By Cat Cutillo
Montpelier will take a deep dive into its creative identity next month as the city hosts two separate conferences and a concurrent two-day ArtsFest that will explore art at the intersection of community and economy. A collective 550 conference-goers will infiltrate Montpelier over the three-day extravaganza to enjoy and investigate arts, community, and economy.
The New England Foundation for the Arts selected Montpelier by competitive process to host this year’s Creative Community Exchange (CCX), a two-day New England-wide biennial conference on June 6 and June 7. This is the first time the event has been held in Vermont and will bring in 250 conference-goers from across New England. The conference looks at the interplay between a community’s creative economy and economic development.
“It’s about the symbiotic relationship between a healthy arts and creative sector and a healthy community,” says Dee Schneidman, Program Director, Research & Creative Economy.
“Ultimately, we really want arts and culture to be more integrated into community plans and to give important voice to artists because they have creative solutions,” says Schneidman.
Schneidman says Montpelier distinguished itself as Vermont’s host city this year because it exemplifies a city that has fused arts and culture as an intentional economic strategy in addition to meeting logistical criteria like being able to accommodate the 250 conference-goers with meeting space and hotels.
“It is important that we’re in a community that the participants of CCX can see this kind of arts in community development in action,” says Schneidman. “We really want the arts sector, the creative sector around New England, to be not only included, but also really seen as an important community asset that can help a community reach a lot of its goals, whether its downtown development, dealing with empty space, or helping a community come together around a particular issue,” says Schneidman.
Montpelier Alive Executive Director Dan Groberg submitted Montpelier’s application to host CCX and immediately enlisted a 20-person-plus creative committee to help galvanize an ArtsFest surrounding the conference and open to the public.
“We saw an opportunity while the conference was here to really showcase the tremendous creative energy in this area,” says Groberg. “We decided that the best way to do that would be to have an arts festival in the midst of this conference.”
“[Art] is one of the larger industries in Vermont, even more so than some industries in Vermont that people traditionally think of such as farming or timber products. So many people in Vermont are engaged in creative enterprises,” says Groberg.
Additionally, the Downtown and Historic Preservation Conference; dedicated to keeping Vermont downtowns a vibrant place to work, live, and play; decided to piggy-back its rotating annual conference the day before CCX on June 5 to maximize the Montpelier experience for its additional 300 participants and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Downtown Program at its birthplace: the state capital.
“If we’re going to invade Montpelier, let’s pull out all the stops and make this a really big splash for the community,” says Gary Holloway, the Downtown Program Manager with the Department of Housing and Community Development.
“It really does exemplify the Vermonty-ness of people participating. There’s a strong priority to people showing up and helping each other,” says Schneidman.
“This is the first time something like this is happening in Montpelier,” says artist Alex Forbes. She will have her mobile woodworking studio on the lawn of the Center for Arts and Learning (CAL) on June 6. “I’m interested in the personal and community value of art,” says Forbes, who is also a licensed psychotherapist and has studied the empowering qualities of woodworking for children. “Self empowerment leads people to make different choices in their lives.”
ArtsFest will be in full swing on June 5 and 6, with an emphasis on evening events. On June 5, there will be a Creativity Thrives Downtown Reception on Langdon Street with musical performances by Bella and The Notables, Chaque Fois, Dana and Susan Robinson, and Two Cents in the Till; food and drink by the Langdon Street Tavern; and a mural project for people to make art together. Groberg says the block party on June 5 begins at 5 pm and will be both a closing reception for the Downtown and Historic Preservation Conference and an opening reception for the CCX conference.
“It’s an opportunity to bring people from both conferences together because they have a lot of overlap,” says Groberg who says the block party will also be open to the public.
ArtsFest activities are many on June 6, and will include an extra Art Walk from 4 to 9 pm. Big Heavy World will exhibit at the Vermont History Museum from 4 to 6 pm. Modern Times Theater will perform at City Hall Plaza from 5 to 6 pm. The Vermont International Museum of Contemporary Art + Design Mobile Museum, a miniature art museum housed inside a camper, will be parked in front of City Hall from 4 to 7 pm.
Montpelier High School will host a special event integrating visual art, music, poetry, and interviews from 5 to 6 pm. There will be a meet-and-greet with renowned author and illustrator David Macaulay at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library from 5 to 7 pm. Joey Truman, author of Cooking Cockroach: A Guide to Modern Poverty, will give a cooking demonstration at The Garage Cultural Center from 5 to 7 pm to benefit the Montpelier Food Pantry. Bread and Puppet will perform at City Hall Plaza from 6:30 to 7 pm.
Many hope the three-day mass-influx of conference-goers and local art-lovers will have a lasting impact on Montpelier’s future in the arts. “There is so much work being made here. There are not as many places to show it,” says CAL executive director, Alice Dodge, who is also an exhibiting artist at The Front gallery on Barre Street.
“My hope is that people start to think this is something we need to support on a more regular basis and we need to find more spaces where we can see work,” says Dodge. “Vermont art is only at the edges of the contemporary conversation because we don’t really have a gallery system for supporting artists professionally.”
Artist Linda Hogan agrees. “Everything has to be done grassroots here,” says Hogan, who is president of the Art Resource Association and the curator at Capitol Grounds.
“I think it’s going to jazz people up a whole lot. Who knows? Maybe we’ll end up getting an art center someday,” says Hogan.
Groberg says there will be something for everyone at ArtsFest and is excited to show off Montpelier’s assets.
“Montpelier only has 8,000 people. People have a particular vision of what that looks like. We’re anything but a sleepy community. I think arts are at the center of that,” says Groberg.
Visit montpelieralive.org/389/ArtsFest for ArtsFest schedule A limited amount of complimentary tickets are available for youths to attend the Downtown and Historic Preservation Conference. Contact Gary.Holloway@vermont.gov