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The Arts

Next Stage presents ‘Arts Unite Windham’

Seven Windham County arts organizations come together for livestreamed variety show to benefit The Root Social Justice Center, Windham County NAACP

Details about specific performances during Arts Unite Windham are still gelling. For all the latest, check out Next Stage’s Facebook page or visit nextstagearts.org.

PUTNEY—Seven area arts organizations have joined forces to present “Arts Unite Windham,” a unique multi-venue event that will be livestreamed on Sunday, Aug. 2, from 4 to 8 p.m. and will raise awareness and money for area social justice organizations.

Designed as a showcase of the quality and diversity of the area’s arts scene — and a demonstration of the creativity and determination of the organizations involved — “Arts Unite Windham,” produced by Next Stage Arts, will feature performances at New England Center for Circus Arts, Sandglass Theater, the Brattleboro Music Center, New England Youth Theatre, the Vermont Jazz Center, Next Stage Arts, and the Latchis Theatre.

The Arts Council of Windham County is a co-sponsor. Additional support is provided by Brattleboro School of Dance and Yellow Barn.

‘Contributing meaningfully’

For Keith Marks, the executive director of Next Stage, the event came as a result of regional arts organizations struggling to find some footing while locked down under Gov. Phil Scott’s emergency orders in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

During a call of arts organizations early in the pandemic, “the focus of the conversation was on doing something collaborative,” Marks said. “You know, during COVID, nobody really had a good sense of how long this was going to last and where we were going to go. And so there was a common sense that we should do something, but we didn’t necessarily know what it is that we were going to do.”

Marks — who had only taken the reins at Next Stage in January — said that amid the conversation among artists and creators, he was trying to figure out where the performing arts venue could contribute meaningfully.

“I realized that I’m a decent producer of events and bringing people together — that’s what I did back in Florida,” he said, noting that he has built a career “by bringing people together and doing things that people thought couldn’t be done.”

Marks started working to add other artists and musicians to the consortium. “Before I knew it, I had a coalition of people around the idea,” he said.

He then began to work on the mechanics of broadcasting a performance into a world that still couldn’t gather in the space he was hired to run.

He connected with Cor Trowbridge, a Next Stage board member and the executive director of Brattleboro Community Television (BCTV), which worked out the logistics of streaming the event, with technical help from Julian McBrowne.

By this time, in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and a renewed nationwide groundswell of public reaction for racial justice, the participating organizations decided to make the event a fundraiser for the cause locally.

“And before you know, I have a bunch of ingredients to work with to make an event,” Marks said.

The event is resonating as an example of his vision for the organization, he added: “to be much more collaborative, and much more creative through collaboration.”

Seven venues, with guest emcees

Melding an old-school entertainment style with new technology, “Arts Unite Windham” is a variety show spread across seven venues in real-time hosted by guest emcees Sharon Fantl (board president of Arts Council of Windham County), Danny Lichtenfeld (executive director of Brattleboro Museum and Art Center), Robert McBride (Southern Vermont Creative Network), Sara Coffey (Windham-1 state representative, and founder and former director of Vermont Performance Lab), Steffen Gillom (president of Windham County NAACP), Bridget Struthers (executive director of Brattleboro School of Dance), and Kat McGraw (chief medical officer and chief information officer of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital).

Audiences will click into a live YouTube link to enjoy performances of 10 to 15 minutes from each of the partners.

The event will be broadcast live from BCTV via YouTube Live, where audiences will also have the opportunity to click a donate button.

Net proceeds from the event will benefit The Root Social Justice Center and the Windham County chapter of the NAACP.

The collaboration of area nonprofits celebrates “the incredible variety and depth of what we have a really robust arts community,” Marks said in a news release. “We’re also using this as an opportunity to seize the moment and come together around civil rights and anti-racism.”

The participating organizations are also seizing a moment to step back into the spotlight since the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to cancel performances, suspend activities, and pivot to new projects.

For Marks, who moved to the area in January to take the helm at Next Stage, he said Arts Unite Windham provides a chance for him to get to know his colleagues in the arts and work together to present something that celebrates the unique richness of this area’s arts community.

“To think that we have that kind of variety is something very unique for a county that only has 40,000 people,” said Marks. “I think you can say that Windham County punches way above its weight class.”

Marks pondered a numbered of formats for a celebration of what he saw here, but said he decided ultimately to embrace excitement and challenge of livestreaming live performances.

“I like the high-wire experience,” he said. “We really have no way of knowing what it’s going to look like when it’s done. There’s a certain element of risk and danger that is present and fun.”

Plus, he added, it’s important to celebrate the intensity and quality of the arts in Windham County — a strength that the region might take for granted.

“I think it needs to be said that sometimes it takes the new guy to come in to help everybody recognize the breadth and depth of art in the ecosystem of artists in Windham County,” he observed.

“For such a [small] population, you have a circus school, a puppetry theater, a youth theater run by kids, a jazz center, a museum, a classical music organization, a summer classical music series,” he said.

“There’s so much art and culture going on here,” Marks said. “I feel like we need to celebrate that.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #572 (Wednesday, July 29, 2020). This story appeared on page A7.

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