Drag performer Shani Stoddard, of Stannard, selected by the Emmy-nominated docu-series “We’re Here,” represented Vermont last fall in the GLAAD 2020 Get Out The Vote Campaign.

Fayston artist Kaylynn Sullivan TwoTrees, past recipient of the Lila Wallace International Artist Award, works across media, focusing on creative ways to regenerate an essential relationship with nature as a means of connection with the sacred.

Artist, author, teacher and dancer-choreographer Toby MacNutt engages in themes of embodiment, fluidity, and change, including in current dance work, “A Singular They,” awarded a New Work Grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts.

Painter, taiji master, and co-founder of the Asian Cultural Center of Vermont, Cai Xi’s versatility in artmaking includes traditional Chinese brush, ink and calligraphy, abstract performance action painting, landscapes, mixed media installations.

Stannard, Two Trees, MacNutt, and Xi are among the 19 Vermont artists featured in “I Am … 2021” presented by the Vermont Arts Council’s Spotlight Gallery and opening online Feb. 18. The exhibition celebrates Vermont’s diversity and broad creative identity and includes work by visual artists, musician, writers, performing artists, installation artists and more.

Three online Zoom gatherings with artists accompany “I Am … 2021” for viewers to meet and learn more about the artists and their practices.

These Vermont artists come from all corners of the state and have diverse cultural backgrounds, ethnicity, gender identity and more — just like the overall state population.

“The idea is to deepen Vermont’s creative identity by looking at how artists bring their varied backgrounds to this creative identity,” said Desmond Peeples, co-curator with Shanta Lee Gander. “I think in Vermont that’s particularly important because we are known as one of the least racially diverse states in the nation,”

“As much as people don’t think we’re diverse, the truth is, people from all sorts of different backgrounds have always been here,” said Peebles. “It’s not just this new thing. People have always been creating their work here and being part of the community. And now we’re celebrating with them.”

“Another really important thing about this series is that it creates a network of resources and information for these artists who would otherwise be a little bit more isolated than other artists in the area. It’s harder to make connections when you’re the ‘one’ when you’re the one black artist, the one disabled artist, the one trans artist in your community,” Peeples said.

“I Am … 2021” builds on the “I Am a Vermont Artist” series launched by the Vermont Arts Council in 2019 and also co-curated by Gander. The original program included a multimedia exhibition physically in the Spotlight Gallery with visual arts and digital presentation of clips of performances and readings, and an interview series. In the interviews, artists discuss how their creative expressions reflect their experiences of ethnicity, gender identity, religion, disability, or age, and how the experience of living in Vermont affects their creative process.

New artists continue to be added to the “I Am a Vermont Artist” project. The archive, posted on the Vermont Arts Council website, now includes over 30 individuals. Artists were drawn from that project and nominations by artists.

For “I Am … 2021,” the Vermont Arts Council has built a virtual online gallery. On the council’s website, viewers first access an overview of the show. Links then take viewers to a gallery space for each artist. Each one has up to five pieces — dance, music, circus arts, visual arts, installations among them.

The virtual exhibition has benefits of having a far reach and being accessible to viewers in their homes.

“It’s been pretty amazing to be able to reach out to all these people and say here’s an opportunity for you to engage, for all of us to be engaged, with the community or even beyond the community, online,” Gander said.

“I’m excited about all the artists that are that are in ‘I Am.’ The people that you see on this website are real people living in your communities. And they are going to be there when we’re all able to be there in person again. And don’t forget that we’re all here for each other,” Peeples said.

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