Wednesday, May 21, 2008


People Magazine, the Burlington Free Press, the Times Argus and a host of radio and television commercials are touting the “end of (this) season, beginning of (the next) season, MUST-SEE” television offerings.

As if basketball and hockey playoffs weren’t occupying enough of our valuable family-garden-spring cleaning-“off-duty” time, within one week we have the final episodes of “Bones” and “House”; the two-night finale of “American Idol” (Go David!), “Dancing with the Stars”, “Desperate Housewives” and “Scrubs” followed immediately by a host of New! Shocking! Exciting! Revealing! shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “The Bachelorette” waiting in the wings. So much choice and so little time! What is a person to do?

The answer became clear to me last Friday night.

I sat in the balcony at the Barre Opera House while Montpelier’s Contemporary Dance and Fitness Studio performed its spring showcase. Two of my children are dancers. The older one takes Hip-Hop and Jazz; the younger one, just Hip Hop.

I sat for 3 ½ hours to watch my children perform in three numbers totaling about nine minutes. If I’d had to I would have sat for twice that amount of time.

It wasn’t just that my kids performed in front of a packed and hugely supportive crowd. Nor was it just that I knew about every fifth member of the audience and their children who were also dancing.

It was one of those rare times that I suddenly realized I was at the creation of a life-long memory for at least two of my children.

At this age (11 and 12), a lot is going on. In school they are learning all the fundamental issues in math and science and social studies. They’re into things like how plants purify our air. They’re exploring intergenerational issues and problems like global warming. They’re basically kids learning to stretch their minds.

But for my daughter and son, and for the 125 other kids who performed last weekend, the one thing about this whole year that they will always remember is their performance this past weekend.

The make-up. The hair-spray. The lights, the sound, the palpable energy flowing over the stage from the audience. The hoots and applause, the laughter, the flowers and boxes of chocolate. The bottled water. The staying-up-way-past-your-bed-time. The recap of who barely made their entrance, whose costume was falling off the whole time they were on stage, the missed entrances, the awkward pauses, the final positions held until black-out.

I sat rooted in my seat, tears in my eyes. I’m fifty years old, and I was transported back to that precious time when I played a guard to the three wise men and my older brother was one of three mummers in our grammar school holiday extravaganza. I remembered the time I wrote a Star Trek play for seventh grade English class and we staged it for our school and my grandmother came to the performance dressed all in black with a black veil (we don’t discuss her wardrobe choices anymore). I remembered all the times when we kids did things together. We shared our joys and heartaches; won our championships, and lost them together—as a community.

At intermission I ran into the guy who fixes my car. I’ve known him for 11 years. He knows my car intimately. I know next to nothing about him. I asked him which dance his child was in. “The Hip-Hop one,” he replied, “She does a brief duet with a boy up-stage right.” “Funny,” I said, “my boy does a duet in the same place with a little girl.”

It turns out his girl and my boy were dance partners. And thus another shared moment goes into the memory banks.

It’s likely that most of the little kids who were featured in the beyond-cute beginners’ classes will not, by the time they graduate from high school, be involved in any meaningful way with dance. In every class, especially the beginners’ classes, there were only a few performers who stood out. By the time all the rest of those kids get to be seniors, they will have experienced a self-selection process that will push them towards soccer, lacrosse, hockey, theater, science club, or a host of other worthy activities. But one thing is certain. Everyone who participated in the program will always carry this experience with them. They will always be able to say, with increasing fondness as the years go by, that for one magical weekend they created a community’s worth of lifetime memories.

Sure, I’ll probably watch the American Idol finale. But 10, 20, 40 years from now I’ll have forgotten whether the winner was David Archuleta or David Cook, and even who Simon Cowell was. But I will still remember last week’s performance at the Barre Opera House, and so will my children and my auto mechanic and his daughter, and their 125 friends and family members.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Two days after Arts Achievement Day in the Vermont State House I took my family to Florida for Spring Break, leaving behind a cultural afterglow in the State House that would carry us through the end of the session. I returned 10 days later to find the legislature deep in its final discussions—full of new economic incentive plans laid on at the 11th hour, and trying to figure out how to fix education, improve health care, handle criminals, and fill pot-holes.

I also returned to a legislature that would, in the end, recommend a 2.5% increase to our appropriation and only a 10% (not 25%) cut to our Cultural Facilities Grant program. This is a success story, and here’s why:

First, more of you participated in Arts Achievement Day than ever before and left legislators with the very clear understanding of why the arts are important in our communities, our educational efforts, and in our economic development efforts. Your presence in the State House was felt strongly and very positively.

Second, the Senate had the most difficult row to hoe since the latest earnings projections for the State came out right after the House finished work on its Appropriations Bill approved an additional 2% increase over the Governor’s recommend. Thus, the Senate had to make $25 million dollars worth of cuts to the House bill. That we survived with essentially a cost of living increase is, frankly, a minor miracle.

Third, the Capital Construction Bill, in which the Cultural Facilities Grant program is located, had to absorb the bulk of the emergency transportation spending which forced a $50,000 (25%) cut on the $200,000 recommended by the Governor. The fact that the legislature put back $30,000 of this funding in the final day or two is a significant statement about the importance of our cultural facilities to our state’s economy.

So, am I disappointed? Yes and no. We did not get the additional $90,000 we needed in order to have funds to support community-based Art Fits Vermont (puzzle project) activities. And our Cultural Facilities Grant program took a 10% hit which means there will be one or two fewer cultural facilities grants awarded next fall.


We have a much stronger advocacy presence than ever before with a much clearer, cleaner message that is being heard…

We survived what several folks have described as “a bloodbath…” and will continue to press our case into the election season.

We have very good relations with the Governor, the Administration, the House and Senate leadership, and leadership on the four “money” committees: House and Senate Appropriations and Institutions Committees. This is due, in no small part, to all of you who wrote letters, made phone calls, or visited the State House this spring.

I attended a nice arts gala in St. Albans last Friday, the day before the legislature adjourned. The Governor was also there and in his remarks he was quite articulate in describing the increasingly important role the arts and cultural sector is playing in revitalizing Vermont. He clearly “gets it.”

The more important question, however, is where will he go next? Where will his opponent in the fall election stand on the arts? For that matter, where does your legislator stand? His/her opponent?

You can tell where this is going, can’t you? Our work has only just begun. We have a lot of tools to use, and resources to bring to bear on educating all of the candidates for election next fall on the value of supporting the arts. The design of our downtown spaces, our roadways and bridges; the ability of our schools to instill a sense of imagination and civic engagement in our children; the ability for our cultural institutions to serve as the “reserve bank” of creative social capital in our communities—all of these and so much more depend on a healthy arts and cultural sector. A healthy arts and cultural sector, in turn, depends so much on decisions made by people you elect. Make sure, during this election season, they have ample opportunity to “get it.”

We will be putting together information for you to use when examining the positions of your candidates for office. Remember, if the arts are important to you (and if you’re reading this, I hope I may assume that they are!) then they also must be important to your legislators.

In the meantime, “Art Fits Vermont” kicked off with all the pomp and circumstance a press conference in the State House could muster. Our funding and operational partners are all hard at work creating puzzle pieces. Keep an eye on our website for more news and information about this incredible project.

Finally, get out and enjoy the sunshine. An while you’re out there, enjoy some art…!