2021 Vermont Arts Awards Recipients
Each year the Arts Council recognizes outstanding individual and organizational contributions to the arts in Vermont. We are pleased to introduce our five awardees for 2021.
This award is the most distinguished recognition bestowed by the State of Vermont. Accordingly, it is reserved for Vermont artists who have had a profound impact on their field within the state of Vermont and beyond. The Governor selects the recipient from a list of nominations compiled from across the state and vetted by the Arts Council.
Former Poet Laureate of Vermont Sydney Lea of Newbury will receive the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the highest honor presented to an artist by the state of Vermont. In selecting Lea for this award, Gov. Phil Scott said, “From publishing multiple books to founding the prestigious New England Review magazine, there is no doubt your work has touched people around the world. I also want to recognize your support of education institutions in Vermont. Your contributions to Vermont’s artistic history are admirable.”
Sydney Lea, Newbury
Lea is a poet, novelist, essayist, editor and professor who has published nearly two dozen books, including 13 collections of poetry, one of which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and many other periodicals, as well as in more than 50 anthologies. He has been awarded Rockefeller, Guggenheim, and Fulbright fellowships. He also founded one of the country’s premier literary magazines, New England Review. He has taught at Dartmouth, Yale, Wesleyan, Vermont, and Middlebury Colleges, as well as Switzerland’s Franklin College and Budapest’s Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE). Lea was Vermont Poet Laureate from 2011-2015.
The Walter Cerf Medal is presented to individuals who have made a sustained contribution to the arts and had an impact on Vermont's cultural life.
Pamela Polston of Burlington will receive the Walter Cerf Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts for her sustained contribution to the arts and its impact on Vermont’s cultural life.
Pamela Polston, Burlington
For more than 30 years, Polston has been writing, assigning and editing arts stories, as well as mentoring the next generation of culture writers and editors. The Nebraska native moved to Burlington to attend a graduate program in psychology at the University of Vermont. Eventually she left academia to sing in Vermont band The Decentz, and later lived in Paris, France. After returning to Burlington, Polston gravitated to journalism. In 1995, she co-founded Seven Days, Vermont’s nationally recognized alt-weekly newspaper. Polston has won numerous awards for her arts features and criticism. In 2015, she was inducted into the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame.
The Ellen McCulloch-Lovell Award in Arts Education is presented to individuals who have made a sustained contribution to learning in and through the arts and/or had a positive impact on the quality of education in Vermont.
Steffen Parker of Williston will receive the Ellen McCulloch-Lovell Award in Arts Education for his long-time dedication to mentoring Vermont’s young musicians through classroom instruction and through directing high school music festivals across New England.
Steffen Parker, Williston
For more than 25 years, Steffen Parker has directed the Vermont All State Music Festival, which draws more than 400 participating students annually. He has also been the festival director for the New England Music Festival and continues to advocate for music education on several national committees, including serving as the Performing Arts representative on the High School Today Publication Committee of the National Federation of State High School Associations. Parker teaches music and media arts at Rice Memorial High School and directs the school’s band and jazz ensemble. His steadfast work organizing festivals and putting the best interest of students first has made the festivals a consistently outstanding and inspiring experience for the state's top music students.
The Peggy Kannenstine Award for Arts Advocacy is presented to an individual who has an established and well-deserved reputation in Vermont as an advocate for the arts and their impact on Vermont.
Mara Williams of Brattleboro will receive the Margaret L. (Peggy) Kannenstine Award for Arts Advocacy for her significant impact on the artistic and strategic vision of the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center and for furthering the arts throughout Vermont.
Mara Williams, Brattleboro
Williams recently retired as Chief Curator of the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) after 32 years. She has curated over 200 contemporary art exhibitions at BMAC and has presented the first-ever Vermont exhibitions of dozens of nationally and internationally renowned artists. She has also worked as an independent curator and consultant, developing major exhibitions around Vermont. As a board member, committee member, advisor and donor, Williams has been instrumental in the growth and success of numerous Vermont arts organizations. She is frequently a guest speaker about art around the state, and in 2013 she was appointed by Sen. Patrick Leahy to represent Vermont on the US Senate Curatorial Advisory Board.
Selected by the staff of the Vermont Arts Council, this award is given to a person or organization for meritorious service to the arts in Vermont.
Lydia Clemmons of Charlotte will receive the Arthur Williams Award for Meritorious Service to the Arts for stewardship of the historic Clemmons Family Farm and for nurturing African and African diaspora culture across Vermont, building upon the creative vision and legacy of her parents, Jackson and Lydia Clemmons.
Lydia Clemmons, Charlotte
Clemmons has a 35-year career in community development in the US and Africa. Internationally recognized for her innovative work integrating arts, culture and strategic communication into effective public health, education, and agriculture programs, Clemmons now serves as co-founder and President of Clemmons Family Farm. An award-winning nonprofit, Clemmons Family Farm’s mission centers on empowering Vermont’s artists and culture-bearers of the African diaspora, building supportive multicultural communities, and stewarding the 148-acre historic Clemmons farm—one of 0.4% of farms in the US that remain Black-owned. Clemmons holds a PhD in medical anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania, an MPH from the University of Michigan, and a BA from Stanford University.