Yes, the arts have an integral role in the economy, but that’s just not what they are all about. They serve a much-deeper purpose.” Then he asked: “What that will look like—Will it be just a new bureaucracy or an innovative approach to success?—I cannot be sure. But this is looking to become major contribution to Vermont by its state and federally funded Vermont Arts Council.”

Indeed. The launch of the Creative Network as an innovative approach to success has begun in earnest.

What’s next?

As declared at the Summit, the Vermont Creative Network will now function on three levels.

1. Statewide: At the outset, a statewide advocacy agenda will determine clear actions to be presented for legislative discussion in January.

2. Regional: A vital aspect of the Network’s success will be realized through activities conducted in regional creativity zones. Termed “CZARs”—Creative Zones with Action Roadmaps—these self-governed, collective impact entities will chart and track sector work in six key areas: community, education, funding, leadership, resources, and visibility.


3. Backbone: Revealed in best practice models, collective impact structures succeed when supported by a backbone organization that facilitates, researches, and communicates. Initially, the Vermont Arts Council will serve in that role. (There is a sense that the role of backbone should be appointed or earned. As the Network structure evolves, the Vermont Arts Council seeks to win that appointment.)

Looking ahead: A timeline

3-5 days

Summit staff will connect with the twenty-six workshop organizers and plenary speakers for feedback. Summit participants will be invited to take a follow-up survey.

3-5 weeks

The Arts Council, in collaboration with its sister organizations and other partners, will develop an advocacy agenda to address top-level, statewide issues for the creative sector during the upcoming legislative session. The sector has a strong ally in the Legislative Arts Caucus, a group of about 40 Vermont senators and representatives. In past legislative sessions, the caucus has championed important arts and culture issues. (An Advocacy Update is distributed once per month during the session.)

3-5 months

To move regional planning forward, the Arts Council will facilitate the establishment of leadership teams, population of the CZARs, and creation of a one-year plan built around the Arts Roadmap. It is expected that each CZAR will develop, govern, and report on its scope of work and that regional activities will be measured, synthesized, and reported to elected officials.

Additionally, the Arts Council will develop a research agenda for the new year. The profile of the creative sector is perhaps understood anecdotally, but has yet to be carefully characterized to support the sector and discern opportunities.

3-5 years

Kevin O’Connor, in an article for VTDigger, said, “…although creative people abound—there are 33 percent more as a proportion of total Vermont employment than nationwide, statistics show—they often work more independently than collaboratively. That’s why the council is working to found the arts equivalent of Vermont agriculture’s Farm to Plate Network, all to help individuals and institutions grow audiences, promotional efforts and financial support.”

He is spot on. We look with admiration at the impressive work of the Farm to Plate network. Valiant leaders and an increasingly communicative sector have constructed a powerful tool that advances Vermont’s entire food sector. In a few years, we hope to look back at a similar number of ringing successes for the Vermont creative sector.

—Zon Eastes
—photos by Peter Weyrauch
—graphic notes by Angelique McAlpine