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I am a Vermont Artist

"I am a Vermont Artist" has moved to a blog format. Click here to see the latest features in the series.

This series explores how artists' creative expressions reflect their experiences of ethnicity, gender identity, religion, disability, or age. Covering all artistic disciplines, and a range of backgrounds—from New Americans to the state's first residents—we hope to amplify voices that deepen our understanding of what it means to be a Vermont artist.

artist index


Shani Stoddard

By day Shani Stoddard is like many Vermonters: boots and caps, hikes with dogs, a house in the woods of Stannard. By night he is… “Shani.” In stilettos and braids, dancing himself sweaty for tips and the joy of the stage, the joy of drag.

The art of drag is the performance of gender, or better yet, the freedom to perform gender as you please, to its fullest and wildest extent. In Vermont’s drag scene, Shani is among the cream of the crop. Raised in Lyndonville, he left for New York City to study musical theater and drama before returning to strut the stages of Burlington and beyond. In 2017, Shani won Outright Vermont’s “Drag Idol” competition, firmly establishing himself in a new generation of Vermont drag performers who bend gender even more than what fans of “traditional” drag may be used to seeing.

Read more on the Council blog.


 

Jericho Parms

Jericho Parms is an old pro at living “between extremes”—between urban and rural, Black and white, art and life. In “On Touching Ground,” the first essay in her 2016 collection, Lost Wax, an exhibit of Degas’ horse sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a ticket to memory, family, and identity, to a young Jericho visiting her grandfather’s Arizona ranch all the way from New York City. Jericho uses language and writing to make connections that build, that “repair our understanding of experience,” and show us truths like how a wild mustang, a sculptor, and a little girl are all teachers of resilience and grace.

Born and raised in New York, life has seen Jericho in the Southwest, Central America, and Europe. Since moving to central Vermont in 2012, Jericho—now of Middlesex—has dedicated herself to forging meaningful connections for the arts community here, working as faculty and as Director of Alumnx Affairs & Diversity Initiatives at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Read more on the Council blog.


Samirah Evans

Photo by Herman Leonard.

When Samirah Evans was displaced from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction, she had already made her mark as a vocalist in the worldwide heart of jazz and blues. During her career as a performing artist, Samirah has fronted her own band, toured internationally in top concert venues and festivals, and shared stages with legendary artists including James Brown, B.B. King, Charles Neville and Sheila Jordan to name a few. Her debut album, Give Me A Moment, was named the fifth best new release in 2002 by the Times Picayune. She has recorded two other full-length CDs as a leader, My Little Bodhisattva (2007) and Hot Club: Live at the Vermont Jazz Center (2009).

After Katrina, Samirah relocated to her husband’s hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont, and she quickly fell into stride touring northeastern festivals and venues. She also discovered another passion—teaching. Samirah is a vocal faculty member at the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro, VT as well as at Williams College in Williamstown, MA, and she gives private voice instruction in her own studio. In 2019 Samirah was presented with the Louis Armstrong "A Journey in Jazz award" for her contribution and commitment to jazz in the community.

Samirah shared her thoughts on being a Vermont artist.

How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

When I moved to Vermont from New Orleans, I found I had to reinvent myself. Vermont embraced me as a New Orleans artist, so for a long time I found myself focused on the music of New Orleans more than I did when I lived there. It was important for me to remain connected to the city that basically molded me as an artist and to share the infectious joy of its music. At the same time moving to Vermont gave me the space to reflect on what I missed about New Orleans and the tragedies endured before and during my transition to Vermont. Consequently, I began to write and perform original material. This enabled me to discover new dimensions of my artistry by finding my voice through telling personal stories through music.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?

Shortly after moving to and performing in Vermont, I started receiving inquires for teaching vocals. Having not taught before, I decided to teach what I learned from my coaches and mentors, and to share what I learned from years of performing professionally. Teaching changed my life as an artist. I discovered that I had a tremendous skill to help people to find and enhance their voices and develop confidence. Ultimately, this led me to an unforeseen opportunity to teach as a faculty member at Williams College. Teaching has undoubtedly helped me to deepen my personal commitment to the music in many ways. Most significantly in the area of story telling. As I further developed this skill it became apparent that I had the ability to take my audience along on whatever journey I decide to traverse in ways that served us both.

What is your vision for the next several years?

To record and document my continued progress and creativity, reach further as an artist, and continue to serve those who want to participate in carrying on the music.

Visit Samirah's website.
Watch Samirah sing "St. James Infirmary" with Charles Neville at the Green River Festival in 2016.
Watch Samirah Evans & Her Handsome Devils perform "My Funny Valentine" at the Latchis in 2009.

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John Hughes

John has worked in fields as disparate as blacksmithing, glassblowing, sculpture, and dance. However he is quick to assert that all of these making activities are, for him, explorations of the same fundamental questions about matter and consciousness. He currently works primarily as a musician, instrument builder, and educator who performs internationally and teaches both kora (West African harp) and traditional West African drumming from his home base in Brattleboro.
 
John shared his thoughts about being a Vermont artist.  
 
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?
 
I first came to Vermont to attend The Putney School in 1982. This move from New York City to the Green Mountain State fostered and transformed my creative processes in so many essential ways! I learned blacksmithing . . . made an ax . . . and built a log cabin in which I lived until I was graduated in 1984. Though I didn't realize it until my sophomore year in college, it was the process of building and living in the cabin in the woods that, in the most important ways, showed me that I was a sculptor and not a painter. During my days at The Putney School and since settling in Vermont after graduate school, I have found the state's natural beauty to be deeply grounding and at once restful and inspiring.  
 
What is something about your art that has changed over time?
 
Vermont's alternately liberal and cantankerously conservative culture has been fertile ground on which to cultivate the more recent transformation from sculptor to instrument builder and musician. In many ways, I feel more connected to my community through my work as a musician than I did through my work as a sculptor. While building sculpture nourished my intellect and curiosity about the nature of the physical universe, making music has grown my compassion and sensitivity to the nonmaterial world.
 
What is your vision for the next several years?
 
In the next several years I intend to keep spreading love through music! I would like to play more public events like concerts to compliment the private events like the weddings and parties that, presently, constitute the bulk of my work. I would like to play more with other people. Living in a small town makes it challenging to find other musicians with whom to collaborate but I'm always on the lookout for the right person or people. I would also like to do more teaching again (classes and private lessons) of the kora and traditional West African drumming.  
 
Visit John's website.  
Peruse John's CDs here.

artist index


Deidra Razzaque

Deidra Razzaque knew she was a writer by the time she was four. Her plan, before she could put words to a page, was to "make the world a better place, spend time in every country, make things beautiful, and write about everything [she would do]."

Deidra is based in Brattleboro, creating art and change. In addition to building collages she is an educator and coach, intercultural leader, workshop presenter, entrepreneur, and--yes--still a writer.
 
Deidra shared her thoughts about being a Vermont artist.
   
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?
 
