A total of 471 individuals and 212 organizations received funding in FY2020, in every county in Vermont and in 166 towns, covering 35 different artistic disciplines.
We've prepared an interactive map on our website showing the location of all of our 683 grantees in FY2020 (July 1, 2019 - June 30, 2020).
Image: A map of Vermont is dotted up and down with colors representing the locations of FY2020 grantees.
COVID Challenges Arts & Culture
When Governor Phil Scott issued Vermont’s State of Emergency on March 13, many of Vermont’s arts and culture organizations hit the pause button – among the first to close to protect public health, they knew that they’d be among the last to re-open. Within weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Vermont Arts Council mobilized to deliver immediate economic relief to the field. We marshaled our own resources and launched new collaborations.
Early in the pandemic, before we knew whether or when state or federal funds might be available, we sprang into action with the Rapid Response Artist Relief program, which provided emergency grants to 425 artists who lost income due to canceled gigs. Funding for this program was made possible by the New England Foundation for the Arts, the Vermont Community Foundation, and the generosity of individual donors.
With Vermont Humanities, we awarded grants totaling more than $780,000 to 123 arts and culture organizations. Funding for the COVID-19 Cultural Relief Grants was provided primarily from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.
Because fostering an equitable and diverse arts landscape strengthens us all, we prioritized funding to historically marginalized groups by supporting the Clemmons Family Farm and the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association in making grants to their networks of artists. Funding for these grants was made possible in part by the New England Foundation for the Arts.
And in the final days of the fiscal year, thanks to the efforts of the Vermont Creative Network and many other advocates, the Vermont Legislature allocated $5 million in COVID relief for cultural nonprofits. This investment—the largest allocation of state funds for the cultural sector in Vermont’s history—has been a vital lifeline.
“I am so grateful for your support during the onset of the pandemic when there was so much worry about staying healthy and paying bills,” said one relief recipient, an artist from the Clemmons Family Farm's Vermont African-American/African Diaspora Artists Network. “With your help I was able to change my perspective and ignite creativity. I hope that someone else will feel uplifted when they listen to the music I have been creating.”
Image: Misoo Bang, wearing a white face mask, speaks to visitors to her exhibit at Southern Vermont Arts Center. Printed on the wall behind her is her artist statement in large, bold type. Photo courtesy of Vermont Arts Council.
Transformations in Digital
As a producer and artistic director with companies including ListenUp!, JAG Productions, and her own In Tandem Arts, Trisha Denton of Burlington shows teens, community organizations, and advocacy projects how narrative transforms the world.
Trisha received an Artist Development Grant to create Parallel Narratives, a storytelling platform that opened its virtual doors in February 2020. Through Parallel Narratives, Denton blends user-submitted oral histories with surrealism, folklore, and myth to create new stories. Originally a six-part workshop that met weekly in person, Parallel Narratives became a digital platform where users could sign up for virtual courses and private sessions, experience new stories, and dive deeper into the realm of narrative and folklore. Denton is no stranger to web design—she designed her first portfolio website nearly 10 years ago, also with support from a Vermont Arts Council Artist Development Grant. Still, every project has unique challenges.
"There were a lot of choices involved with which platforms best suited this project to make it accessible to participants," said Denton. "The learning curve with the current website was the selection and integration of Calendly, an auto scheduler for individual sessions with clients, as well as the best way to feature and describe the services and workshops that Parallel Narratives has to offer. The services were difficult to commodify because the collaborative approach is so organic and fluid. Therefore I wasn't sure what type of scheduler to use—something similar to a yoga studio or massage practice, or to a tarot reader or astrologer?"
After the website's launch, Columbia University's Digital Storytelling Lab (DSL) invited Denton to present about her new platform. The DSL is a media lab working to address social issues through the lens of the arts, humanities and technology. In March, storytellers from a dozen countries gathered on Zoom to discuss Parallel Narratives and the ideas that drive it, covering topics from immersive storytelling with incarcerated populations to the gamification of narrative.
Image: Trisha Denton stands clasping a book to her chest, The Russian Folktale, in a yellow room. A lamp glows beside her on a green table. Photo courtesy of Trisha Denton.
Writing Between Extremes
Jericho Parms, of Middlesex, is an old pro at living “between extremes”—between urban and rural, Black and white, art and life. Parms was featured in June in our “I am a Vermont Artist” series, which deepens Vermont’s creative identity by highlighting local artists from diverse backgrounds.
Parms is the author of Lost Wax, an essay collection exploring memory, family, and identity through reflections on art. She is also Director of Alumnx Affairs & Diversity Initiatives at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
“I’ve become increasingly aware of the responsibility inherent to creating art,” she says, “particularly art that relies on language and its influence.”
