A total of $8,009,602 in Arts Council funding was awarded in FY2023. Grants were awarded to 85 individuals and 201 organizations and businesses in every county and 100 towns across Vermont.
The larger the circle on the map, the greater the number of grantees in that location. Visit the map online for an interactive experience.
Building Back Together
The new “Elements of Shelter” exhibit at the Vermont Arts Council’s Sculpture Garden bears witness to twin crises of our time: housing and climate change. Among the sculptures are five towering timber frames that wend along the winding path, each holding exquisite stained-glass pieces illustrating five key elements: earth, wood, metal, water, and fire.
The “wood” element graces our cover, and artist Thea Alvin (pictured) prepares Council grounds in May for the exhibit. Working with material resources that have been used throughout history to create shelter and provide sustenance, the exhibit is meant to teach, engage in conversation, and inspire people to create a better, more sustainable world, according to the artists’ statement. How ironic then that July’s historic floods very nearly swept the exhibit away. While the towers withstood the deluge, one piece, the “Rinse and Repeat” bench, came unhinged and floated down Route 2 only to be rescued a day later.
How do we build back stronger? At the Arts Council, our year has been marked by many new and exciting changes, helping us to set the stage for building the kind of Vermont we wish to see – one with a creative sector that is resilient, inclusive, and ready to lead us into a brighter future.
Photo: Meg Reinhold
Supporting Bright Futures
The $9 million funding that was allocated in the 2022 legislative session to support creative sector pandemic relief made a meaningful difference for numerous creative organizations across Vermont in FY23. The Creative Futures grant program distributed up to $200,000 in support to 233 entities, both nonprofit and for-profit, marking the first time in the Council’s history that grant funds could be distributed to the full creative sector. The program was made possible through American Rescue Plan Act funding distributed to Vermont.
The program was open to all Vermont-based creative economy nonprofits and for-profit businesses including sole proprietors that could demonstrate economic harm caused by or exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Among those receiving funding was The MINT makerspace in North Clarendon (pictured). As a makerspace, The MINT depends on in-person gatherings for creative experiences. When The MINT had to close its doors during Covid-19, access to tools and materials wasn’t the only thing lost; the space’s community of makers and artists could no longer engage with each other. While recovering from the financial stress of lost connections, time, and resources, the Creative Futures grant provided stability and facilitated The MINT’s ability to re-connect and re-engage with Rutland’s creative community. Executive Director Kimberly Griffin noted that the grant helped “soothe some of the frayed ends of our financial nerves.”
ZPOTs, a pottery store in Brattleboro, also received a Creative Futures Grant. When the pandemic hit, the business was forced to close for an extended period, as did its distributors – small shops, boutiques, and galleries. “The creative futures grant helps us to continue to offer well-paying jobs for local artisans and create art that supports and inspires our every day,” said co-owner Noelle VanHendrick.
Sole proprietors also received funding, like Una Lee who runs a design studio called And Also Too in Johnson. “The pandemic took a huge toll on our well-being,” Lee said. “The inequities that Covid exposed and exacerbated hit us both personally — as a team of people from Black, racialized, immigrant, and disability communities — and professionally — as a studio working within these same communities. And like many other creative sector organizations, the cancellation of all our in-person engagements was financially devastating. This grant has helped us breathe a sigh of relief.”
Photo: The MINT
Illuminating Artistic Paths
“If the work is going to be good, I believe you have to put yourself into it.” So says award-winning author Kekla Magoon of Montpelier, who received an FY23 Creation Grant to support her new memoir project. And so it is in the arts–everything begins with the individual artist, and the Council works to expand access to arts opportunities so people of all backgrounds can bring their full selves to creative work. In FY23, we supported individual artists like Kekla Magoon and like Angelica Aguilera (pictured left), who received an Artist Development Grant to hire videographers for her musical storytelling project, “La Femenina Divina.”
The storytelling project from Aguilera, who lives in Waterford, fuses poetry, soulful beats, and arrangements by an all-woman, Latina orchestra. Aguilera hired professional videographer Miguel Martinez to document the writing process, behind the scenes of album production, and dialogues between the women on what the work means to them.
“After making this video, two different journalists from [National Public Radio] reached out about our project, we negotiated a better deal with our record label, and we received over 500 new followers on social media,” said Aguilera. “This funding exceeded our expectations, as it furthered our reach and artistic practice drastically in a short amount of time.”
Kekla Magoon's new memoir will be composed of personal essays about significant non-romantic relationships. Acclaimed for her books for children and young adults, the grant has allowed Magoon to experiment with writing in a new genre and for a new audience. “Part of why I applied for the grant was that I wanted to try things that I haven’t done before,” said Magoon. “I don’t always have time to experiment. I don’t always have time to expand.”
Multidisciplinary artist Jonathan Gitelson of Brattleboro also found the Creation Grant allowed him to “dream a little bigger.” Gitelson’s grant supported the creation of a new series of interactive installations for the “Sonic Blanket” project in Brattleboro. “I would’ve pursued this project regardless, but I would’ve been much more limited in what I could achieve,” said Gitleson. “My practice has permanently shifted from this experience. I have more ideas about how to engage with audiences, and I look forward to creating future public programming using the knowledge I gained this past summer.”
