Vermont Arts Council, Vermont Community Foundation Join Together to Support the State’s Creative Sector
image courtesy of Shidaa
Recognizing the power of the arts to educate and inspire, the Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Community Foundation are pleased to announce another allocation of funding to support the state’s creative sector through a philanthropic partnership established three years ago.
The funding will help artists follow their inspiration and create new work. It will also support arts organizations, municipalities, and schools that strive to provide equal and abundant access to the arts in Vermont.
The partnership in addition to supporting those goals has helped the Vermont arts sector recover from the dire impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and return to its role as an economic driver and creative force that enriches everyday life. Effects of the pandemic linger, but philanthropic support has assisted many arts and cultural organizations as they rebuild their audiences and once again showcase the talents and imagination of Vermont artists.
“Arts and creativity are vital to Vermont’s future, building healthy and resilient communities, and enriching us all with joy, inspiration, and opportunities for creative expression. By working closely with the Vermont Community Foundation, we increase the impact of our collective investments to support the arts in all corners of the state,” said Interim Executive Director Amy Cunningham.
“At a time when so many forces seem determined to pull us apart, arts and creative activities are tools for bringing communities together. They build connection and wellbeing, while strengthening local economies,” said Dan Smith, president and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation. “Art helps us share experiences, hear each other, see each other, and make sense of the world. This partnership puts resources to work effectively and to great impact, so that communities across the state become stronger.”
Since the partnership was created in 2020, the Vermont Community Foundation has granted nearly $250,000 to the Vermont Arts Council, including $50,000 this year. These grants were made from the Foundation’s Arts Endowment Fund and the Arts Recovery Fund, which was created to help arts organizations weather the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition to this ongoing partnership, Vermont artists and cultural nonprofits have benefited from the generosity of individual donors who have contributed to the Arts Council through donor advised funds at the Vermont Community Foundation. Over the last three years, these donations have totaled approximately $780,000.
The Vermont Arts Council will distribute this year’s partnership funding through two competitive grant programs: Creation Grants and Arts Project Grants. Last year, the Creation Grant program funded new work in immersive theater, outdoor sculpture, participatory murals, original choral music, documentary film, and more. The winning proposals covered a wide array of themes: Environmental degradation; food systems and migrant workers; feminism; diaspora studies; and the collective power for positive change.
In addition to giving recipients financial support to create new work, the awards provided meaningful encouragement.
“The Creation Grant is a dream come true. It absolutely impacted my work, and my life as an artist, in a positive way,” said Leath Tonino, a Ferrisburgh writer.
Tonino received a $4,000 grant to write a nonfiction book that explores solitude, community, and nature. “It was a gift to carve time from a busy freelance writing career for a completely liberating creative project,” Tonino said. True creativity means “jumping off cliffs, spreading my arms, flapping like a maniac, and hoping against hope for an updraft. Sometimes I catch one. Sometimes I don't. Regardless, the opportunity to jump is fantastic.”
In Brattleboro, the Creation Grant supported a series of interactive installations for "Sonic Blanket,” a multimedia art project addressing themes of isolation, community, history, and place. The project’s keystone element was a sound art piece that was broadcast each night on Brattleboro community radio.
“My goal was to expand the project to include public events where community members could sit together to listen to live broadcasts of the piece,” said Jonathan Gitelson, artist and Creation Grantee.
One of the Arts Project grant recipients was Shidaa, a nonprofit based in Montpelier that focuses on sharing West African culture through dance, drumming, and cultural education. The grant supported Shidaa’s second annual “Celebration of Community,” which took place in Berlin in September and brought together musicians, drummers, dancers, and audiences across multi-racial lines in a joyful experience of community.
For many, this was the first time they participated in drumming and dance, said Shidaa Executive Director Heather Mensah. “We met our goal of promoting diversity in our local community. We heard from many people this was their first encounter with such an energetic and lively performance, that they thoroughly enjoyed. They loved that they were given the opportunity to participate in the music and dancing, especially in such an open and supportive environment,” she said.
During the pandemic, many individual artists had to explore entirely new creative skills and, in some cases, develop an online presence for the first time. Cultural organizations including museums, theaters, galleries, studios, and performing arts venues had to invent new ways to connect with their audiences to survive enormous economic challenges. Philanthropic support helped them weather the challenges.
While many audience-goers are eager to return to in-person experiences, for many arts and culture organizations, audience hesitancy, particularly for ticketed, indoor events continues to negatively impact organizations, many of whom rely on ticket revenues to subsidize other educational and free opportunities.
Since April 2020, aid from the Vermont Arts Council to Vermont artists and cultural organizations has totaled more than $7 million. Information about the Council’s relief efforts can be found at vermontartscouncil.org/covid-19. Information about the Foundation’s relief efforts can be found at vermontcf.org/stories.