There are so many artists, musicians, and writers living in Vermont. Because it's such a small state, so many of them feel accessible--I often know someone who is friends with, or related to, X artist. So in itself, that is inspiring--just to feel all that art happening around me, all the time. There are a lot of hidden artists here, too. Several times, walking in the woods, I've found tiny creations made out of rocks or leaves. Or other things, like intriguing notes in library books. It seems like there is a sense of artistry and magic in daily life here. Maybe because the pace of life is a little slower, people have more time to notice, and to create?
 
What is something about your art that has changed over time?
 
I feel like I was born thinking of myself as a writer, but now I feel more drawn to expressing myself visually. Also, I used to think of my work as witnessing my own experiences and the experiences of others. While I still think it does that, and I still think witnessing is important, I aim to make my work move beyond witnessing and act as a catalyst for introspection, connection, action, and healing in others.  
 
What is your vision for the next several years?
 
It seems like many people, in this country and around the world, are feeling trampled. Experiences such as open displays of hatred, and apparent lack of concern for the well-being of individuals and the planet, on so many fronts, have been exhausting for many of us. We could ask, why does art even matter, in a time of such strife? I think it matters more than ever. Because the arts enable us to give voice to what sometimes feels unspeakable. And they enable us, on some levels, to cross barriers and boundaries without needing to say a word.
 
My vision, over the next few years, is to create art that gives people new ways to access their own creativity; that helps them find the courage to say and do difficult, but necessary, things; and that ultimately leads to individual and collective healing. I'm also a workshop leader and life coach. In all of my work, individual and collective creativity and renewal are going to be important areas of focus. And I think that means that joy will also be a focus. Joy in the face of challenge is a radical act of hope. We need to remember the reasons behind the hard work we are doing.
 
Visit Deidra's website: At Home in the World.

artist index


Photo by Vincent Cotnoir.

Bill Forchion

Bill Forchion is a multidisciplinary artist and visionary speaker. He is a graduate of Barnum & Bailey Clown College as well as the American Institute of Holistic Theology. This talented writer, performer, filmmaker, and U.S. State Department-appointed cultural exchange ambassador for the arts grew up in Hammonton, New Jersey and moved to Brattleboro in 2001.

Bill believes "Artists create work based on the song their soul is singing. My work is as much of part of where I am (Vermont) as who I am." 

Bill shared other thoughts about being a Vermont artist.

How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

Being an artist in Vermont has affected me in a number of ways. It has provided me with the space to grow into myself artistically. By this, I mean the space has given me the opportunity to fall over and over again, allowing myself to take greater risks in developing my unique expression. The beauty of Vermont's four seasons (mud season not included) has been an inspiring element in my creative process. Creating in Vermont alongside so many other creative people has opened many doors of artistic collaboration. Each collaboration promotes a new direction of growth. So basically, just about everything about Vermont has affected my creative process.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?

Being a parent and watching my kids grow, and helping them mature has been an amazing growth resource for me. My artistic expression has gained a fearlessness. Where once I worried about who might be offended or what critique I might receive, I now find that I work from the heart. I create out of kindness and love; that sometimes deals with frustration and anger, which allows me to delve into deep emotional places without fear of harming others or compromising myself. Raising children has helped me explore innocence.

What is your vision for the next several years?

My vision for the coming years is to use art for healing, teaching, and community building. Scientists and politicians have worked very hard on issues such as the climate emergency and the opioid epidemic and we are still without a viable solution to the problems. I believe it is time to incorporate artists alongside scientists and politicians into these discussions. My vision is to integrate art into the process of science and politics and religion as means of creating new pathways to mental, physical, spiritual and community health.

Browse Bill's website.
Find Bill's books on Amazon.
Visit theDreamerStation on YouTube
See his posts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.  

artist index


Cai doing tai chi.

Cai Xi

Cai Xi's creative practice is rooted in experimental contemporary art and informed by a deep connection to traditional Chinese art. She uses calligraphy in her works and employs the classic principles of brush (using the common mop, broom, and mason's trowel), ink (oil or enamel paint), and bone (compositional structure).
 
In addition to her painting, Cai uses skills derived from being a chef, educator, and Taiji master to create multimedia explorations. She explains that "with performance mop paintings, monumental portraits, and installations that dance in the wind, I am also celebrating art as food, food as art, the whole cooking process as art."
 
Cai shared her thoughts about being a Vermont artist. 
 
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?
 
Growing up in a large densely populated city of China I nevertheless had a few experiences of visiting rural Chinese villages--that countryside and the natural beauty of it has dwelt in me ever since. When I settled in Vermont almost twenty years ago it was a dream of mine becoming a reality. The open sky and breathing land immediately inspired me to follow nature's lead. After diving into the Earth & Sky landscape series, I extended my contemplation of my new home into the community of people in this landscape, neighbors and friends--listening to and learning from each person, their lives, and their stories. For me, Vermont is about connecting with and learning from nature, the natural settings of Vermont.
 
What is something about your art that has changed over time?
 
My art is a tool, a channel, a bridge for me to be connected with people and to recognize the beauty of all people. Over these years in Vermont, my awareness of this environment where I am has developed, while acting locally, making locally, and being part of the locally sourced ethos. The process of doing the You and Me series, each portrait, is my opportunity to take time to listen and study the stories and lives of the people depicted. My Earth and Sky landscape painting series is a process of letting go of myself, dropping my ego, letting nature take me, embrace me. I am melting into the vastness of nature. The beauty of nature remains in a second, a minute, an hour, a day, a month, a year, and thereafter forever. Nothing was, is, and will be greater than nature. It is my ongoing prayer for Peace on Earth.
   
What is your vision for the next several years? 

I envision art-life, applying my art practice in whatever I do, cooking, teaching, taking care of my health, painting and drawing, and everyday living, sharing contemplation, insight and the joy of making with others.
   
Visit Cai's website.
Read about Cai's performance, her retrospective, her Edge series, and more.
Learn about the Chinese word art project.
Browse Cai's videos.

artist index


"Where My Grandmothers Stood," a photo by Lina Longtoe.

Lina Longtoe

Lina Longtoe is a citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe and a juried artist in the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association. She has spent more than a decade volunteering within her community as a tribal documentarian and educator. Her photography and film work have been exhibited across the eastern United States and internationally.  
 
As a filmmaker, Lina seeks to educate both Native and non-Native people through innovative shorts and feature-length documentaries. Through photography, she documents the traditions of Abenaki artisans and illustrates how her people live in two different worlds simultaneously; that of their ancestors and the modern, globalizing world.
 
Lina shared her thoughts about being a Vermont artist.
 
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?
 
As I travel across N'dakinna (the Abenaki word for our homeland) I often photograph things that are of cultural or religious significance for the Abenaki, or other Native American tribes. I also enjoy photographing things that are not quite as right as they appear once you examine them. I like playing in that grey space, and in recent years, have taken to using it to bring awareness to ideas and issues that I wish people knew more about.
 