Cultivating Creative Places
After working with FY23 Animating Infrastructure Grant recipient Juniper Creative Arts to install a community-created mural at Johnson Elementary School, a school representative said she hoped more people would do these types of activities in their community. Why? “Because it brings nothing but love.” Cultivating creative placemaking means bringing more love into Vermont’s communities, and in FY23, the Council supported placemaking projects like the Johnson Elementary School mural and the installation of nature-inspired art by Carol Langstaff of Sharon and Kathryn Wiegers of Rutland at the Vermont Department of Mental Health River Valley Therapeutic Residence in Essex.
Brandon-based Juniper Creative Arts has led 11 community mural projects around Vermont since 2017. A Black and Dominican family collective consisting of parents Jennifer Herrera Condry and Will Kasso Condry and their daughter Alexa Herrera Condry, they enter schools, neighborhoods, and other communities to facilitate the creation of a unique mural from concept to installation. The Johnson Elementary mural (pictured right) takes inspiration from the school mascot, the Jaguars, and depicts a figure wearing a jaguar pelt emerging from a dark portal into a bright valley.
“The youth wanted a portal with a being coming out of it bringing light to their world,” said Maria Davies of Lamoille North Supervisory Union. “They wanted butterflies, pollinators, in bubbles protected from our environment, they wanted our wonderful life-giving rivers and mountains in their mural. They specifically asked for dandelions, and we created a separate workshop to show them pointillism so they could create their dandelions. We had so many people come out to paint with us on Community Paint Day, it was such a lovely welcoming community day.”
An Art in State Buildings Grant funded the new art installations at the River Valley Therapeutic Residence, a new 16-bed facility designed to feel like a home rather than an institution. Langstaff created a series of 14 nature photographs for the interior common areas. Wiegers created a large-scale forest mural to cover an exterior wall, and an eight-by-eight foot heron mural for another exterior wall.
“The link between the arts and mental health has been well established,” said residence director Troy Parah. “Artwork can have a powerful impact on an environment and one’s experience in that environment which can be instrumental in one’s recovery.”
Taking a Stand
Building new relationships and engaging elected officials about the power of Vermont’s creative sector was a key priority of the Vermont Creative Network during the legislative session.
The session culminated in increased appropriations for the Vermont creative sector, which were widely supported across the legislature. This support demonstrated the role that arts and culture are playing in statewide conversations about economic recovery and community revitalization. Included in these increased appropriations was expanded funding for the Vermont Art in State Buildings program, which has not seen an increase since it was established more than 40 years ago.
Our Creative Sector Day in February was a success, with creative sector supporters testifying in numerous House Committees and sharing with lawmakers the ways in which the arts, culture, and humanities transform individual lives, bolster the economy, and sustain the vibrant community and cultural landscape of our state. Notably, lawmakers learned how Creative Futures pandemic relief funding is helping creative enterprises to rebound and build resiliency as a result of the historic level of investment in Vermont’s creative sector during the 2022 legislative session.
In support of the event, Burlington’s Generator makerspace brought over 100 wood-crafted phone stands for legislators to take home. Each was specially designed with laser cuts of the Vermont Statehouse and other creative elements by two high school students enrolled in Generator’s Digital Modeling & Fabrication program.
“The arts, the humanities, and creativity are all key to helping Vermont to recover from the pandemic and to address the challenges of racism, climate change, and affordability,” read Rep. Stephanie Jerome from resolution H.C.R.28 supporting the state’s creative economy.
“It was inspiring to see the Statehouse filled with creative spirit today. Poets, filmmakers, curators, musicians, designers, and creative sector supporters from around the state turned out to demonstrate how arts, culture, and creativity are a vital part of Vermont’s identity,” said Vermont Arts Council Deputy Director Amy Cunningham.
Creative Sector Day provided an opportunity for legislators to speak with supporters directly, facilitating an open dialogue and a deeper connection between the local creative landscape and state legislators.
Investing in Communities
Arts and culture organizations contribute to the economic, social and cultural vibrancy of Vermont by providing arts services to communities for people of all ages across the state, such as the drumming workshop held at Tunbridge Central School. Sanba Zao (pictured) was part of the Global Music Residency program offered by BarnArts Center for the Arts in Barnard, which was supported by an Arts Project Grant.
Among other projects supported by Arts Project Grants were a free after-school therapeutic theater program for children at Eden Central School, a Creative Aging Celebration highlighting the artistic work of older adults in North Central Vermont, a youth-led storytelling performance in South Burlington focused on narratives of African refugees, and the third annual Cabot Village 12th Night Celebration.
In total, 23 cultural organizations were awarded Arts Project Grants, which range from $1,000 to $4,000 in funding.
Arts Council grants also helped to fund multi-year operating costs for organizations, such as Middlebury New Filmmaker Festival in Leicester, Northern Stage in White River Junction, the Flynn Center for Performing Arts in Burlington, and Inclusive Arts Vermont.
