Thursday, May 31, 2007


Vermont Days Home Video ContestAhhh…the long days of spring and early summer. A perfect time to get out and enjoy the beautiful natural scenery Vermont offers. Visit your local park; take a hike, ride a bike on a trail, teach your kid to fish, and wind it all up with a concert at your local historical site. Sounds like an ideal way to bond with your soul, not to mention your family and friends, right?

Actually, Vermonters do it all the time and on one weekend each year, “Vermont Days” weekend (June 9th and 10th), you can do it all for free, thanks to a collaborative effort of your friendly state agencies of Commerce, Natural Resources, and the Arts Council.

This year, however, with a lot of encouragement from Loranne Turgeon (interim Film Commissioner) we have added a new layer of opportunity to the mix. You know your favorite commercials, like most of the ones you see during any given Super Bowl? The ones that tell a story? The ones that you remember?

We want you to grab your digital video camera, go out and have fun during Vermont Days (next week!), and create a one- to two-minute film about your experience. You can think of it as being your own personal commercial. Or you can think of it as your own (2-minute) “Godfather, part 4.” (Okay, maybe “Dances with Moose” might be more contextual.)

The point is, we want you to enjoy Vermont Days (why not, since you live here?), take some footage, and share it with us. It’s a contest, but a very low-impact, low-budget contest. The rules in fact say, “Winners will receive some really cool stuff.” We mean it!

Think “America’s Funniest Home Videos goes to Cannes” and you’ll have the idea. So please, check your batteries. Bone up on your downloading skills (or is it uploading skills?), and enjoy Vermont Days. You won’t regret it!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Steamed and Ready to Roll: 2007 Congressional Arts Competition

Monday, May 14th, was a day of transition in Vermont. For the first time, the statewide, high school art competition came to a close and Sen. Jim Jeffords was not front and center doing what he loved most—talking to kids, exhorting them to greater heights of accomplishment, and basking in the admiration of his young cultural constituents.

That pleasure belongs now to Congressman Peter Welch who did an admirable job in bridging what the esteemed Senator started 26 years ago when he was in the US House of Representatives. VIEW PHOTOS OF THE WINNERS' ARTWORK

My role was to present the “People’s Choice Award” (to Armando Veve of South Burlington) and I used this opportunity to expound on the latest of my “soapbox” ideas. At past events, I have talked about the alternative to the Education Community’s worn “3 Rs”—the “3 As” (Academics, Athletics, and the Arts)—as a means to engage individual students, entire schools and even school systems in a more integrated and creative approach to learning. I have also exhorted students in the room, contrary to exhortations by the Governor and other members of the administration, “to leave Vermont as soon as they are able, put the great Vermont values they were raised with to the test in as many different cultural settings as possible, and only when they are good and ready to settle down, create a job, have a family, THEN come back to Vermont!”

This time I had a new soap box to stand on.

It seems that policy-makers, in particular the group that has been appointed to serve on the Governor’s task force to examine the economic development future of Vermont, chaired by Bill Stenger (of Jay Peak), have come up with a new acronym to capture the what students need to know as they prepare themselves for Vermont’s 21st Century workforce.

It is “STEM” which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.
(You see where I’m headed, don’t you? Of course you do; you’re probably one of the so-called “cultural creatives” whose hidden talent is to see connections where others don’t!)

Like the 3 Rs (which aren’t), STEM leaves out the crucial part of student learning that allows them to access the right side of their brains. In an age where magazines like Forbes and Business Week are touting such things as “the MFA is the new MBA,” and where medical schools like Columbia are requiring students to go to art museums to increase their observational skills and learn how to better communicate about things that are subjective and interpretive, and where people like Daniel Pink (author of “A Whole New Mind”) are earning $25,000 a pop for lecturing on the value of integrating right-brained thinking into business, it is astonishing to me that our policy-makers are so slow to recognize the value of the arts.

STEM should be STEAM. All of us should make it clear to our elected and appointed officials at the state and local level (especially school boards!) that STEAM (not renewables!) is the potent force of the future.

Of course, if STEAM doesn’t do it for you, perhaps TEAMS will. Or MEATS (if it’s lunchtime). Or even MATES (if you are on the prowl or like to play chess).

The point is, it’s time for the Arts to be shared by more than just the artist community. Let’s make it happen. Full steam ahead.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


For the past several months I have labored mightily to give birth to the Arts Council’s next five-year Strategic Plan. This is not an exercise to be taken lightly. In fact, I have come to rue the moment I thought to myself, why pay a consultant when we can easily do this ourselves. Well, I have just four words to say to myself for that thought: What was I THINKING!?

The good news is, we are now ready to share our most recent draft with all of you.