Image: Jericho Parms smiles toward something off camera, one hand tousling her curls. Photo by Josh Larkin.
Art & Fish Culture
A wild brook trout carved from stone, six times the natural size, now graces the entrance of the Roxbury Fish Culture Station, Vermont's oldest fish hatchery. Made of green granite, Sean Hunter Williams' The Origin of the River is polished to reflect wild trout’s natural hues and patterns. The sculpture honors both the creative, feminine energy in nature and the proud heritage this native species represents to Vermonters.
The Origin of the River was commissioned in 2017 by the State of Vermont as part of the Vermont Art in State Buildings Program, which supports the creation of site-specific artworks in designated state construction projects. Since 1988, the program has commissioned artwork from over 60 artists to appear in 35 state-owned buildings and public spaces across Vermont.
The Roxbury Fish Culture Station has been a state construction site for nearly a decade. Originally built in 1891, the historic hatchery was nearly destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Now ready to resume rearing fish, the hatchery is among the last rebuilding projects from Irene to be completed. When the pandemic is over, visitors to the hatchery's viewing area will be able to feed brook trout much like the one Williams carved in stone.
Williams, a second-generation sculptor based in Barre, has been carving stone since he was 18 years old. His father, Jerry Williams, owns Barre Sculpture Studios and helped to create the statue of Ceres that sits atop the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier. The Origin of the River is just the latest of the younger Williams’ public art projects. In 2017, Williams’ marble sculpture, The Jungle Book, was unveiled outside Phoenix Books in Rutland to commemorate Rudyard Kipling’s time in Vermont. In 2019, Williams’ granite sculpture of a cityscape rising up from a quarry, titled Culmination, was added to Barre’s Art Stroll to honor the city’s storied stone-cutting community. Through his public sculptures, Williams celebrates local history and culture using local materials.
Image: Sean Hunter Williams' newly installed sculpture of a spawning trout gleams in the sun on the lawn outside the Roxbury hatchery. Photo courtesy of Vermont Arts Council.
Languages of Joy
In the 2019-2020 school year, Winooski High School teachers brought dancer Rose Bedard into their classroom through the Council's Artists in Schools program. Each year, Winooski High School welcomes refugees from all around the world. Upon arrival they enter a Newcomer Program that focuses on language development. One of the goals of the program is to give students opportunities to share information about their own culture and learn from each other in a positive and joyful learning environment. Classroom teachers Nellie Maley, Annie Schneider, and Lindsey Cox saw an opportunity to work with Rose to massage the Flynn Center’s Words Come Alive program into this vibrant space.
The teachers used this dance residency to bring their multicultural group of students together. They focused on cross-cultural engagement, learning more about various cultures, and experiencing different genres of dance. They also focused on what was important to them now as they settle into their new community. The residency was an opportunity to strengthen communications skills. They talked and read about different genres of dance, famous performers, and leaders in the dance movement. They also expressed their ideas and cultures through written and verbal reflections. Above all, however, the opportunity sparked joy in students. The residency culminated in a student-choreographed performance exploring themes that are pillars in the students’ lives such education, arts, sports, family, and friends.
Teacher Nellie Maley recalled, “There was one English Language student who had been in the school for only two weeks. He was extremely quiet, and I had barely heard him say, ‘hello’ since he entered the class. We were sitting next to each other at the beginning of a session and he whispered to me that this is the ‘best day.’ His words shed light on how impactful these opportunities to share and self-express through creativity can be for students.”
Image: Two students laugh and dance with each other while groups of others do the same in the background in a Winooski High classroom. Photo courtesy of Winooski High School.
A Rural & Resilient Creative Economy
Vermont's creative businesses, individuals and institutions boost the state's economy and help to revitalize Vermont's communities. Vermont's share of creative economy jobs (9.3% of all employment) is higher than the national average. These jobs are in design, specialty foods, visual arts and crafts, and other industries, and include people like Evan Carlson, who partnered with Northern Vermont University to create Do North Coworking in downtown Lyndonville, a creative entrepreneurship center to expand and encourage networking, coworking and maker spaces. As active participants in the Vermont Creative Network’s NEK zone, Evan and Do North exemplify the power and innovative potential of the creative sector in this rural region.
