Keeping the arts in business

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The "starving artist" may evoke romantic imagery of suffering to express one’s creative spirit, but this economy has people in Vermont’s arts scene looking at practical questions of keeping the arts in business. Alex Aldrich, director of the Vermont Arts Council, joins of us for a discussion of whether community theater, gallery exhibitions and music festivals are more important now than ever. (Listen)

Also, Vermont is the only northern New England state that doesn’t have a river with the federal "Wild and Scenic" designation. Environmental reporter Candace Page tells us about two Franklin County Rivers that are in the early stages of securing this congressional designation.(Listen)

And VPR’s Steve Zind continues a series of reports from Iran as the country approaches the 30th anniversary of Islamic Revolution. In this installment, we visit the holy city of Qom and meet with one of Iran’s top religious authorities.(Listen)


Listener comments:

Janet in Island Pond:

I am a full-time painter here in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I think one thing that is often overlooked is that artists contribute
to tax revenue through consistent sales of their work, and generate
work for others through framing and shipping. We are business owners,
albeit small and independent. I believe the successful future of our
state is very much linked to our artistic culture. Just think of all of
the artists and writers that live here in our small state!

Karen in Saxtons River:
I once heard reference to a study by the anthropologist Shirley Bryce Heath. It showed that arts programs had the greatest impact on disadvantaged youth when compared with other programs (also of value) such as athletics and community service. In my own experience growing up in a depressed community and a dysfunctional family, arts education had a tremendous impact on me in terms of envisioning and achieving a better life. The arts can bring us together and help us focus on our values and potential.

Gerard at the Northfield Bookstore:
The arts are worth supporting because a little bit of help goes a long way. As someone who worked in the arts and arts-education for over a decade, I know that artists and arts organizations are used to working on a shoestring. The controversial $50M appropriation for the National Endowment for the Arts proposed by the Obama administration is a pittance compared to the funds going directly to support banks whose finances are far more shaky than the typical arts nonprofit. Any organization that has survived for the last six months probably has its economic house in order, and the NEA requires substantial matching funds. I assume VT Council on the Arts works along similar lines. The arts have also been shown to have enormous economic benefits. Even people who don’t attend events sponsored by the government can benefit. Restaurants, nightclubs, and other retail outlets, and the landlords who rent to these businesses, all do better when people come downtown for art shows, concerts, and the like.

Life is wonder or despair. Artists point out the wonder.

Lauri in Hanover:
It gives us great pleasure to announce the Alpha (testing) release of Open Museum. As you know, Open Museum is a ground-breaking, noncommercial service for museums and cultural organizations of all kinds. It permits any individual or group to place their collections online, and create dynamic online exhibits and tours of those collections to reach out to a global audience. Open Museum invites visitors to participate in exhibits by rating, tagging, commenting, and contributing content

We invite you to participate in this Alpha release–in fact, we value your help in giving the program a workout. To view Open Museum, go to Although you don’t have to register to view the museums and collections, please do so. Registering is fast, free, and allows you to participate in rating, tagging, and commenting–all the things we hope visitors will do on Open Museum. Please take a tour. You can always explore the site, but ‘take a tour’ gives you a quick overview of all the features available to a visitor. Curator tour and access are coming soon (early 2009).

The purpose of this release is to gather feedback about the program–this is a working prototype, and we both welcome and need your opinions. So, please don’t hold back. Give Open Museum a workout and let us know what you think about every single aspect of it. Test and respond a.s.a.p so that we can incorporate your thoughts into the next round of development. Beta release is scheduled for early summer 2009.

There are various ways to communicate with us about Open Museum:

1) Use the feedback link on the site
2) Speak with us on the phone: 802-649-1945
3) Reply to this email or send an email to with your comments!

Thank you and best wishes,
Lauri, Maureen, and Jeff
The Open Museum people

Jim at Big Heavy World in Burlington:

Art is our voice, the way we explain and share our humanity with one
another as Vermonters. We don’t have another platform for that.
Art is how we define our uniqueness as a society and place – it’s
nature is original and creative. This relates to the state’s interest
in economic development and the Vermont ‘brand’, a tool for bringing
money into the state. 
The activities that support the arts are also platforms for our
society to learn and grow in – not only as artists, but as
professionals. At Big Heavy World teens participate in industries from
radio broadcasting to a record label and cultural preservation
projects. These experiences are enabled by the arts.

Dave in Johnson:
There’s a lot of talk about artists as "small businesspeople" these days — it’s sad really. Ultimately, it’s a sign of the times and not a good one. Once an artist has a readily saleable, realiable "product", well that’s either "craft", "artisanship", or, possibly "manufacturing". It may be "artistic", but as a working artist, I, as well as many of my contemporaries, don’t see it as "ART". It’s a huge leap backwards in whatever evolution towards modernity has granted the arts. The worst aspect of such commodification is it stymies actual artistic innovation, pushing at the boundaries, challenging assumptions and provoking thought that is the hallmark of "great art". I’d love to make a living off of my "work", but not if that means producing a predictable and readily digestible art-product, the hallmark of the 21st c. artist-as-small-businessperson.
Too much Vermont art is shockingly backwards looking, and there is too much cache granted to hucksters like Warren Kimble. If the Vermont Arts Council really wants to promote broader respect for the arts in Vermont, it would be wise to look to the many younger artists pushing at the boundaries rather than craftspeople trading on simulations of the past, the "McDisney Vermont" of Kimble, Woody Jackson and the scores of romantic "plein aire" painters caught up in the innovations of the late 19th century.


Tom Fels, president of Bennington’s Arts Council:

The most important consideration in Vermont’s ong term relation to the arts is to keep the quality high. Vermont stands apart for a number of reasons we all know: individuality, originality, catholicity of views, beauty, authenticity are some of them.

Yet, when it comes to the arts, serious practitioners in all media who choose to live here, and presenters of high quality from outside, too often come to be considered as extra, not entirely essential, too expensive, or in some other way peripheral.

The accumulated wisdom of my fifty or so years in Vermont is that the artists, the people of genuine wisdom, those Vermonters devoted to authenticty, as well as those we can cajole into exhibiting, speaking, or performing here, are as important a resource as the mountains, high quality maple syrup, the open fields, or the fall leaves.

When it comes to the arts, I place my vote for fewer events of higher quality and greater regularity (ongoing annual festivals, for example) rather than — or to accompany — a wider array of more diffuse locally oriented programs.

People who come to Vermont or live here need to have access to arts and culture of the same high quality as the state’s other resources. Attention should be paid to noting them when possible and making them part of the larger public picture of Vermont. I believe this is essential to the way we see ourselves, the way we live, and of course the way others see us, as well.


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