Lowe Down

Montpelier’s Community Engagement Lab hosted three web conferences to discuss “Vermont Arts: What Do We Want to Become?”

With Gov. Phil Scott opening one business after another — granted, appropriately cautiously — where are the arts?

As of Wednesday, there is only one Vermont arts institution that has formally announced an opening (and notified The Times Argus or Rutland Herald): Barre’s Studio Place Arts will open its doors June 16 — with restrictions. (We will be celebrating the event in the June 13 issue of Vermont Arts.)

Editor’s press time note: The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center announced that it would be opening June 18.

In fact, I have received notice from only three other visual art institutions. Burlington’s BCA Gallery, The Gallery at Highland Center at the Arts in Greensboro (see Mary Gow’s review on page D1), and Rutland’s Chaffee Art Center have promised summer openings. Many of the others continue to offer streamed tours.

The Barre Opera House just announced that it will remain closed until 2021. Though I have not heard from them yet, I expect Rutland’s Paramount Theatre and Burlington’s Flynn Center are in the same boat. The Flynn, however, is streaming a replacement for the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. (See Tom Huntington’s story on page D1.)

Summer theater seems almost a total loss, though Weston Playhouse promises yet-to-be announced programming and Dorset Theatre Festival is continuing its young playwriting program on an individual basis.

Middlebury Acting Company recently offered a very rudimentary but effective Zoom production of a reading of “Saint Bernard, an Opioid Play.” White River Junction’s Northern Stage, which canceled its summer youth programs, has been Zooming its “Play Date” Zoom discussion series and continued its “Shakespeare in the Schools” program online. But it postponed its Zoom production of Elizabeth Gordon’s “Small Town Trilogy” in deference to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police. Burlington’s Vermont Stage Company, which lost its spring productions, is creating a time capsule of stories from the 2020 pandemic.

Still, why only two theater productions?

Public music exists, but not much. Spruce Peak Arts will initiate its unique drive-by concert series June 20 with Vermont singer and guitarist Chad Hollister traveling on the back of a flatbed truck from Stowe to Morrisville June 20 (details and future dates to be announced). Putney’s Yellow Barn Music Festival’s Music Haul has taken music, mostly recorded, around the area, but its summer residencies hold the promise of more events (to be announced).

There is music streaming, but not a lot of it. In classical music, Anne Decker’s TURNmusic broke the ice with “TURNon,” twice weekly short programs of today’s music by top Vermont musicians. Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater is offering “The Quarantine Sessions” by Vermont musicians, largely pop. South Burlington’s Higher Ground continues to announce concerts, beginning with King Buffalo June 19 — but hasn’t told us how they can happen.

Film has it easier, and Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival is not only offering in-depth discussions with filmmakers hosted by Jay Craven, but free films as well. (For a selection of organizations offering streaming arts, check out Fine Arts Streaming on page D3.)

This dearth doesn’t mean that artists and arts organizations haven’t been busy. Two forums, one by the Vermont Arts Council and the other — in three parts — by the Community Engagement Lab, brought together a wide selection of interested parties for Zoomed discussions.

Some 450 art and business folk, politicians, etc. tuned in May 11 for the Vermont Art Council’s “Creative Sector Response and Recovery Forum.” (It is available for viewing at www.vermontcreativenetwork.org) Mostly it was a case of folks telling each other how important the arts are and they are to Vermont. Still, it served to alert folks where the arts stood and what they’re doing to survive, which is very important. To a lesser degree it explored what organizations are doing or are planning to do to thrive.

The Community Engagement Lab aimed less toward the economy and more to the arts and artists themselves. “Vermont Arts: What Do We Want to Become?” was divided into three Zoom sessions, with panelists and some 100 attendees each: arts centers on May 19; performing arts organizations May 26, and artists/teaching artists June 2. (All three can be viewed at www.communityengagementlab.org)

Again, self-reassurance seemed to be the theme throughout all three. And, of course, the ubiquitous, “We need more government support.” (I agree completely, but it’s hardly a new idea.) There was discussion about survival, with some ideas, mostly small (but often very good). And the ideas for the future were mostly about waiting until things got normal.

There was one glaring exception, and that was the discussion of creating new programs through collaboration. Within that was the really exciting idea of artist teachers bringing their ideas more directly to schools and educators — using their art to energize education. Bravo!

But these are ideas and we need action. We need a great deal more creativity from our artists and arts organizations to bring their all-important art to Vermont audiences. I know them well, and they can do it.

Jim Lowe is arts editor of The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and Rutland Herald, and can be reached at jim.lowe@rutlandherald.com and jim.lowe@timesargus.com

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