ARTBITS by Richard B. Harper

VOLUME 7 * * All Arts News On the Web * * November 13, 2003


      ArtBits always features a calendar of the goings on of Franklin County artists. Check out these events around Franklin County. Each issue includes the entire text of our weekly newspaper column.

      Stop in for live music and more at the Fairfax Music Sessions at the Foothills Bakery in Fairfax most Saturday afternoons at 1 p.m., at ChowBella in St Albans 8-10 p.m. most Wednesday evenings, at the Kept Writer in St Albans most Friday and Saturday evenings, at the Bayside in St Albans Town most Sunday afternoons, and the Cambridge CoffeeHouses at 7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of every month.
     These gatherings bring new opportunities, gossip, "show-and-tell" and occasional workshops. The booked performances and acoustic Open Mike Nights feature music, readings, and more from the best new artists in Vermont.


      Jobs for dancers and musicians and writers and artisans, whether self-employed or working in companies, in nonprofit groups such as historical societies, libraries, and arts councils, and at recording studios, publishers, architectural firms, and book stores are growing at twice the rate of New England's overall economy. The New England Council reported that this region's creative cluster employs 3.5% of the New England's workforce, about 250,000 people, at an annual payroll of $4.3 billion.
      That's a lot more than French Fries.
      To find out whether the cultural economy has the ability to replace lost manufacturing jobs, the Vermont Council on Rural Development has established the Vermont Council on Culture and Innovation (VCCI). This task force includes policy makers, representatives of cultural organizations, and business people who tap the creative economy.
      The VCCI will spend the next year examining this sector and developing a strategic plan to advance Vermont's creative economy. The process began with a series of public forums around the state that asked the attendees to answer and talk about five specific questions. Jon Scott of the Opera House at Enosburg Falls and I attended one in Colchester that turned out to be a good conversation about life in Vermont. Here are the questions:
      1. How and where do culture and business interact in your community? Is there a direct connection between your work and the cultural life of Vermont?
      2. Are there existing policies that either encourage or discourage innovative ideas or your creative efforts? How?
      3. Do you feel your schools (including after school programs) are providing an adequate basis in local history and culture and exposure to arts and creativity?
      4. What results have you seen from any investments the state has made in the cultural life of your community?
      5. What role do you see for culture and innovative business ideas in your community's future? What are some ways you think the state or federal government, non-profits or businesses can help achieve that future?
      I opened the discussion with the following comment about how public support intersects the arts in Franklin County:
      The largest single intersection between business government and culture is financial.
      The second largest intersection between business government and culture is financial.
      The third probably is, too.
      Projects like our popular Summer Sounds concerts represent the best of public-private partnerships. Community Relations Director Jonathan Billings at NMC has said the hospital supports that series because it makes St. Albans and Franklin County a more attractive place to live. And that, quite simply, makes it easier for the hospital to attract qualified employees.
      The All Arts Council, the Opera House, and most other presenters here have rarely if ever presented a show that made it on the gate alone. That means that businesses and Towns do support every cultural activity we have.
      For Question 2, we face two problems with policies that discourage creative efforts of the All Arts Council and of the other groups in Franklin County.
      Many people have a mind set that excludes our cultural activities. It's easy to build a hockey arena but hard to build a museum. It's easy to find volunteers to park cars at a gun show but hard find volunteers for an art show.
      The other problem is more insidious. I believe the All Arts Council is the only all-volunteer Local Arts Service Organization in the nation, not just in Vermont. Because we are volunteers and because our membership is predominantly artistic, we may be a little less professional, a little less businesslike, than our brethren in the schools, the bigger regional arts groups, the Vermont Arts Council, or the NEA. But as the NEA cut funds to the states, organizations like the Vermont Arts Council retrenched, added professional staff and began to expect more paper shuffling and less presenting.
      Any organization that values bureaucracy over art will shut down innovation faster than you can say Bob's your uncle.
      On the other hand, there is good news. Locally, more than half the towns in Franklin County support the arts with direct appropriation of tax dollars and indirect gifts of in-kind services. The City of St. Albans has specifically singled out art and culture as a key need in the current downtown designation process.
      In answer to Question 5 about aid from the state or federal governments, non-profits, and businesses, we must remember that funding is important, but is just one part of the need. Cooperation and coordination and local knowledge are how non-profits, governments, and businesses can keep culture alive locally.
      Franklin County hosts some fairly major happenings: the only stop the national Art Train ever made was in St. Albans and the only time the Grateful Dead played Vermont was in Highgate. Despite that, we went to the "nearest" forum, serving the North Champlain Valley in Colchester.
      There are eight local arts service organizations in Vermont and a variety of other fairly major players. The All Arts Council serves Franklin County. Catamount Arts, located in St. Johnsbury, serves the Northeast Kingdom. Cambridge Arts has strong programming in Addison County, and Island Arts offers great summer events in the Islands. These VCCI forums missed at least half the state's cultural centers.
      That points out the overwhelming need for a central clearing house for all Vermont arts and cultural activities, large and small simply because we none of us really know what the others are doing. Here's one idea we can copy: The Library of Congress is building a "web portal" to tie together all of the government info and assistance websites in a single, searchable page. We need something like that in real life for Vermont.
      I didn't comment on Questions 3 or 4 but you can and should. Perhaps you would like to add to or subtract from what I've said here.
      Another public forum will be held tonight from 7-9 p.m. in the Vermont Historical Society in Barre. Call Kevin Graffagnino (479-8515) for info. The remaining two forums will be held at the Equinox Hotel in Manchester Village on November 19 and in the Municipal Building in Bellows Falls on November 20. Call VCCI Project Director Michael Levine (223-1192) or E-mail. If you can't make those, I suggested that a final forum (which is quite different from a Final Four) be held via Vermont Interactive TV. I don't know if that will happen.
      I will continue to report on how the VCCI's strategic and practical plan sugars out as they develop the process this year.


      Handwork by artists and artisans is a welcome gift at Christmas. The Not-Quite-Winter-but-Too-Cold-for-the-Top-Down tours of Arts and Fine Crafts shows around Franklin County begin this Saturday. Start in Highgate and travel the county to Richford, East Fairfield, and St. Albans Bay.
      In Highgate, the Christmas Bazaar at the Highgate United Methodist Church is open 9:30-2:30, and the Show at the St Louis Parish Hall, 9-3. Both have crafts, food, and lunch. St Louis has Santa from 10-noon.
      The Richford Baptist Church hosts a Silver Tea and Christmas Sale with crafts, fudge, plants, and white elephants, 12:30-3:30.
      Tri-Church Holiday Show at the East Fairfield Community Center has crafts, a bake sale, and lunch, 10-3.
      The St. Albans Bay United Methodist Church will have the world famous cookie walk and Granny's attic, plus crafts and baked goods, 9-3.
      Many of these shows benefit local programs.


      The VCCI is a member of the Creative Economy Council, a diverse group of business, government, and cultural leaders who promote the sustainable economic development of New England's creative economy. The CEC is at and VCCI is at


      ArtBits features a quick weekly peek at the bookshelf or night stand of the folks you know in and around Franklin County. That popular feature has a page of its own at the Franklin County Bookshelf here on the AAC site.


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      This article was originally published in the St Albans Messenger and other traditional print media. It is Copyright © 2003 by Richard B. Harper. All rights reserved. Archival material is provided as-is. Links are not necessarily maintained (if a link in this article fails, try or your favorite search engine).
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