Thursday, January 9, 2014

Arthur Williams -- A Tribute

It would be hard to imagine an individual more instrumental to the shape and development of cultural life of Vermont in the past 50 years than Arthur Williams. To be sure there are several institutions, some that pre-date Arthur's arrival in Vermont in 1958, that have secured Vermont's reputation as a prime cultural destination: Marlboro Music Festival, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, Southern Vermont Arts Center, Weston Playhouse, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, and Shelburne Museum to name a few.
Arthur Williams

But it was Arthur's appointment in 1965 to serve as the first executive director of the Vermont Council on the Arts that signaled an important shift in how the arts were supported and, in turn, perceived by elected policy-makers.

I asked Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, now the President of Marlboro College, who was hired by Arthur as the Council's first arts in education coordinator, to provide a few (eloquent, as it turned out) paragraphs about Arthur's impact on the arts and on her.

"I first met Arthur and (his wife) Hanne in 1970 when I received my teacher's certification after a practicum in the two-room Fayston Elementary School, which his three children attended. My husband had known the family since 1964 through the early ski industry in the Mad River Valley. Not long after, Art was on the search committee that selected me as the first arts in education coordinator of the fledgling arts council; I was VAC's fourth employee. Art, I believe, was its first, but never wanted to be the leader, although he served twice as interim director. Instead, he exerted his enormous influence through his imaginative projects, ability to connect to anybody, acute perceptions about power and how to get things done, and absolute integrity. 

"By 1970, he had already masterminded the "Art Out of the Attic" project, identifying and exhibiting gems in private collections, and had administered the innovative Sculpture Symposia, which placed works on the Interstate rest stops. Later in that decade, he advocated for the Council's attention to the Vermont State House as the exemplar of public art in the state. His work led to a scholarly study, renovation of the famous Civil War painting, The Battle of Cedar Creek, the formation of Friends of the State House, which he co-chaired with Barbara Snelling, and the position of State House Curator. These actions led to the beautiful restoration of the State House chambers and much of its important art collection. The citizens of Vermont should thank him for this treasure

"Art was instrumental in the early success of the Council and also it's later stability. I became director in 1983, trusted him completely with any assignment, and always appreciated his individualism and humor. Arthur put my foot on the path that led to a fulfilling life in the arts, politics, and now higher education. I will always think of him with love, admiration, and deep gratitude."

A few years ago we asked him he would allow us to name our Citation Award for Meritorious Service to the Arts after him.  His face lit up with joy and without hesitation--and being the humble servant--he acquiesced and in the same breath asked, "are you sure?"

My response, which was a little tongue-in-cheek was "Yes of course.  Your commitment to Vermont, to the arts, to the State House, to the Arts Council, they are all important.  But the truth is, how could we NOT name an Arts Council award after someone called Art?"

Arthur Williams was, as the saying goes, "both a gentleman and a scholar," to which I would only add, "a painter, a polo player, a philanthropist, a public servant, and a cultural activist." Art, we miss you mightily.  

Requiescat in Pace.