Legal challenges have hindered Abenaki artists due to the Indian Arts and Craft Law of 1990, which states that unless you are a carded citizen of a tribe that is formally "recognized," you cannot legally sell your art as Native American made. Until 2011, when my tribe was recognized by Vermont, our artists couldn't accurately market themselves, and educators like me who use art as a vehicle for change weren't accepted into exhibitions. Some Abenakis still do not have recognition, and some people think that de-legitimizes them. When the Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage exhibit opened, I needed to document how we saw and worked with Abenaki artists versus how others expected or wanted us to work.
 
What is something about your art that has changed over time?

I come from a very artistic family. My grandfather is an oil painter and basket maker, his grandmother taught him how to make baskets just as she was taught by her Elders, and he, in turn, taught my mother, who is now a talented fiber artist and basket maker. My father was a carpenter. As a teenager, I always felt inadequate compared to them. I confessed this to several artists I admire. One pointed out that in certain cultures, artists intentionally create imperfections to reflect religious beliefs. Another simply said that if I would not give myself permission to enjoy my materials and experiment, that she gave me permission. I refocused on my own interests and allowed myself to pause and start connecting the dots between different stories just beneath the threshold of public knowledge. I began collaborating with my broader community to begin putting an educational spin on my film work as well.

"Habitat," a photo by Lina Longtoe.

What is your vision for the next several years?
 
I actively avoid making long term plans, so I have no timeline. But, I would like to publish some articles about my research into consumerism and Native American art so that I can help our communities better sustain themselves. A few years ago, I started working on a retrospective film for the tenth anniversary of an event in my community, and recently picked back up the reins on that. I want to give myself the time to piece together all the wonderful footage I've collected over the years and start doing longer videos.
 
I want to wish everyone a happy National Native American Heritage Month (November)!
 
Learn more Lina and her work:     
Visit Lina's You Tube Channel.
View the Askawobi Productions Facebook Page.
Read Lina's profile on the Abenaki Artists Association website.

artist index


Hom Pradhan

Hom was just seven and living in a Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal when he began to draw and paint. His paintings captured the routines and struggles of daily life. Hom's innate artistic talents led him to study at the camp's art school. He then became a student instructor, teaching painting and sculpture to other refugees.

In 2012, Hom moved to Vermont. His creativity accompanied him, and he has turned his talents to depicting a different kind of life--and the beautiful natural landscape that surrounds him. Hom shared his thoughts about being a Vermont artist.
 
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

Since coming to Vermont, my perspective has changed. It's very different than when I was growing up in the Bhutanese refugee camp. I have come to love the landscape--particularly in the fall. At this time of year I do as much painting outdoors as I can. I like to hike into the mountains and try to capture the natural beauty. But, having grown up as a refugee, I also want to express my background, my ethnicity, and my culture through my art.
 
What is something about your art that has changed over time?
 
Before, I was painting landscapes, portraits--without pain, without a story, without a message. Working with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program has allowed me to meet people from many countries. I've been working with them to create paintings that show the cultures of people from different parts of the world. Their stories are not exactly the same as mine, but I can understand their experiences. It's comfortable.

What is your vision for the next several years?
 
People are talking about immigration a lot now--about how issues around immigration are affecting people. My father and grandfather were forced to leave their home country, Bhutan, even though they didn't want to go. They lost their home. I want to explore the theme of immigration and what happens to people when their freedoms are taken away from them. I'm doing research about stories of the people from my country and from other countries. I want to learn about not just my own heritage but cultures around the world. I want to make two different kinds of paintings--the world as it is and the world as it should be. Now I'm doing research but soon I will begin to paint these ideas.
 
View Hom's audio/visual exhibit, Life Under the Shadow.
Read an article about Hom in Seven Days.

artist index


Photo by Owen Leavey.

Jarvis Green

Growing up in the South, Jarvis was always drawn to the outdoors and nature. "I love getting my hands dirty." A serendipitous opportunity to spend a summer on a farm led him to Vermont. Jarvis has been here ever since—bringing his passion for theater to a new environment and new audiences.

Jarvis is the founder of JAG Productions, a theater company based in White River Junction. JAG's mission is to "produce classic and contemporary African-American theater; to serve as an incubator of new work that excites broad intellectual engagement; and thereby, to catalyze compassion, empathy, love, and community through shared understandings of the humankind through the lens of the African-American experience."

Learn more about Jarvis and his work:     

Visit JAG Productions' website.
Listen to My Humanity reflected; Actor and Artistic Director Jarvis Green on VPR.
Read JAG Productions Wins Regional Theater Award in Seven Days.

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Migmar Tsering

"I arrived in Vermont from the Land of Snow," explains Migmar Tsering, referring to Tibet, his country of birth. Since moving to the Green Mountain State, his life as an artist has evolved in many ways. Migmar shared his thoughts about being a Vermont artist.     
 
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

Since my arrival in 2011, I have experienced a strange feeling about my creative process as an artist. Early on, I connected with the Tibetan community and felt the need to give Tibetan kids the opportunity to play traditional instruments and to learn our dances and songs. I volunteered to teach these art forms in my community and to perform during the Annual Tibet Festival, the Dalai Lama's Birthday, and many other occasions. This experience of being an instructor has brought a lot of growth to my creative process.

I have also had the chance to perform for non-Tibetan Vermonters. My creative process has been affected by the need to choose my songs to ensure that my audience understands what I am trying to share. Recently, I have begun composing songs of my own. Knowing that my audience would mostly be non-Tibetans, I've made a slight shift in the rhythm and the melody of the songs.
 
What is something about your art that has changed over time?

These art forms have been a part of me since I was a boy. I've discovered the importance of sharing my art because otherwise it would be difficult to explain who I am to the world. Therefore, I've started working to improve my skills, and to accept every invitation to perform. I am starting to see a horizon that will show me where I am going with this. I know I just need to keep going.
 
The journey of learning, sharing, and all the experiences that come along will be the ultimate tool to find a destiny for my art. As of now, my art is about sharing the culture of Tibet, teaching Tibetan kids about their roots, and instilling a sense of individual responsibility to our heritage.
 
What is your vision for the next several years?

I see many things--smiling young Tibetan-Americans playing the lute and dancing to traditional songs. I see tears in the eyes of elders reflecting their hope in our future generation. I feel how secretly they celebrate the pride of seeing their grandchildren living our culture. I see young people sharing a special connection and taking on the responsibility of sharing our traditions with future generations.
 
I see myself recording an album to share with the people of Vermont that reflects the rich traditions of Tibet. Those still living in Tibet have become strangers in our own country. Those who have left are struggling to find a home. No matter how challenging our lives may become, we always celebrate being Tibetans and remain deeply rooted to our culture.
 
My vision for the next several years is to have a school in which everybody will learn Tibetan songs and dances. I want others to feel the joy of putting their steps in Tibetan culture.
 
This is all I have as a gift; my art.

Watch Migmar perform on VPR's Live from the Fort.
Read an article about Migmar's teaching in Seven Days.
View Migmar's presentation at PechaKucha Night Burlington.

artist index


Rajnii Eddins

Rajnii's lifelong love of words was inspired by his mother. At the age of eleven, Rajnii became the youngest member of the African-American Writers' Alliance in Seattle, founded by Randee Eddins.

