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 through short video tributes. The films were created by Willow O’Feral and Brad Heck of Haptic Pictures, based in Southern Vermont.
The 2021 Vermont Arts Awards videos were made possible in part by support from Fothergill Segale & Valley and Forward Philanthropy.
Nominations for the Vermont Arts Awards are welcome throughout the year. Submit a nomination.
Former Poet Laureate of Vermont Sydney Lea of Newbury is the 2021 recipient Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. 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 EÃ¶tvÃ¶s LorÃ¡nd University (ELTE). Lea served as Vermont Poet Laureate from 2011 to 2015.
In the video, Lee wanders through woods and along trails near his home and describes the discovery process that occurs for him in composing poems. He reads two poems, “Metaphor” and “Mahayana in Vermont” from his book, I Was Thinking of Beauty.
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. It may be awarded to artists of renown or to those in a closely related field, such as philanthropy, administration, production, education, advocacy, or mentoring.
Pamela Polston of Burlington is the 2021 recipient of the Walter Cerf Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts. 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.
In the video, Polston visits the historic Kent Museum in Calais to review the annual contemporary art exhibition, Art at the Kent, held on the grounds and inside the historic former tavern.
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 is the 2021 recipient of 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. For more than 25 years, 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.
Parker’s film captures his enthusiasm for the music festivals and also reflects on his family connections to them, going back several generations in Vermont.
Mara Williams of Brattleboro is the 2021 recipient of 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. 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.
In the video, Mara’s passion and joy for the arts shines through. That might involve working with an artist like – in this video – the sculptor William Ransom – to find just the right space and angle of light to capture the work. And some days, it involves wearing a tiara.
Lydia Clemmons of Charlotte is the 2021 recipient of the Arthur Williams Award for Meritorious Service to the Arts for stewardship of the historic Clemmons Family Farm and for nurturing African-American and African diaspora culture across Vermont, building upon the creative vision and legacy of her parents, Jackson and Lydia Clemmons. 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 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.
In the video, Lydia describes the ways that the Clemmons Farm with its origins in 1962 as a family farm has now grown far beyond its early roots to become an important resource for the state and nation, as a place for people of color to celebrate and share identity, art and culture.