Views From the Top
Before the primary election, the Council visited with all the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor. We asked about statewide issues, a personal connection to the arts, arts education and programs for youth, the new administration’s role in the creative economy, and Vermont as a cultural destination. Candidates were also given the opportunity to say what immediate priorities they would set for the creative community.
We posed the same six questions in each interview. Responses from the two candidates who will be on the ballot in November are summarized on this page.
The Council Asks
Like many other states, Vermont faces many economic and social issues. We also know that 85% of Vermonters agree that arts and culture are vital to their community’s life.
- Can you provide examples on how you would integrate the arts, culture, and creative community in solving social problems (or in enhancing opportunities for greater social or civic engagement)?
- How would you use the creative sector to drive economic development across the state?
We’ve all had defining moments in our lives, where a cultural experience (a performance you have attended, or a work of art you have seen in person, etc.) has made a lasting impact on your personal or professional life.
- What personal experience with arts, culture, or creativity has had an impact on your life and your view of Vermont? How has that impact changed you?
Art instruction increases achievement across all academic disciples and develops the whole child. We also know that 94% of Vermonters agree that the arts should be integrated into K-12 public school education.
- What will you do as Governor to champion arts education with our youth both in our schools and in our communities?
- How will you balance the importance of arts education with the push for primarily technical education (STEM)?
The State allocates funding each year for the Vermont Arts Council, the Vermont Humanities Council, and others that serve Vermont’s creative community. Some are concerned that the state’s capacity to support the programs and activities that are vital to the community are insufficient.
- If you share this concern, please share your ideas on how you might address them. For example, what three revenue sources will you create or use to increase the state’s financial investment in the creative community? What specific program priorities related to the creative community are you particularly interested in investing in?
- If you don’t share this concern, please let us know what you believe is the path forward for the creative community. What specifically should the state be investing in to ensure the vitality of Vermont’s creative sector?
While Vermont is characterized as a special place, many believe the state has yet to effectively leverage the strength of our arts, culture, and creative community as a means for branding and attracting residents, employees, and visitors.
- How would you utilize our state’s cultural assets to make Vermont a place where people want to live, work, play, and visit?
The start of a Governor’s term often sets the administration’s tone and priorities.
- When elected, what actions will you take in your first 100 days to provide support and resources to the creative community?
The Candidates Respond
Question 1, Addressing Statewide Issues
I am inspired by our creative economy and remember well how it took over our main street in downtown Waterbury during the After Irene Floodgates Art Project. I have seen art in so many ways drive social awareness and social change and obviously, provide inspiration.
I want to reflect for a moment on the AIDS Quilt Project. When the AIDS epidemic was really at its peak, I went to many different presentations of the quilt itself. I saw it in downtown Boston, and in Washington, DC. It drew together thousands of people to raise awareness about AIDS in a powerful, emotional way. Art drives awareness and social change. Art can also drive our economy.
So you may see my economic development strategy evolves around two programs, one is called “Invest Vermont” and the other is “Innovate Vermont.” “Invest Vermont” is building upon what we’ve been doing in our downtowns and villages and as part of the Downtown Program that I have been in, really, for the last 12 years. Arts and culture is very much a part of a strategic economy-building in our downtowns. It’s about restoring our historic buildings but it’s also about bringing arts and culture into the forefront of what drives the growth of our downtowns.
I see Vermont as being at the forefront of starting its economic revival, and I believe that we haven’t spent enough time talking about that over the last number of years, about what we can do to help ourselves.
What we have is we have this stagnant population in Vermont, and we have this shifting demographic. We’re getting older and we’re not backfilling this age group from 25 to 45. We’ve lost 30,000 people out of that category alone in the last ten years since the last census.
We need to rebuild that sector, is what I’m driving at, and I believe that’s through trying to attract the youth, trying to find ways that the opportunities for them to stay, being able to afford to stay. Because I feel that we have this crisis of affordability here. But I think it all stems from this demographic challenge.
So, the arts, I think, plays into that quite well. We sell our quality of life and we talk about that quite a bit, but I think it can be better, and I think that certainly the arts, in terms of attracting all different types of diverse communities together, is important.