Rajnii is passionate about the power of words to start conversations and foster healing—particularly among young people. He has been involved with the Young Writers Project and the Children's Literacy Foundation, and served as a coach for Muslim Girls Making Change. In April, he published his first book of poetry, Their Names Are Mine.
 
Rajnii shared his thoughts about being an artist in Vermont.
 
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

Living in Vermont has influenced my art in many dynamic ways. The homogeneity has increased my awareness of the need to speak up about white supremacy and to hold space more intentionally for a myriad of underheard voices and narratives. I have also been inspired by many different artists to expand my capacity for collaboration across multiple genres of musical expression. The land itself being the original home to the Abenaki people has often spoken to me in profound ways and being in nature I feel there is so much to be gained from the spirit that existed here prior to colonization and is still here.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?

Over time my art has become more nuanced and I have gained insight through experience of the need to express myself courageously and vulnerably, not just as a form of mental hygiene and catharsis for myself, but also as a modeling for welcoming us all to express ourselves and our stories authentically and without filtering while recognizing this will serve for the health and sincere well- being of community.

What is your vision for the next several years?

My vision for the next several years is to continue to grow and expand my craft and its impact and outreach in Vermont, New England, and the entire country, to create and encourage more platforms for shared story for human beings of all backgrounds. My vision is also to facilitate on a greater scale, engagements to deconstruct race while affirming common humanity.

It is my intention to do this with students, educators, police departments, workers in the judicial system, professionals in any capacity, and community members in general. This seems to me to be the greatest import of my art at this time in Vermont's and the greater nation's history. In good conscience, I cannot do less.

Visit Rajnii's Facebook page.
Listen to a VPR interview with Rajnii.
Read a Children's Literacy Foundation Q&A with Rajnii.
Read a review of Their Names Are Mine in Seven Days.

artist index


Photo by Jeff Woodward.

Larry Bissonnette

"My art is not looking to make a statement about my autism," writes Larry Bissonnette. He suggests in his artist statement that "Awestruck stories about the individual triumphing over the adversity of autism need to be lessened in favor of practicing art as the promotion of creative self expression across all levels of, open to art, ability."

Larry is an artist, a movie star, and an advocate for people with autism and other disabilities. He communicates through typing—using a keyboard to express his views about the creative process and how people should experience his art. "Your coming to see my art should be your potentially life-changing wake up call to do art and not just make missing-the-point conversation about art over wine and orders of fancy meat-filled pastry and cheese. Let's save those snacks for celebrating your doing of art and sharing it with others."
 
Larry shared his thoughts about being a Vermont artist.
 
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

Approach to art in Vermont is like most organic partnership between the artistic vision of the artist and fine art people who value artistic creativity made by intuitions and feelings rather than intellectually learned methods in an art school.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?

To work on my art in the institution, I only painted with markers and crayons. Now I can use acrylic paint and paper of good quality but painting subjects are still people, landscapes, and outside structures and my painting strokes are still coarse and vigorous.

What is your vision for the next several years?

To place more paintings in galleries and use my presentations at conferences to promote my art.

Read about Larry's solo solo exhibit at the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery in Burlington.
Watch a trailer for the award-winning My Classic Life as an Artist.
Find out about Communication Alternatives in Autism, an upcoming book that includes a chapter written by Larry.
Learn more about Larry and the documentary in which he starred, Wretches & Jabberers.

artist index


Photo by Elodie Reed.

Desmond Peeples

Desmond Peeples is passionate about the arts in rural communities.  "When a small town's artists and arts organizations are empowered and active, they enable neighbors, peers, and coworkers to meet in the strange spacetime of creativity and rediscover each other; they can help transform the way an entire community sees and feels itself." One way Desmond is trying to accomplish these connections is through Mount Island, a literary magazine for rural LGBTQ and POC voices, for which they are the founding editor and editor in chief.
 
Desmond shares their thoughts about being an artist in Vermont.
 
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

The land has been a gift. A supreme presence whose spirit I'm lucky and challenged to be in conversation with. The solitude has always been a driving force, sometimes toward creative actualization and sometimes just toward loneliness. I've cherished the intimate sense of community here, but growing up as a queer, mixed-race Black Vermonter was a constant, often dogged, hunt for respect and solidarity, and for intimacy with others like me. Making art has always been a tool in that hunt, whether for soothing the spirit, interrogating truth, or reaching into community.

Since returning to Vermont after some years bouncing around the country, I've realized how essential community is to my creative process. With the help of countless other artists who feel similarly, I've been learning how to better ground myself in community where it exists, and to create it where it's needed. It's an ongoing struggle, but it—like Vermon—means the world, means home to me.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?

For years the ethical substance of art was my primary concern, but now style is equally important to me. I've become obsessed with how style and substance can work together, in service to each other's reckoning with the human experience.

What is your vision for the next several years?

I've been working on two novels I'd like to see published, both set in the Enlightenment era. One's a punky look at queer lives back then, the other an alt-history fantasy about a pagan nation's invasion of Europe.

I'd also like to devote more energy to making music. I've been mulling over a folky, bluesy album for a while. And I'm itching to return to singing in drag—that's an irreplaceable feeling I miss.

Then there's running Mount Island, the first issue of which comes out this October. Our long-term vision is a sustainable publishing house grounded in equitable community-building.

Visit Desmond's website.
Take a look at Mount Island's website.
Read an interview with Desmond in the Brattleboro Reformer.

artist index


Kaylynn Sullivan TwoTrees

"Making/creating is a link to a deep remembering of who we are," writes Kaylynn Sullivan TwoTrees. Over more than five decades, TwoTrees has explored the connections between nature and self through a number of media. Her work has been exhibited and is in collections in the U.S., Europe, and New Zealand, and she is a past recipient of the Lila Wallace International Artist Award.
 
TwoTrees shared her thoughts about being a Vermont artist.        
 
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

Moving to Vermont from the New Mexico high desert affected my process in multiple ways. My relationship to landscape and nature had always been primary and intimate and here in Vermont the starkness of the seasons re-tuned me in a different way. I turned more inward during the winter and had creative bursts rather than the subtle long and slow unfolding of my process in the seasons of the desert. I also moved between mediums more frequently—from artist books to installations to sculpture and writing—ftrying to stay resonant with landscape and seasonal energy. As a conceptual artist this change has given me a chance to engage with different audiences and learn from that interaction.
 
What is something about your art that has changed over time?

I have been creating and exhibiting work for over fifty years and have been fascinated by large scale conceptual work--mostly installation/performance. As I have moved around the world and aged I have begun experimenting with smaller scale, both in presentation and in ideas. I find that change in landscape and in physical ability have given me new avenues and mediums to explore. I am also returning to more collaborative work, which offers greater range of expression when there is deep resonance between the artists. I am continually searching for new ways to make connections to people and to consciousness. In my work I am seeking ways to pose questions that invite/provoke the viewer to remember/dream a more hospitable world for all living beings.

Trail of Hope.

What is your vision for the next several years?

