Bennington Arts Vibrancy is Deeply Rooted
Exceprts from Bennington, VT, community leaders' responses to a series of questions: Sheila Dunn, Manager, Bennington Potters; Michelle Marrocco, Bennington County Regional Commission; and Greg Van Houten, business owner, past town government official, musician
What is unique?
Unpretentious art. There are certainly opening and celebratory events but not on any kind of grand or formal scale. Gatherings are intimate and conversational; audience response enthusiastic and appreciative; artists and performers welcoming. I think I would say there seems to be a more engaging flow of energy between artists and viewers. Art in our community provokes conversation and discussion that otherwise wouldn’t take place.
The people you would think are least likely, from a socio-economic perspective, have strong ties to the arts in some way. The education system, as a result, has been able to maintain an excellent arts program throughout the years. One could study art in Bennington from pre-school through college and beyond, and attain world-class training and perspective. This results in some fabulous art production in the region as well
How have the arts thrived?
The arts in Bennington are deep rooted. Before white settlers arrived, Native Americans populated the area and used the resources to create beautiful pottery, clothing and other objects. The Valley of Vermont is dotted with artists famous and private, past and present. That constant presence may sometimes be taken lightly, but it has created a cultural underpinning where most of us have some connection to the arts as well as an expectation that they be valued in education and society
We are close enough to cultural centers like New York, Boston, Montreal, Albany, NY, Northampton, MA, Saratoga, etc. that we are in contact with the artistic movements of the day. As a result, our assets are accessible to large educated populations. Anchor institutions rely on such critical mass to attract both patrons and artists. When the anchor institutions succeed, the services they require become available to the smaller organizations and individuals. That, in turn, creates a stronger overall infrastructure for the arts economy
Decision makers across the board – town officials, local and regional government, business owners, and community members – all acknowledge that arts and culture are important to both our identity and our future. As the folks in suits discuss our economy and how to improve school systems, they voluntarily turn to the arts community for advice and guidance. Many years of advocacy and building trust have brought Bennington to a place where those in the arts community are being recognized for what they do for the community as a whole.
What does the future look like?
Most encouraging. The newly rejuvenated Bennington Area Arts Council (BAAC) is actively recruiting members; supporting art events, installations, and performances; and putting its precious few membership dollars toward strategic advertising of Bennington Arts Weekend. Bennington Chamber of Commerce and Bennington Downtown Alliance have partnered with the Arts Weekend committee of BAAC to make the weekend ‘worth the trip’. The bond between these three organization is very encouraging. Bennington College and Southern Vermont College are both becoming more involved within the community through the art events on campus
Increased involvement from other business sectors that are complimented by a strong arts economy is vital, as well as government support. While local government has been politically supportive, their financial impact has been slow to follow. State funding is restricted due to similar financial concerns.
The arts industry impacts the educational sector, hospitality, manufacturing, services, healthcare and retail. Referring to arts as a ‘Quality of life’ issue or a tourist draw exclusively leaves out the one element that makes the arts live. We need to realize the day-to-day positive effects of a vibrant arts economy on the community at large to enjoy those added benefits. It’s a better life with art.