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Voices / Open Letter

How do we build an enduring Brattleboro?

What is the realistic vision of ourselves, and how does this feed a new vision for our community?

Shanta Lee Gander, a Brattleboro Selectboard member, is an artist and multi-faceted professional in the areas of marketing, management, event planning, and more. This open letter is addressed to the citizens of Brattleboro.


Dear Brattleboro: I issue you a challenge. Are you up for it?

I’ve been thinking about the nature of challenges and the good work that comes out when we are challenged outside of our comfort zones — the good work that can come when we think on a level outside of what we are normally accustomed to.

I would like to issue a challenge to all of us — one that invites us to reflect about the ways we build an enduring Brattleboro.

How will we challenge ourselves to journey outside of our comfort zones to create a Brattleboro that invites others to want to work, live, and play here?

Before sharing more about this idea of an invitation to a challenge, I have a disclaimer. This is not a whimsical piece that ignores some of the real issues that we are facing. In fact, I am challenging all of us to step inside of these issues in ways that might make all of us uncomfortable.

Countless among us here and all throughout Windham County are already doing this work of taking up the challenge I have in mind while contributing to Brattleboro:

• My fellow Selectboard colleagues and all of the various town departments are working hard to create a quality of life for all residents of Brattleboro.

• Erin Scaggs, co-owner and operator of the Elliot Street Fish and Chips, has been working with a number of organizations to lead efforts around removing the barriers to the enjoyment of various public spaces. Her latest effort involves working with various community partners and organizations to have art installations in our parking garage.

• The Brattleboro Police Department is working with Turning Point and several other agencies as a part of Project CARE, on an approach to connect individuals with recovery resources.

• Groundworks is partnering with Youth Services and other organizations to find unique solutions to some of the blockades that keep certain populations from securing employment.

• The Compassion Committee is working on bringing a series of conversations that will invite all of us to extend ourselves to think about how we enact compassion beyond the resolution that was signed in 2017.

Other individual artists and/or business owners are included in this as well.

• Hugh Keelan and Jenna Rae have built a production company, Tundi, that intends that we all expand our self-definitions in ways that serve us newly. With their planned performances of Tristan and Isolde (in 2019) and the Ring Cycle (in 2020), Tundi is acting as a catalyst for community growth.

• Pamela Moore, proprietor of Pamela Moore Bridals, a designer of bespoke clothing, costumes, and bridal attire, works tirelessly to extend invitations to many across our borders who might not otherwise come to Brattleboro.

* * *

I invite individuals to think about the environment and circumstances that inspire the good or the great within their organizations to continue to implement those key elements for continued success.

The question is: How do we all take the key lessons from all of the work that is taking place and contribute to Brattleboro?

How do we provide a meaningful space at the table so the rising generation also is inspired to contribute to the vision of the town?

What is the realistic vision of ourselves, and how does this feed a new vision for our community?

* * *

There is more to the invitation and challenge I am issuing to all of us.

How do we shift how we see ourselves in order to move forward? The vision of a quaint-country-town escape for city folks is something that stopped existing many years before I landed in Brattleboro in 2008. We call ourselves a town, but we are perhaps more accurately a town/city or, dare I say, a small city. Some of our challenges, including housing, opioid addiction, panhandling, also plague cities across the country.

In light of all of these realities, how should the art we present in exhibitions or in various spaces extend outside of the box and toward who we really are? For example, how can we break the mold of the usual two-dimensional and three-dimensional art that we see in various venues?

And how do we do business here in a way that flexibly accommodates a fickle economy?

In a small city, or town-city such as ours filled with smart people who care across sectors, what can we come together to create?

I don’t have the answers, but I say that they start with looking at our reflection, making ourselves uncomfortable, and borrowing some lessons from those among us who are already living this challenge.

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