At the moment I am working to shift my focus to video in order to engage multiple generations of viewers and a larger audience. It means using my studio work to create some of the material for video. I am currently working on a collaboration with musicians to create a visual narrative interpretation of my paintings as a video. I see video as a way for me to engage in collaborations with other artists and one that will stretch my creative vision and our ability to engage the viewer in ways I do not yet know.
 
View TwoTrees' Gallery.
Explore TwoTrees' writing.
Watch videos by TwoTrees.

artist index


Photo by Jennifer Herrera Condry.

Will Kasso Condry

Growing up in the inner city of Trenton, New Jersey, Will turned to art as an escape from the violence in his community. As Will describes it, painting and drawing became his loyal friends at a time when many of his peers were falling victim to the streets. "Art has always been my center."
 
Will studied fine art and illustration at The College of New Jersey and co-founded Trenton's premier aerosol art production crew--dubbed Vicious Styles Crew. He also started a nonprofit organization focused on organizing urban beautification projects in Trenton.
 
Although he now lives in Vermont full time, Will continues to travel and facilitate community mural projects with local schools, universities, and community-based organizations, including the McCullough Student Center at  Middlebury College, the University of
Vermont Mosaic Center for Students of Color, and Ripton Elementary School.  
 
Will shared his thoughts about being a Vermont Artist.
 
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

In the past two and a half years of living here, I find that the rural environment and relative isolation has helped me slow down and focus on a deeper level. I've also had to learn to become more disciplined in holding myself accountable to producing at a steady pace. Nowadays, I am much more patient and I take my time with my creative process. This allows me to connect more intuitively with my work.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?

My subject matter and style have changed over time. The more I connect with my lineage, my ancestors, and family history the more I see their influence manifest in my work. I'm currently delving into a series of paintings and illustrations inspired by African spiritualism and Afro-futurism.

What is your vision for the next several years?
In addition to producing paintings and murals, I plan to work with ceramics and produce sculptures as well. I would love to see more community-based public art projects in Vermont and I hope to be a driving force in that. Vermont is a very white state and it can be a challenge finding where my work and aesthetic fit in, but I will keep producing and let my ancestors guide the way. I believe Vermont is ripe for a creative "colorful" takeover.

My wife, my daughter, and I have a small home-based business called 7 Brujas Boutique. It's a lifestyle brand that promotes conscious inspired creativity with an African spiritualism influence.

We are in the process of turning our home in Brandon into a creative sanctuary. I'm looking forward to what the future holds and continuing to build my artistry here. I plan on bringing more color to this state in more ways than one.
 
Visit Will's website.
See Kasso's Journey.
Learn about the Painting Princeton project.
Watch Will's TedX talk.

artist index


Mikahely

In his home country of Madagascar, Mikahely is a renowned musician and guitarist. He has performed throughout the island, has toured Europe, and is featured in the documentary Guitar Madagascar.
 
Mikahely's band, Mika & Davis--two vocalists backed by drums, electric guitar, and bass--played to thousands of adoring fans. They drew upon traditional basesa rhythms of Madagascar's east coast, fusing them with jazz and other genres to create a unique style.

Since moving to Vermont in 2018, Mikahely has been performing as a solo act. He's received rave reviews for his haunting melodies and his technical skills on the guitar and the valiha, a traditional Malagasy instrument crafted from bamboo. His vision is much larger, though. He hopes to form a new band and start touring in Vermont and throughout the Northeast.  
 
Mikahely shared his thoughts about being a Vermont artist.  
 
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

Living in Vermont has been very positive for my creative process. I get to meet many different musicians of different genres. It is a completely new experience for me. Communicating in another language also pushes me to expand. The long winter offered quiet solitude, though I am enjoying the spring and summer!

What is something about your art that has changed over time?

Music is my passion; my music is constantly evolving and re-inventing itself. I do a lot of improvisation when I perform. A lot of what comes out on stage is being created in the moment! It just flows from my heart to my hands.

What is your vision for the next several years?

My goal for this year is to finish my next album. In the next few years, I hope to start touring more as a world musician, spreading my messages to greater audiences in Vermont, New York City, Montreal, and beyond. I also hope that some of the talented musicians that I have worked with from Madagascar can come on tour with me at some point.
 
Hear Mikahely's music.
Read (or listen to) a VPR story about Mikahely.
Watch a video of Mikahely's band in Madagascar.
See Mikahely perform at the BCA Summer Concert Series.

artist index


Photo by MacLean C. Gander.

Shanta Lee Gander

 
Shanta is a multidisciplinary artist who transformed a challenging childhood into a creative career as a photographer, poet, investigative journalist, and advocate. Her education includes an undergraduate degree in women, gender, and sexuality as well as an MBA. She's currently completing an MFA in creative nonfiction and poetry at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Shanta is the co-author of Ghosts of Cuba: An Interracial Couple's Exploration of Cuba in the Age of Trump--Told in Images & Words that will be published later this year. She is also one of the managing editors and an editor of creative nonfiction for Mount Island, a literary magazine focused on rural LGBTQ and POC voices. Despite her busy schedule, Shanta found time to share some of her thoughts about being a Vermont Artist.  

How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

Vermont is where I first fell in love with the idea of photographing abandoned things. Also, I've re-engaged with my former urban landscape in my poetry and writing while also expanding new ways for me to see and appreciate other types of landscapes. Vermont gave me the opportunity to take chances to become, it is a fertile ground for risking.  

What is something about your art that has changed over time?

For me, my art has shifted from being personal and private to something I had to share with others.  

The funny thing about my writing is that I was first introduced to it as a punishment, not as art! As a punishment, my mother would assign me to write the sentences, "I will not ____" on sheets of paper until she told me to stop. In sixth grade, I had a teacher who would assign dictionary pages as punishment. Oddly, this did not deter me from writing. I would often stand at my windowsill in my room, and use the lights from the apartment buildings to write. I would've gotten in big trouble if it was discovered I was writing instead of sleeping. In this way, I was willing to risk a lot in order to express myself.

Photography has a bit of a different path. When I left for college, I stole my dad's Nikon, but didn't engage in using it as I should've. It was ultimately living in India for five months that prompted me to invest in a camera and do some travel writing that I shared with others. I did my first exhibition, Surrender, with my shots from India upon my return. The private-public shift in my creating also included taking opportunities that involved creating spaces or forums for others to engage in discussions about creativity.  

I still walk between the tension of keeping my work to myself versus putting it into the world.
 
What is your vision for the next several years?

One of my goals includes thinking about the set of questions I would like my work either to pose, answer, or both, in my artistic work. I would like my work to inspire inquiry and critical thinking as well. I also am interested in eventually owning gallery space where I can continue to engage various communities with different forms of art. I want to continue to challenge myself by working in some of the new mediums that I've started to explore (like my watercolors). I also envision eventually publishing my photography, a book of poetry, and my memoir.

Watch an interview with Shanta on Brattleboro Community Television.
Watch a spoken word performance.
Read "Becoming the Cartographer of Her Own Life" in Ms. Magazine.

artist index


Photo by Alison Prine.