Cultural Facilities Grants provided critical funding to enhance, create, or expand the capacity of an existing building offering cultural activities for the public. Up to $30,000 in capital improvements were available to town halls, theaters, library buildings, museums, community centers, and other public spaces where Vermonters gather for arts and cultural activities. Qualifying improvements include bringing public buildings into compliance with fire codes, supporting the installation of new HVAC or ventilation systems, and increasing accessibility through elevators, assistive listening systems, and ramps, among others.
One funded project was the construction and installation of custom exhibit cases and associated lighting for displaying American Abenaki artifacts at the Vermont Indigenous Heritage Center, located at the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum in Burlington. The project was part of a larger building renovation, designed to enhance community gatherings, ceremonies, educational programs, and workshops.
Among other organizations receiving Cultural Facilities Grants were the Ruth Stone House in Goshen, the Barre Historical Society, and town libraries in Randolph, Thetford, and Windsor.
Photo: Myra Hudson
Prioritizing Art Access for All
Addressing systemic racial and cultural inequities in the arts and culture sector remains central to the Council’s inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) goals. In FY23, we held staff readings and discussions on subjects including power dynamics in nonprofit funding and going beyond land acknowledgements. Meetings of our IDEA Advisory Network focused on equity in Council communications and inclusive governance and strategic planning. A special Council grant supported professional development activities for the Clemmons Family Farm’s Vermont African-American/African Diaspora Artists’ Network (VAAADAN).
The Clemmons Family Farm in Charlotte is one of the few African-American-owned farms in Vermont, and it also operates as a nonprofit cultural heritage center offering support to Vermont’s African-American and African-diaspora artists and culture bearers with programs like VAAADAN. With support from our special grant, the Clemmons Farm provided VAAADAN member artists with photoshoots to create professional headshots for their portfolios, assistance in writing artist bios, and practice recording on-camera interviews. The recorded interviews were produced for the “Artists on the Farm” video series which describes the artists’ experiences of the photoshoot, how they will use the photos, and what the Clemmons Farm means to them.
The Council’s IDEA Advisory Network gathers artists, cultural leaders, and community organizers from across the state twice a year to discuss and advise on special topics. In FY23, we consulted the group on diversity and equity in Council communications, leading us to retire the longstanding “I am a Vermont Artist” series so that we can focus on diverse representation in all our artist interviews and feature stories, rather than siloing it into a single series. The group also helped us prepare to begin our strategic planning process by discussing equitable nonprofit board structures and meaningful ways to include constituents in strategic planning.
Michael Dyke plays music on the Clemmons Family Farm. Photo: SC Visuals, courtesy of Clemmons Family Farm, 2023
Expanding Classroom Walls
Arts experiences expand the walls of school classrooms by connecting students with local artists and arts organizations while fostering creative, critical thinking, social, and emotional skills. In Bennington, through a Head Start Arts Integration Grant to Vermont Arts Exchange (VAE), artist Dana Schildkraut worked with teachers to develop a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) curriculum with a focus on how they interconnect. Students enjoyed stories, songs, and drip painting (pictured) inspired by the forces of gravity. VAE’s multi-week residencies served seven classrooms in both Bennington and Rutland Counties.
Among the 23 school residencies this year through the Artists in Schools program, choral students at Burlington High School worked with opera singer Sarah Cullins of the Vermont Youth Opera to learn, modernize, recreate, and perform a unique version of the 17th century opera “Dido and Aeneas.”
“Without a project that reached them in their own classroom during the school day, most of these students would likely never have chosen to participate in an opera or ever believed that they could understand one, enjoy one or sing one! Their pride was palpable (particularly in the unusually fancy concert attire that the chorus members donned for performances) and I believe that the breaking-down of any stereotype, be it artistic, social, economic, or cultural, is a step towards the open-mindedness and acceptance the world so desperately needs,” Cullins reported.
Another teaching residency supported by an Artists in Schools grant was a project at Wolcott Elementary where students created functional ceramic bowls inspired by visits to a conserved forest in their community. The project culminated in a community luncheon attended by 50 people who were invited to view the bowls and enjoy soup prepared by the school’s head chef. “This residency, with its gallery show and soup luncheon, provided an excellent entry point for student families to engage and see the good work happening within school walls,” said project coordinator Annie Houston.
Among other teaching residencies, students participated in an Indie Music Bootcamp at Burlington Tech Center, printmaking at Capstone’s Brook Street High School in Barre, and a waterways map-making project at Academy School in Brattleboro.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this snapshot of our journey through FY2023. The support we were able to provide sustains the vital creative work of thousands of artists, performers, and arts education programs like the one hosted by the Vermont Arts Exchange in Bennington. The organization was awarded a Head Start Arts Integration Grant to support a partnership with Bennington and Rutland County Head Starts through multi-week residencies in a total of seven classrooms. The summer program concluded with a joyous community celebration. Otha Day (pictured) led an interactive concert in which students learned various rhythms with their teachers and family members. “I use drums to help people talk about sensitive issues like race, racism, gender violence… We use drums to connect people and then make it easier to feel like we have a relationship and then talk,” Day told the Bennington Banner.
Photo: Stewart Cairns, Bennington Banner