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I am a Vermont Artist

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


Photo by Owen Leavey.

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.

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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.

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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 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 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

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(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
Dr. Scarborough François Clemmons
Bryan Blanchette
Amy Hook-Therrien
Toby MacNutt
Misoo
Muslim Girls Making Change
Isadora Snapp
Sachiko Yoshida