Toussaint St. Negritude

Toussaint ends his email messages with the phrase "Power to the Poets." He could also include power to the jazz musicians, the hat designers, and the tiny house builders. In other words, he's a multi-talented, multi-dimensional artist. He was also the poet laureate of Belfast (Maine, that is). Toussaint said it was challenging to confine his story to three hundred words, but he offered a glimpse into what it means to be a Vermont artist.
 
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

Far from the telltale promises and hallowed parameters of city life, Vermont is the home my artistry has sought for years, long before I moved here. I love being myself here, in the mountains, in the woods, in the hardy wilderness of creative survival, and consequently in the relative absence of modern materialism. Vermont fits me, fits my poetry, fits my music, fits my hat-making, and most dearly, Vermont fits my spirit. Living in Vermont has radically enabled my creativity to blossom enormously, both personally and profoundly as an ever-broadening means of community. In the last year, such fertile ground has allowed me to create a wonderful avant-garde jazz and poetry band, Jaguar Stereo, featuring the great Burlington bassist Gahlord Dewald and myself on bass clarinet and my own poetry.

Jaguar Stereo performing at Goddard College. Photo by Ama Hannan.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?
 
As an Afrofuturist gay African American poet, composer, and jazz bass clarinetist, my work has long been informed by an entire galaxy of liberation, encompassing the natural freedoms of all forms of creative expression. One particular way my work has further evolved since living here in Vermont, has been through the exploration of the spirituality of nature, especially through the spirituality of mountains. Throughout all journeys, however found or challenged, I find mountains to be an enormous expanse of spiritual guidance. I am currently writing a book of poems honoring the mountains of the Northeast Kingdom.

What is your vision for the next several years?

I am especially excited for this next period in my life. As I soon prepare for my sixtieth birthday, after a life of straddling the task of being an artist and also being employed, often leaving my creativity on some perilous side shelf, now through the building of my own self-sustaining tiny home in the mountains, beginning this summer, I am thrilled to soon commit the rest of my life to being an artist full time, writing and publishing new works of poetry, while recording and regularly performing throughout the region. Itʼs truly amazing, how Vermont has brought me to being myself full-time.
 
Visit Toussaint's website.
Follow Toussaint on Instagram @toussaintstnegritude.
Read a 2018 interview with Toussaint in the Michigan Quarterly Review

artist index


Photo by Toby MacNutt.

Toby MacNutt

"I'm a queer, nonbinary-trans, disabled, multidisciplinary artist, author, and teacher"  just begins to describe who Toby is as an artist and a person. They constantly work to expand access to creativity for all and to push the bounds of how we view the arts, our world, and each other. Toby wrote about being an artist in Vermont.     

How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

In many ways, Vermont's rural nature has required me to become self-sufficient—to believe in my own work and move ahead with my own drive, taking on many roles at once in any creative process, to solve my own problems. But in reality, even though most artists need to be a DIY-entrepreneur of some kind, we are not really in it alone. We can't be. Being in Vermont means that I have had to be intentional and purposeful in seeking out my communities and networks, and to be open about who and where they might be. As a result, I have community here locally, and different but equally strong connections in other states, regions, and countries; instead of isolated I have become connected. I travel a lot, but I always come back home.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?

I'm getting more interdisciplinary—both in product, using poetry and other art forms along with dance, and in process, using not-traditionally-dance-based methods for creation and design. Dance's medium is people; I'm finding the best tools for working with people as people often come from other fields.

What is your vision for the next several years?

I'm working on a solo show! It blends personal experiences—of gender, disability, and other things—with my different modes of motion, including floor work, crutches, and aerials. I have some exciting Vermont collaborators who'll be helping me develop this work, which I hope to premiere in 2020. I'm also enjoying assembling my palette of employment, doing facilitation, performing my and others' work, teaching/trainings, creative residencies, and design work both at home and away. Vermont's artistic environment is becoming more inclusive and vibrant, and I hope to help nurture that continued growth.
 
Visit Toby's website.
View Toby's Creative Ground profile.
Follow Toby on Instagram @tobymacnutt.

artist index


Bryan Blanchette

Bryan is a singer-songwriter who brings more than ten thousand years of Abenaki tradition to his contemporary compositions. He began powwow drumming more than two decades ago and soon after began writing Abenaki language songs. Bryan also studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Recently, Bryan shared his thoughts about being a Vermont artist.   
 
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

Living in Vermont has allowed me to experience things that I could not have seen simply by visiting. The natural beauty of Vermont is incredible. I often take trips to the Warren cascades and while there can easily draw inspiration for new thoughts on music or anything. It's where I go to become grounded. I'm far more relaxed and able to focus on my music up here.

Singing in Abenaki in Vermont is so much more meaningful, and being in Abenaki territory has allowed me to spend more time with my extended and supportive native family. Living in Graniteville and seeing the trees growing up out of the grout piles has given me the inspiration to write a powwow song about how the forest is reclaiming our land.  But most important of all is that I can feel the presence of the ancestors.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?

For the Black Hawk Singers, a group I started in 2004, I try to keep the songs as traditional as possible. I believe and have been instructed that our culture lies within the language. It's with that in mind that I write new songs, because our culture is alive and I want people to understand that. I started writing and performing contemporary music a few years ago to bring the beauty of our language to a wider audience and more attention to our language and culture.

What is your vision for the next several years?

Recently, I started playing guitar again and feel as though I'm just starting to wake up musically as an acoustic singer-songwriter. For my upcoming CD, I've been fortunate enough to have some extremely talented Vermont musicians add some incredible tracks. Moving forward, I want to push the envelope and produce music that is more jam based but with both traditional and contemporary instrumentation along with Abenaki lyrics. Perhaps the most important of all my music goals is to see people dancing to songs with Abenaki lyrics in Vermont clubs.  
   
Learn more about Bryan.
Hear Bryan's music.

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Muslim Girls Making Change

The words of four young Vermont women working for social justice have resonated throughout our state and the country in the past few years. Kiran Waqar, Hawa Adam, Lena Ginawi, and Balkisa Abdikadir began performing slam poetry as Muslim Girls Making Change (MGMC) in 2016. They have since competed internationally and won numerous awards, including the SuAnne Big Crow Memorial Award from the National Education Association.

The Huffington Post cited the group in an article highlighting seventeen "Muslim American women who made 2016 a kinder, more just and beautiful year" with "We salute these women and the thousands of others who make this country great."

Visit MGMC's website.
Watch MGMC's acceptance speech at the National Education Association.
Read about MGMC in a Poetry Foundation blog post.

artist index


Self portrait of Misoo from "The Giantess" series.

Misoo

Though born in the Bronx, Misoo spent most of her early years in Korea. At eighteen, she returned to the United States and began painting as a way to communicate her feelings.  
 
Misoo graduated from Florida Atlantic University, receiving an MFA in painting in 2014. She lives in South Burlington and continues to show her work, give artist talks, and attend artist residencies around the world.   
 
Misoo shared her thoughts about being a Vermont artist.
 
