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CoreArts Project faces leadership shuffle as NEA grant nears end

BRATTLEBORO—The town has until Aug. 1, 2015, to complete work on the final stage of the Core Arts Project, and its project team is trying to regain its momentum after a change of leadership.

Brattleboro was one of 80 towns nationwide in June 2012 to get an “Our Town” grant. The town was awarded a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to fund the Brattleboro CoreArts Project — an initiative that focuses on arts and place, and how the two shape each other.

Kate Anderson, who along with Zon Eastes and Rod Francis made up the original team, resigned in October. She was replaced by Gayle Weitz, co-owner of Artrageus 1, an Elliot Street gallery, and Hugh Keelan, conductor of the Windham Symphony.

At a Dec. 15 meeting at the Marlboro College Graduate Center, the CoreArts team reviewed the results of four moderated panel discussions held between September 2013 and this January, and discussed ways to incorporate lessons learned into the next step of the process.

Those panels featured a nationally or internationally recognized thinker and specialist, a regional expert bringing practical community development experience, and a local arts leader. They focused on various aspects of the idea of creating a “cultural district” in Brattleboro, the arts economy, and benefits of cooperation and collaboration.

A report from those panels was to have been completed earlier this year. No explanation for the delay was given.

The cultural district idea has seen little movement. According to Francis, who is Brattleboro’s planning director, there are no state or federal tax incentives for doing so, as is the case with districts that receive historic preservation status.

But the larger reality, Francis acknowledged, is that the arts community has traditionally been dispersed in Brattleboro and that there is “no single voice, tradition, or ‘school’ of Brattleboro art.”

That diversity is a strength for Brattleboro, he said.

At its Dec. 4 meeting, the Brattleboro Town Arts Committee adopted a draft resolution by Doug Cox that stated that the committee “recognizes all of Brattleboro as a cultural district, containing individuals, organizations, and facilities of value to the cultural life of Brattleboro and the surrounding area.”

While the resolution stated that the committee recognizes that “within the town there are significant clusters of these assets and that these clusters provide opportunities to strengthen and promote a vibrant arts community,” it also recognizes that Brattleboro “serves as a hub for a much larger regional cultural community and as such has both opportunities and responsibilities.”

The bigger concern of the approximately 15 people in attendance was communication and having something real on which the arts community could collaborate.

Track 3 of the CoreArts process is supposed to culminate this summer in a public arts project.

Keelan said a priority is getting an online presence and creating a website and app that would serve as what he called “an electronic map” to the town arts scene.

Jesse de la Rosa, a local artist, suggested that the remaining CoreArts forums focus on trying to find ways to get the community to work together.

Gail Nunziata, former executive director of Latchis Arts, said that “everything about Brattleboro makes it the destination” for artists in the region. She dismissed the thinking that artists are afraid to think entrepreneurally on the grounds that the Brattleboro area has many artists who make a living off their art.

When Keelan asked, “How do we create the ‘we?’,” Erin Maile O’Keefe of Circus Yoga in Brattleboro replied that what’s needed is a “clearly articulated process that’s truly public and involves community.”

This might involve expanding the definition of art, she added.

Former downtown coordinator Jacob Alan Roberts said that it is important that the CoreArts team “make it clear to everyone that they’re part of the cultural conversation.”

Francis said the town still has about three-quarters of the CoreArts grant left, so funding is not an issue.

A follow-up CoreArts meeting will be set shortly. In the meantime, the Town Arts Committee plans to put together a survey for town residents to see what they think about the arts in Brattleboro.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #285 (Wednesday, December 17, 2014). This story appeared on page A1.

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