For the first time in my eleven plus years as director of the Vermont Arts Council a study conducted for the Vermont Council on Rural Development by The Center for Rural Studies (the same folks that conduct the annual "Vermonter Poll") has shown unequivocally that 89.2% of Vermonters believe that Vermont's creative communities are valuable to the state.
With a confidence interval of 99% and a margin of error of +/- 5%, the top seven values were:
- I value the working landscape and its heritage (97.2%)
- I am proud of being from or living in Vermont (93.6%)
- I value Vermont's spirit of independence (93.1%)
- I value the privacy I get in Vermont (91.0%)
- I believe Vermont's creative communities are valuable to the state (89.2%)
- I value the small size and scale of the state (87.9%)
- I trust my neighbors (86.2%)
If, at the end of each of these statements, one adds a connective word like "because" and then finishes the sentence, you will create a series of statements that might look like this:
- I value the working landscape and its heritage BECAUSE "homegrown" products and services have a special cache that consumers value.
- I am proud of being from or living in Vermont BECAUSE it was the first state to outlaw slavery, the first to embrace same-sex unions, and civil rights are very important to me.
- I value Vermont's spirit of independence BECAUSE I don't have to explain to my relatives from away why my political views are so different from theirs.
- I value the privacy I get in Vermont BECAUSE living in Vermont gives me the perfect excuse for not answering my cell phone, checking my email, or otherwise being in a constant state of connectedness.
- I believe Vermont's creative communities are valuable to the state BECAUSE they attract "cultural tourists" and bright, energetic, entrepreneurs to return to Vermont to start their businesses and raise their families.
- I value the small size and scale of the state BECAUSE it means my political voice is louder than it would otherwise be.
- I trust my neighbors BECAUSE they know when to pay attention when not to.
If you remove from the top seven values the five that are oriented towards the self, you are left with two values that have to do with things that are intrinsically valuable to Vermont: the first one (Working Landscape and its Heritage) and the fifth one (Creative Communities).
This is significant because the impulse that drives us to value the land and our heritage is the same impulse that drives us to value our creativity. This impulse might be caused by the presence of art, artists, and arts organizations in a community. It might also be caused by something more subtle like that which happens in a place when smart, creative people from any field put their minds together to get something exciting to happen (like vertically integrated, value-added farms that produce world-class award-winning cheeses or soy products). This "value" is essentially human-centered, built on relationships that sometimes go back generations and always built on a person's respect for his fellow man. It is creative, and it requires constant nurturing.
What is perhaps not so surprising is that it has taken so long for this value to be documented in a formal study. Six or eight times a year I attend a monthly meeting of a group of Vermont State marketing and promotional professionals and at the most recent one, we suffered through yet another presentation of the latest, greatest ad campaign exhorting people to come to Vermont.
There was not a lot of new material.
It was a case of the same old skiers and snowboarders, same old snow; same old fall-foliage walks down a country lane, same old trees; same old beautiful mature couple sipping warm cider and noshing on some of Cabot's finest, same old B&B; same old kayakers, same old lake.
Where is Vermont's culture? I asked. We only respond to what's in the data related to Vermont’s brand studies, was the response.
Well now. Here's a new study and a new thing to showcase...Vermont's Creative Communities. Nearly 90% of Vermonters believe them to be of value.
So get cracking, people. There's a whole new brand attribute for you to explore and a whole new group of players to involve. Start in Brattleboro or Bennington and work your way up to North Hero or North Troy. You'll have more creative material to entice people to visit Vermont than you'll know what to do with. You won't be disappointed.
Neither will the state economists who are charged with forecasting state tourism revenues. And neither will our elected leaders who are charged with creating a working environment that is conducive to business development.