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?
 
Living in Vermont as an Asian female artist helped me to see the world from a minority point of view. Although Vermont is liberal and filled with open minded people, I often find myself in situations where I am judged by my race and gender. The repeating stereotypical comments and conversations prompted me to create a series of work, The Giant Asian Girls, which contemplates the gender-based violence and racial stereotypes that face Asian women living in the United States.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?
 
My work has changed with the uncovering of my traumatic memories and the recovery after. It started as portraits of vulnerable females in fairy tale like settings, but since, it has matured into the voice of a grown woman. Through the artmaking process, I gained control of the previously overpowering memories that defined me. As the work's creator, I became a storyteller of female survivors' personal redemption.
 
What is your vision for the next several years?

My new series of work is titled, The Giantess. It is a series of acrylic and collage paintings that represents empowerment of minorities, domestic violence victims, and women who've survived trauma.  For the next several years, I plan to exhibit the series as much as possible to raise awareness of the mental, physical, and social violence that women experience in daily life.

Read about Misoo in Ten Emerging New England Artists (Art New England).
Visit Misoo's website.
Check out Misoo's Instagram account.
View Misoo's Facebook page.

artist index


Photo by Sarah Rutherford.

LN Bethea

LN Bethea is a poet, an arts activist, and a Silo Sister. This is what she says about being an artist in Vermont.

How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?
Let me be clear, Vermont not only changed the course of my art, it altered the trajectory of my life. I was like a sightseeing tourist dutifully following my GPS straight into Lake Champlain. I never saw it coming!

I first came to Vermont over thirty years ago. I was as green as its mountains. The only thing I knew about Vermont was it was the whitest state in America. That fact terrified me as a black girl coming from North Carolina. During that summer I fell in love with Vermont and completely fell in love with one of her native sons, a beautiful boy. My life has never been the same. I was strong willed before coming to Vermont. The love I discovered here made me fierce. I took my new self out into the world. Passion poured into my work.

After about ten years of living, loving, and making art, my now Magnetic Man and I returned to Vermont. Here a home has been made, children have been raised, and a new relationship to my creative side has been discovered. At a certain level, art--whether visual, performance, or literary--becomes a business. Often business begins to shape the nature of art. The artist is made to consider what will sell and what does the audience want. Living in Vermont has freed me from those limitations. I write and perform my poetry according to who I am and nothing more.
 
Through fully being myself, I've discovered a community of truly unique individuals, the Cambridge Arts Council. We bring poetry, music, and art to our small corner. With a Vermont Arts Council Animating Infrastructure Grant, we painted the silos in Jeffersonville, announcing to the world "We are here!"  

LN with the Cambridge Arts Council Silo Sisters (before the silos were painted).

Being a black spoken word poet in one of the whitest states in America has freed me from trying to get it right in order to fit in. No matter what I do, I will never be like the others. I might as well be myself.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?
In my teens and twenties, I wanted to change the world on a grand scale. I had visions of using my craft, my voice, in an impactful way. I was working in NYC, surrounded by up and coming artists and the possibilities were endless.

One day I had an epiphany. My art was like a pebble cast into an ocean's crashing waves. The results of all of my creative energies were lost, even to me. Gathering my life I moved to a quiet place, Vermont. Ignoring the outside world, I began to tend my own garden, literally and figuratively. For years, I poured all my creative expression into how I lived. Eventually I began to gather pebbles, putting them in my pockets. Before a prized pebble could become a burden, I cast it into a puddle--speaking my poems to the trees. Puddles became pools which became ponds. Now, I enjoy occasionally casting into lakes and watching the ripples swell and fade. In my fifties I'm still trying to change the world. I'm just doing it one mind at a time.

What is your vision for the next several years?
Only recently have I been able to wear the mantel of poet without cringing. Poets are people with books. Poets went through years of training in their craft. Poets are those people gifted with heightened senses which allow them to experience the world more clearly. I claim none of these. Yet, the words write themselves in my head and only quiet when I give them voice.

My hope for the future is to give them a home outside myself. A book is the traditional home for poems. My poetry doesn't look comfortable on the page. Familiar formatting and fonts are confining. As soon as my spoken word poetry is written, it simply becomes words. Perhaps, YouTube is the way to go. Creating a channel, recording my poems.

While I'm content with my poetry only being heard by the few within the reach of my voice, these are troubling times. Throughout history artists have brought light in the darkness. Art changes the world by giving voice to the silenced. Using technology as my megaphone, I will once again be casting my pebbles into the crashing ocean while hopefully maintaining the illusion of my puddles here in Vermont.

artist index


Sachiko Yoshida with her husband, Burt Zahler.

Sachiko Yoshida

Sachiko Yoshida, originally from Hiigata, Japan, met Burton Zahler in Honduras more than two decades ago. Her love affair with Vermont began when he showed her a book of photographs of his cherished Vermont. She also fell in love with Burt, and in 1998 they moved to the Northeast Kingdom to begin a new life. Sachiko has been creating watercolor paintings ever since.

Sachiko shared her thoughts about being a Vermont artist.

How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?
Having enough space and time is precious to me. Living in rural Vermont has brought me vast freedom from the stresses of a more urban life. I am surrounded by many great people. We inspire each other and support each other with mutual respect. How can I ask for anything more? I just need to keep pursuing my own work. Also, needless to say, I am deeply connected to the environment. As I value the beauty of this world, I'd like to contribute something if I could.
 
What is something about your art that has changed over time?
I am aware of being influenced by a college professor who taught me Nihon-ga (Japanese pigment painting). Even though I was not a good student back then, as I became older, I felt the urge to practice again. I am using watercolor for now, planning to regain those methods I once learned.

Also I am aware of my heritage of Japanese aesthetics. It runs deep within me. I am also open to a more global sense of beauty. I'd like to enrich my world of artistic expression. Over years of life experience I have observed how my awareness of my own ethnicity has become clearer. This clarity has also made it possible for me to respect others and seek the possibilities that coexist with different points of view.
 
What is your vision for the next several years?
My beloved husband, Burt, passed away in 2016. I am still in the grieving process. Losing a loved one will never heal. That important life lesson has made me ponder on a daily basis the questions of "absolute truth" and how "what is permanent is everything is impermanent."

Sometimes I feel I am looking at the world through his eyes. He has joined me or I have merged with him.

Never lose curiosity, savor all kinds of beauty, enjoy books, movies, music . . . this world is so beautiful, keep working.

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow.
Learn as if you were to live forever."
—Mahatma Gandhi

Sachiko Yoshida is one of nineteen artists featured in Looking North: Catamount Artists Connect at the Vermont Arts Council Spotlight Gallery.

artist index


Dr. Scarborough François Clemmons with his beloved dog, Princess.
Photo by Vincent Jones.

Dr. Scarborough François Clemmons

To many people, the name "Officer Clemmons" evokes the friendly police officer with the melodious voice on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, a PBS staple for fifty years. The role of Officer Clemmons was charming and it was groundbreaking: in 1968, François Clemmons was the first African American to have a recurring role on a U.S. television series.