I am going to tell you what is in the document. And then I’m going to tell you how we got there. And finally I will ask you to read it and give us—me, actually—your feedback.

What’s in the document is exactly what you would expect to be in a document of this type only without any of the boring details of exactly how many people we met with over the last 12 months, where we met with them, what we talked about, the questions we raised, the questions we tried to answer. Remember, this is a draft for comment, and some of the research is still being done (surveys to artists and arts organizations, for example) which will help refine future drafts and the final product.

But for now, there’s an Introduction which explains why we plan. Then there is a brief Executive Summary which, at least on the web, will have internal links that will get you directly to the meat of the plan. Next there is a background section which gives information about the national trends and research, and work done here in Vermont around the Creative Economy, the Palettes project, and other items that will give you a kind of “environmental context” for the plan itself, including our all-important mission/vision/values statements.

And then there is the Plan with its three very straightforward goals, two of which are directed outwards towards our constituencies, our supporters, or collaborators, and our Governor and Legislature; and the third of which is directed inward towards the Council itself.

How did we arrive at this plan? I know it seems hard to believe, but it was mainly by listening. The work of the Council is always so much greater than the sum of its parts. But it is the many parts working together that drafted this plan. Among the most influential parts of the planning process was the many days spent on the road visiting about 40 communities all over Vermont in our PaletteMobile as part of the Palettes of Vermont project. Diane Scolaro, herself a former local arts agency director, had the pleasure of doing most of that work, and the kind of information that those site visits provided to us has been so valuable. These visits, combined with ongoing input from grant panelists, from our board advisory committees, and, perhaps most important of all, our public Planning Forums held throughout the state in January, gave us almost more information and input than we could absorb.

I said “almost”…!

Since February, my challenge has been to distil everything we heard, both individually and collectively, into a clear and concise document that, as the Introduction says, “is a road map describing how we expect to engage with supporters and partners who believe in the power of art to change lives and improve the fiscal and social health of our communities. Our plan makes it clear to anyone who might consider collaborating with us, applying for support from us, or giving us funds exactly what we and they should expect in return from that collaboration, grant activity, or donation.”

So what I want you to do in the next couple of days—or even right now!—and click on this latest draft. It’s about 10 pages long, but the really important stuff is on the last two or three pages. Please, read it, and get back to me with your input.

This is important. It’s only been three months of my life so far. But we’re really talking about the next five years!


“What do we do for artists besides not give them money?”

This question-with-a-twist was voiced at a recent staff meeting as we were discussing the inputs we had received during our strategic planning forums in January.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of administering the Vermont Arts Council is the perception that “we don’t do enough” for the arts field. There is some truth to this perception in that, as Warren Kimble once famously pointed out in a board meeting, “what kind of business model is it that you think is successful by encouraging people to apply for support and then turn around and enrage nine out of every ten applicants?!”

Point well-made, point well-taken.

It is not, by any normal standard, a recipe for success: alienate 90% of your customers, and then expect them to appreciate the “valuable support” you offer to them. Yes, this is a dilemma and we are squarely on its horns. It is the challenge of running a competitive grant application program.

It is the challenge of not having enough money to award the full amount of worthy applicants’ requests (assuming a peer panel can agree on what “worthy” actually means!). It is the challenge of working in a state where our elected leaders’ (in both major parties, mind you) level of commitment to the arts sector is between one-eighth and one-tenth of their level of commitment to the rest of state government. Yes, you read right. Since 1991, state government has grown 81.6%. The Council’s appropriation has grown just 11.6% (the one-eighth factor). Since 2003, the General Fund appropriation has grown 32.8% while the Council’s General Fund appropriation has grown only 3.4% (the one-tenth factor).

All of which are reasonable explanations for why we don’t have enough money to support every individual or organization that our panels feel deserve support.

But the question remains, what do we do when we aren’t giving you (or your organizations) money?

For one thing, we are vastly improving our online tools that we believe will help you market and promote your work—regardless of whether you’re an artist or an organization. The Arts Directory and its related Arts Calendar, with its new itinerary planning tool, is something that anyone and everyone with an event should be taking advantage of. It not only is the only statewide resource of its size and scope, it also is tapped by literally every member of the broadcast and print media for their own calendars.

We also offer workshops open to everyone (often at minimal or even no cost) to help them with such career building techniques in grant-writing, making your work accessible to audiences with a variety of disabilities, marketing and promotion, portfolio building, and so on.

The truth is there will probably never be enough money to satisfy the demand that artists and organizations place on us. So it’s not so much about giving away money (giving someone a fish) as it is about helping people to get their own money (teaching someone to fish) that we are turning to more and more often.

If you have suggestions for what additional “fishing” techniques we should be exploring, please contact me.