Vermont Arts Council

Who Says “Yes” to Art?

Vermonters, of course.

The University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies conducts a statewide telephone survey every year. Hundreds of statistically representative households are contacted. “The Vermonter Poll” has been used by researchers, policy makers, social advocates, and citizens since 1990 to gauge opinions about contemporary issues. This year, three questions about the arts were included.

Vermonters were presented three statements and asked to note the extent of their agreement or involvement. In this instance, the arts were defined as performing arts, such as music, dance, and theater; galleries and museums; arts festivals; literary arts; or art classes.

The results are abundantly clear. Art matters to us in our public life, schools, and homes.

In Community

A full 85% of Vermonters say art is an important part of community.

The first statement was, “I value the arts as an important element of life in my community.”

60% of respondents strongly agreed, 25% somewhat agreed, 6% neither agreed nor disagreed, 4% somewhat disagreed, and only 3% strongly disagreed.

We shared this data with Paul Costello, executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development since 2000. He is a UVM alumni and holds a PhD in intellectual history from McGill University. Paul is also a member of the Housing Vermont board of directors and president emeritus of the national Partners for Rural America organization. He understands rural life.

Paul said, “This statistic doesn’t surprise me. It mirrors what we hear from Vermonters all around the state. In all the years I’ve been involved in work with Vermont communities, the arts turn up time and time again as key local assets, as a driver for the local brand, and as one of the crucial points of attraction for entrepreneurs, youth and new residents.”

In Education

Ninety-four percent of Vermonters value the arts in education.

The next statement was “I value the arts as an integrated part of K through 12 public education in Vermont.” The numbers jumped higher.

74% of respondents strongly agreed, 20% somewhat agreed, 4% neither agreed nor disagreed, 1% somewhat disagreed, and fewer than one percent strongly disagreed.

Eric Booth has been an actor on Broadway, a businessman, author, and teacher. He taught at Juilliard, Stanford University, Tanglewood, Lincoln Center Institute, and the Kennedy Center. Known to many as the father of the teaching artist profession, he works as a consultant. In 2015 he was named in the “Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in the Nonprofit Arts (USA)” in Barry’s Blog, and was the only teaching artist and the only freelancer on the list.

Eric commented on the statistics. “It is impressive to see what an overwhelming majority of Vermonters value the arts as a part of every child’s schooling.” Then, he warned that, “…we see similar opinions in other states that do not follow through and give the arts and creativity a strong position in school priorities. I urge Vermonters to back up that opinion with action and budget. Arts- and creativity-rich schools produce a powerful ripple effect on kids’ academic achievement and longer-term success.”

At Home

In most Vermont households, someone regularly engages in an art activity.

Last one: “And would you say that a member of your household is actively engaged in the arts daily, weekly, monthly, several times a year, or never?”

26% of respondents participate daily, 22% weekly, 13% monthly, 15% several times a year, and 22% never.

Deedee Jones is a mediator in private practice. She also paints for pleasure, and plays violin in a community orchestra with other non-arts professionals — doctors, teachers, and engineers. Through practicing, creating, and  gathering weekly to wrestle with the music of great composers, she gives time to her art. Being creative matters to her.

She put it this way: “I cannot quite imagine my life without music and painting. It would feel cold. Lifeless. Being part of something bigger is very important to me.”

Vermont. Arts. Everywhere.

These statistics are important. Not only do they validate what we feel to be true, they open the door to more effective storytelling. As the narrative about life in Vermont evolves, numbers like these help us guide funders and supporters. We can encourage policy makers to continue to shape Vermont’s culture. We can ask them to heed the advice of Eric Booth: “Act on your beliefs in the arts and creativity, Vermont.”

Susan McDowell