Question 2, Your Personal Connection
I would point to some impactful community art that I have experienced post-Irene, which really shows what art can be in terms of healing, in terms of community-building. In my hometown of Waterbury, following the devastation of our downtown from flooding during Tropical Storm Irene, to help us move through our grief and loss, we used art. And I say “we” — I just participated as a person who showed up and did my own art as a member of the community. The folks focusing on this created the opportunity for community members to use art as a way to heal. And there were materials and anyone could do anything. And it all ended up on display as part of the After Irene Floodgates Art Project. It was displayed in a downtown business that had been damaged. The building was unusable at that time, but it is now a popular craft beer store. But for a while it was this temporary art gallery, putting into the public space people’s experience, their pain, their loss, and their hopes and their dreams. It was very intense.
I also want to mention is Waterbury’s River of Light. It was a community art project three months after Irene, and it was led by our local elementary school art teacher, MK Monley. Other local artists like Sarah Lee Terrat were also involved, and graphic designer Laura Parette. And we had an artist-in-residence, Gowri Savoor, who taught us how to create illuminated lanterns. I just became a community member who experienced the River of Light. It was essentially a lantern parade.
The River of Light engaged all of the children in the school and community members. The power of community to actually be resilient and recover from this devastating event and the beautiful things that were in the whole community came out. It was dark and this beautiful River of Light wove slowly through our recovering downtown. It was unforgettable. Now the River of Light is an annual event.
So I see art as part of social impact, I see healing, I see inspiration that I’ve had personally and I see community building and strength and coming together. Those are the ways that I’ve experienced art and see what it can and must continue to be.
There were times when growing up, again I’m from a blue-collar community, that I just assumed that I didn’t have an artistic bone in my body. That could be true in some respects, but we all have something to offer. I found out that I am a craftsman. I love to work with my hands, I love to create things, build things out of wood, fabricate things out of metal. That makes you an artist in a whole different way. It’s just the way you view it.
It’s just incredible what you can do. You use your basic skills to do that but you don’t think of yourself as an artist. When I was at UVM, I took an art course because we were required, but I found out that I’m not bad at a literal type of drawing. I can do that, especially with pencils and shading and so forth. I enjoyed that.
Question 3, Arts Education and Programs for Our Youth
It’s about integrating. We have this drive towards STEM which is more cerebral and math-driven. That is because of the goal of creating a workforce for the future for so many businesses in Vermont who are challenged to find qualified workers. Part of what I aspire to do in my “Vermont Promise” program is to actually get two years tuition-free at Vermont Technical College and Community College of Vermont to really help move people into ladders of opportunity, to break the generational cycle of poverty, and to build that workforce and help grow the economy.
But I absolutely believe that arts and the whole development of a person are essential to all of our education and to the driving of that workforce, too. When you go, for example, to our career tech centers, you can see art and creativity exhibited in everything. It is what drives innovation. It isn’t just math — it’s math brain plus creative brain that is actually creating new innovative solutions. So I think we have to see the whole person, we have to continue to believe in the arts as essential and certainly ensure (it continues).
The artist-in-residence program is something I really see as critical, especially in the early years. There are so many more ways that art — and for me, personally, music — have changed my life and my kids’ lives: being a part of a play, being part of a musical production, being part of expressing yourself differently from being just another kid in a classroom, or being a jock.
I think they’re integrated more than we accept or maybe envision. I, again, went to Spaulding. I did my college prep in the morning because I wanted to move on, but I also was involved in the vocational tech program. I took two years of machine trades, and something that I’ve learned an incredible amount of doing with precision. Again, it’s artistry with machines, creating and building things. We had that throughout Vermont. You’ll find that the masters, the real machinists craft incredible things here in Vermont that we can be proud of.
In STEM, with the science, technology, engineering, math, all of that could be revolving around the arts as well. They’re all interrelated, and we need to make sure that we are able to tap into that, to really drive that creativeness that’s inside all of us in different ways, and expose that. Because you never know what it’s going to bring in your future.
Question 4, The New Administration’s Role in the Creative Community
I think it’s about how we leverage everything we do. We can talk for example about art and infrastructure. We have the Danville (Transportation Enhancement Project) success as an example of how we actually bring art and culture into a downtown infrastructure project to be able to think outside the box, and about how we use the existing programs we have to leverage more.
