VAC Awards

Former Poet Laureate of Vermont Sydney Lea, of Newbury, will receive the 2021 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the highest honor presented to an artist by the state of Vermont.

Former Poet Laureate of Vermont Sydney Lea of Newbury will receive the 2021 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.”

The Vermont Art Council has announced the recipients of the 2021 Vermont Arts Awards recognizing outstanding individual and organizational contributions to the arts. Awards honor educators, artists, performers, advocates, administrators, volunteers, and scholars. Vermonters are recognized for their contributions in five categories. In addition to the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the other awardees are:

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. In 1995, she co-founded Seven Days. 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.

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. For more than 25 years, Steffen Parker has directed the Vermont All State Music Festival, which draws more than 400 participating students annually.

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. Recently retired as chief curator of the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) after 32 years, Williams 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.

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. She has a 35-year career in community development in the United States and Africa, and is internationally recognized for her innovative work integrating arts, culture and strategic communication into effective public health, education, and agriculture programs.

“Art and culture have the power to provoke, inspire, and sustain us,” said Arts Council Executive Director Karen Mittelman. “We are delighted to honor five individuals who have made exceptional contributions to our state’s cultural life.”

The Arts Council will not host its annual reception and ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 awardees will be honored with a short video tribute later this year.

More information about the Vermont Arts Awards can be found at

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