François Clemmons is well known for his twenty-five-year career on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, but that is just part of his rich and varied life as an artist. He is a Grammy Award-winning opera singer, founder of the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble, emeritus artist in residence at Middlebury College, actor, composer, arranger, playwright, author, activist, and mentor. The list goes on.

François was awarded an honorary doctorate of arts degree by Middlebury College in 1996. A year later, he moved to Vermont to become the director of the Middlebury College Choir. For seventeen years, he enriched the college community and its understanding of music, particularly the American Negro Spiritual. François retired from Middlebury College in 2013, but continues to share his artistry in music and in words throughout Vermont and beyond. Rumor has it that a memoir is in the works . . .

Talking Pictures, a Rutland Herald online video series, recently featured François. He discussed the "importance of music on the path to freedom for African slaves and his own experience growing up in a divided America." Watch On my Journey Now.

learn more about François and his extraordinary career on his website
watch an interview with Paul Larson from Mountain Lake PBS
listen to an interview on NPR's StoryCorps

artist index


Photo by Shannon Alexander.

Isadora Snapp

featured January 7, 2019

Unappealing legwear almost changed the course of Isadora Snapp's life. When she was first exposed to dance at age four "the pink tights and leotards turned me off the idea entirely." In fifth grade Isadora reconsidered. She's been dancing ever since.   Isadora teaches at the Contemporary Dance and Fitness Studio (where she first encountered those pesky pink tights). She is also a choreographer, a co-founder of the Montpelier Movement Collective, and a member of the Vermont Dance Alliance.

She will premiere a new work, Invitation, as part of the Winter Dance Gala on February 16 and 17 at the Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro. According to Isadora, "With Invitation, I ask nothing more from the audience than enjoyment." Isadora shared her thoughts about being an artist in Vermont.

How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?
Living in Vermont affords me a measure of peace and space that living elsewhere doesn't. I returned to Vermont because of my family and now my own family is what is keeping me here. But it's certainly no sacrifice. There is a vibrant art and dance community in Vermont if you know where to look for it. Everyone is incredibly supportive of each other and the opportunities and connections only continue to grow. I'm not sure that living here has affected how exactly I create work, but I do know that it has allowed it to happen.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?
I think that when artists, of all kinds, first start out, we echo the voices of our teachers and other influences. I know that for a while I stayed within in a comfort zone for choreography. I was learning about my aesthetic, what works and what doesn't, and what it really means to build a piece. I was interested in creating abstract works that expanded on a theme and highlighted music--pretty and enjoyable but not rooted. Within the past several years, I've started to challenge myself to make work that is related to my own life and tells more of a story. It has required a certain level of vulnerability with the dancers that I work with and with the audience. My movement aesthetic has also evolved over time and I am more prone to taking artistic risks and trusting in the work and the dancers.

What is your vision for the next several years?
I am at a very busy time in my life! I teach six days a week at Contemporary Dance and Fitness Studio in Montpelier and Dance Works Academy in Milton. I have a young family--3 kids with the oldest being 7 1/2 years old. Next year I plan on beginning the certification process for becoming a postpartum doula. This is the first year in several years that I haven't produced an evening-length piece. Instead, I'm working on a ten-minute piece, Invitation, that will have its debut soon. I think the next several years will hopefully continue with more of the same: A very full life and opportunities to continue to create and work with amazing local dancers.

visit Isadora's website

read "Vermont Dance Alliance Throws a Winter Gala" in Seven Days

artist index


Amy Hook-Therrien

featured January 24, 2019

Amy is a watercolor artist and native Vermonter. She is also a member of the Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation. 

Amy grew up "nestled on top of a hill overlooking the valley below--surrounded by nature and adventure." She left the state for college but was drawn back to the place of her birth and her heritage. The natural environment continues to inspire and inform her art. Recently, Amy shared her thoughts about being a Vermont artist.

How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process? Living in Vermont you are surrounded by nature, and watching everything change through the four seasons has always influenced me as an artist. I love getting outside and finding inspiration among the trees, hidden in the snow, or basking in the sun. I love to see the dead beech leaves shivering in the cold, the birch trees picking up the color of the sky. Nature inspires me and Vermont is the perfect place to find it.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?
When I first started painting with watercolors I focused more on patterns and abstraction. I now like to concentrate on the details that give each flower, leaf, or tree its own characteristics. I have started to use pens to get the really fine detail into my work then go over it with watercolor. I love them to be individuals, so you can recognize who they are. This is important to me because I feel that it is actually the imperfections in nature that create its beauty. A collection of crinkled leaves, a flower missing a petal, or trees with broken limbs tell more interesting stories.

What is the vision for the next several years?
I would love to become a full-time artist, the more time I spend working towards my goal the more I love it. I am hoping to get a few more solo exhibitions, and add a few more galleries to my résumé. I have illustrated a book and would love to do more that in that field as well. Anything that gets me to paint more and more often.

visit Amy's website
check out Amy's Instagram account
view Amy's Facebook page

artist index


(l to r) Jilib, Fantome J, Meax, Prince Liv, MG Man.
Photo by Julian Parker Burns.

A2VT

featured January 10, 2019

The idea for A2VT was sparked when Said Bulle "Jilib" and George Mnyonge "MG Man" met on a Burlington soccer field. It was there they discovered their shared love of music and shared refugee roots. A decade later, A2VT has just released a new single, Faas Waa, and has been touring throughout Vermont and New England. We spoke with Jilib and MG Man about what it is like to be artists in Vermont.

How has living and making music in Vermont affected your creative process? Living in Vermont, with its four unique seasons helps us to set time aside, especially in winter, to develop our songwriting and recording. If we lived in a place like Florida or California, our lifestyle would be completely different and we might not have enough time to do all the things important to us. Vermont is quiet and has less people living in it, allowing us more time to focus on our creativity. Our music has evolved to be more dance oriented, more Afropop and Dancehall (Jamaican) influenced. When we first started making music almost ten years ago, it was more a hybrid of African, World, and Western music. The tempos have become faster as well.

What is your vision for the next several years? We want to get our new album out and start the next one. We'd like to tour the country and the world, sharing our story of where we come from with new friends from everywhere. Also, make more videos and become homeowners at some point. We wanna' be the next Phish, but African style!

visit A2VT's website
read an interview with PRI
watch a video of the new single Faas Waa

artist index


Artist Index

A2VT
LN Bethea
Larry Bissonnette
Bryan Blanchette
Dr. Scarborough François Clemmons
Will Kasso Condry
Rajnii Eddins
Samirah Evans
Bill Forchion
Shanta Lee Gardner
Jarvis Green
Amy Hook-Therrien
John Hughes
Lina Longtoe
Toby MacNutt
Mikahely
Misoo
Muslim Girls Making Change
Jericho Parms
Desmond Peeples
Hom Pradhan
Deidra Razzaque
Toussaint St. Negritude
Isadora Snapp
Shani Stoddard
Migmar Tsering
Kaylynn Sullivan TwoTrees
Cai Xi
Sachiko Yoshida

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