I learned a lot both as a community activist and as a state manager that state managers can’t do it all. We’ve got to leverage in every way we can and we have to go after grants! One of the things where the state doesn’t have enough capacity is grant writing. It’s a small thing but there are so many opportunities out there that we have to actually be collaborative. I think that you will find in me a governor who is very collaborative, and always looking for partnership and leveraging.
Well, I need to be honest. I think that we’re in a bit of an affordability crisis in Vermont, and we’re going to have to, for the short term, try to live within our means. I appreciate the fact that we want to leverage as many federal funds as we can. I know you receive money nationally, and it probably requires a match. We want to make sure that we can leverage all we can, so I want to protect that. But I think that we continue to try and do whatever we can to work together into this creative economy, because it’s going to be all hands on deck.
How do we pull together in the same direction in order to do it? It isn’t about this versus that. It’s more how do we do it together, because it will benefit all of us to recognize that a healthy economy, a vibrant economy, will lift elbows. We’ll be able to succeed in ways that we can only imagine at this point. It’s solvable, it’s doable, but there’s going to be a bit of … Regardless of who becomes governor, there are significant fiscal issues that are going to be waiting at the doorstep.
Question 5, A Cultural Destination
I see the ways in which we use our tourism dollars: How are we leveraging our communities? Let’s face it, the state has such limited resources and our tourism budget is always at risk. How can we build off of it? I have a plan for outdoor recreation and the outdoor industry and leveraging our assets, whether it’s our state parks, our mountains, our hiking trails, our mountain bike trails. How do we get more people to come and recognize Vermont for all that it is?
I think we have been fairly limited in how we market Vermont. When we have communities with the kinds of community plays, the kind of art and museums, I don’t think that we do enough to actually accentuate that in our marketing. So that’s one way to help make sure that as we do our “Invest Vermont” we have these vital downtowns, and how all of them are looking to art and culture as part of the nexus that they promote and build.
Leverage in every way I possibly can. I would take advantage of that all I could, because I think we do have a great story to tell but I don’t think we’re doing it in a constructive way. I don’t think we’re doing it with a common theme or message. I think that that’s part of it. It’s very difficult to market, and very expensive. Look at our campaigns for governor. Normal people would spend a million to two million dollars on a total campaign. You’re marketing yourself, in Vermont, and most people you would think might know who you are. But after spending a couple of million dollars marketing yourself, you can still go to pockets of Vermont and find that people have no idea who you are, have never heard your name.
That, I think, highlights the challenge that we have with limited resources trying to attract others outside the state. We need to put a marketing plan together that is common to most, so that we can all develop maybe the same theme. Whether it’s “innovative by nature,” whether it’s “one foot in the pasture one foot in the factory.” I’ve heard some variations of these. If we can develop a common theme and then run with it, so we all are saying the same thing, and have maybe just a little bit of what we do attached to that, I think that that’s something that could be beneficial in the future. We have to work together. We can’t do it in silos.
Question 6, Your Priorities
In my first 90 days I will establish a variety of task forces. I am very focused on the four sectors of innovation in terms of driving our economy. I also want to have task forces on the outdoor industry and the creative economy.
I know that there are always things going on in our state, but not everyone knows about what everyone else is doing. I certainly saw this during Irene. I hope we can create the opportunity for people to collaborate and come up with suggestions to drive forward. That’s my vision. I want to build upon these task forces because when you get leaders who are excited about leading innovation to actually work together and come up with strategies, it’s part of what I hope to do as part of a statewide strategic plan.
Well, first of all, it’s all about hiring your administration. I would really pay attention to who was secretary of different departments that have a structural mind, that have the ability to work with others to utilize a budget. To be creative themselves. And to understand that we really are all in this together. I hope to have a bit of a cultural change in state government.
I think that we should be treating our citizens better. I think our different bureaucracies, our different departments, our different agencies, and it’s no fault of their own, but I believe that it’s just a leadership change at the top. To lead by example and to treat our businesses, treat our individuals better, and treat them as customers. And again to understand that I will focus on trying to make Vermont more affordable, and to focus like a laser on trying to restore and revitalize this economy in Vermont that I think is truly unique. We just haven’t told the right story, we haven’t focused on the right things, and I think that the future’s bright if we play our cards right here.