BRATTLEBORO—A series of firsts occurred on the Latchis Theatre’s main stage on Dec. 10, capping a year of accomplishment by the Windham County arts community.
For the first time, Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Vermont Council for the Arts honored four artists with the 2012 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
For the first time, all honorees reside in Windham County.
And also for the first time, the awards ceremony took place outside Montpelier.
Authors Karen Hesse and Archer Mayor, cellist Sharon Robinson, and professional clown, teacher, and founder and artistic director of the New England Youth Theatre Stephen Stearns accepted their awards in front of a packed house.
In interviews filmed by Vermont Films shown during the awards ceremony, the honorees spoke about the twisty-turning paths they took to Windham County and why they stayed.
The artists all said that Windham County had felt like home from the moment they arrived. Their respective communities welcomed them unlike any place they’d previously lived.
Karen Hesse said, “I’m proud to be a Vermonter.”
She jokingly hoped the award made the “Vermonter” title official.
All the honorees also spoke of serving their communities with their creative output, whether through entertainment, teaching, or introducing audiences to new places, times, characters, or sounds.
“I’m swept away by the feelings of this,” said Mayor in his acceptance speech. “You’ve given me this song to sing.”
Robinson, who said she believed Brattleboro and Southern Vermont were experiencing a renaissance, added, “In my own small way, I get to serve you all.”
“Dreaming big is important for all of us, but dreaming big is nothing without partnership,” said Sterns as he thanked his wife, Bonnie, and his creative collaborator, Peter Gould.
“Thank you for allowing me to live in my dream,” Sterns said.
In a press release, Doug Cox, president of the Arts Council of Windham County, said, “One thing we’ve learned in the arts is that excellence does not develop in a vacuum. All of us working in the arts can take pride in the accomplishments of those being honored.”
“We can all celebrate the rich community of which we are a part and that feeds all of us as artists and workers,” Cox said.
After the award ceremony, standing in the Latchis lobby, Cox said that everyone now knows what he has always known — that the arts nurture the communities of the artists themselves.
Artists and the larger communities to which they belong are part of a volley, he said: As one group dreams big, the other is nurtured, and visa versa.
The arts and media help the larger community define an identity, he said.
The real work, said Cox, comes from creating an arts industry in Windham County, one able to support all the arts.
For some, no renaissance
Despite the evening’s festivities, the lack of nourishment for all the participants in the county’s creative industries remained an acute dent in the county’s economy.
Andrea Livermore, executive director of Building a Better Brattleboro, the town’s Designated Downtown Organization, said she felt excited that this year’s recipients hailed from Windham County.
But she didn’t feel Brattleboro was experiencing a renaissance — yet.
In Livermore’s opinion, the town was putting “one foot in front of the other,” and she could see this perseverance slowly carrying the arts and related economy forward.
Kate Anderson offered a more bullish perspective on Brattleboro and its cultivation of the arts.
“Overall, those four artists are treasures to the nation and on a global level as well,” said Anderson, member of the Brattleboro Town Arts Committee, who added the honorees deserved every single kudo they received.
Anderson said she wished the night’s festivities had concentrated more on the cultivation, nourishment, incubation, and shelter that Brattleboro provides for artists.
Like the four honorees, artists congregate in Windham County for a reason, said Anderson.
“Brattleboro is the fifth honoree,” she said. “I hope that the Vermont leadership recognizes what a creative community this is.”
According to Anderson, the town recently received a National Endowment for the Arts two-year Our Town grant because the people involved with the creative industries have cultivated a soil that nurtures an arts community and economy despite very little supportive infrastructure.
Anderson admitted she lacks an outside perspective on the area’s creative community. She added, however, that she thinks the arts are receiving a wider recognition of “the fuel that arts provide a town.”
Some of this recognition has come from the community’s increasing awareness of these issues.
Still, she added, there’s more work ahead before the creative industries in the area thrive as a whole.
“It is so rich,” she said. “It’s so full of potential.”
‘Significant and sustained contribution’
Nominations for the Governor’s Award come from the public. The Arts Council passes the top nominees to the governor, who makes the final selection.
To qualify for the annual award, participants must reside in Vermont. They must have made a “significant and sustained contribution” to the advancement of an art form. They must have been recognized for their achievements on a regional, national, or international level. They also must demonstrate a personal commitment to the development of cultural life in the state and possess high standards of professional integrity.
According to the Arts Council, it is the only designated state arts agency nationwide that is also an independent, not-for-profit, membership-based organization. It has served as the state’s primary funding provider, advocate, and information source for the arts since 1964.
For more information, visit www.vermontartscouncil.org.