The first goal identified in the VCN's 2019 Northeast Kingdom Creative Economy study was "strengthening the creative entrepreneurial and business development system." Evan Carlson and the team at Do North Coworking have done just that by partnering with LaunchVT to bring Co.Starters to the region. A national entrepreneurial program that operates in over 100 communities across the country, Co.Starters hosts a speaker series open to the public and runs a ten-week program for budding entrepreneurs to explore, test, and build their ideas into profitable reality. Eight small business owners have already completed the program, among them a stone mason who had designed a new device for moving stone, a teaching artist who wanted help broadening her customer base for her behavioral assessment and prevention methods, and a young electrician looking to go out on his own. Topics included marketing, raising capital, and hiring.
Post-pandemic, creative workers in the Northeast Kingdom can look forward to coworking again at places like Do North with its meeting room, coffee area, planned weekly meetings, and events organized around common needs and interests.
“Coworking spaces like Do North present a natural environment for collisions of ideas and connections that can be especially hard to find in our rural communities," Carlson says. "Pair that with access to business resources and educational opportunities, and you have a winning combo.”
Image: Evan Carlson works on a laptop while facing a screen across the room which reads, "DO NORTH Coworking: Co.Starters Proposal." Photo courtesy of Do North Coworking.
Light in the Dark
Expanding access to the arts is important, maybe more so during a pandemic. Arts and cultural organizations responded creatively to the challenge, meeting audiences outdoors, however large or small, and by providing accessible online experiences.
Arts Impact grantee Vermont Vaudeville, in Greensboro, reached families and individuals stuck at home during the state of emergency due to COVID-19 through online shows. While the majority were from the local area, they were also able to connect with quarantined people around the world. They also performed 56 “curbside shows,” no matter how large or small the audience. One livestream improv Q&A reached over 1,000 views. Another audience was the approximately 60 developmentally disabled adult residents of Heartbeet Life Sharing in Hardwick. An even smaller audience – a family in Calais whose relative in Denver was ill with COVID and viewed online – gathered “curbside” to view fire juggler Brent McCoy. "We were able to give them a bit of escape and a bit of togetherness," said co-founder Maya McCoy.
Brattleboro's In-Sight Photography Project, one of our Arts Partners, had to shuffle its ambitious plans for 2020, which kicked off with a new event in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service to provide free professional portrait services to the public. With a mission to provide youth access to the arts—photography in particular—regardless of financial barriers, providing free, professional portraits was In-Sights’ way of expanding its mission to the broader community. That day it engaged 67 people, capturing moments for individuals and families and creating headshots to advance professionals in their line of work.
Then the pandemic hit. In-Sight moved everything online, creating community-sourced photos of what people have been doing during the pandemic and posting them with the hashtag #insightphotosquad. In-Sight also created “Boredom Buster” kits with hands-on activities that students can do with limited internet access and a series of lunchtime virtual artist talks and online classes. Its annual photographic auction went online, and proceeds were shared with other visual media and social justice organizations.
Images: A fire juggler brandishes five flaming torches for an outdoor performance as the sun sets over mountain ridges in the background. Photo by Beana Bern.
The Gaze of History
Brattleboro photographer Vaune Trachtman’s 2020 Creation Grant project, Now is Always, combines cellphone photos with her father’s negatives taken 100 years ago during the Depression and in the aftermath of the 1918 pandemic. Trachtman’s goal was to blend time and photographic technology to grow closer to her father, and in the process she discovered a more universal connection.
“When I began making Now is Always, I didn’t realize we’d be swallowed by our own pandemic and economic collapse,” said Trachtman. “The work began to assert itself as shared history—his and mine, theirs and ours. Instead of the work following me, I began to follow the work. Instead of me gazing at history, history gazed at me.”
The photos from Trachtman's father were all taken one summer in the 1930s around his neighborhood in Center City, Philadelphia. He died when Trachtman was five years old, but a relative passed on his photo negatives nearly 90 years after he took them. When Trachtman received the negatives, she saw a chance to connect with the father she never knew while continuing her mastery of photogravure, a printing process that yields rich, distinctive tones of shadow and light. Working from the original negatives, Trachtman used the photogravure process to etch the people from her father's neighborhood into her own images. The result is, as Trachtman says, "a collaboration across time and technology."
Now is Always has earned Trachtman a Vermont Studio Center fellowship. Pieces from the series have been shown at galleries in Vermont and Arizona, and in 2021, she will exhibit solo at the renowned Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA. Select pieces will even appear on the set of an upcoming HBO series and as the cover of a novel forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. Trachtman also plans to make an accompanying artist's book to offer audiences a more intimate and interactive way to experience the series.
Image: A photogravure of two young people who appear to be in swimsuits, their legs fading away into tendrils of light and water in the ocean as stars shine above. Image courtesy of Vaune Trachtman.