Today, I had the pleasure of participating in a wonderful and rare arts opportunity, when I attended an exhibition’s pre-launch reception, sponsored by the Vermont Arts Council (VAC). You could say it was the kick-off event to the Council’s latest statewide project, The Art of Action, which has been in the works for the past two years—if you count the “germ of an idea” stage. That’s when Vermont philanthropist, Lyman Orton, and his partner, Janice Izzi, began discussing the possibility of such a project with the VAC’s Executive Director, Alex Aldrich. Well, thanks to Lyman’s generosity and a multitude of folks, working either at the VAC or on its behalf (among which I am honored to be, serving as editor for the exhibition catalog), one of the most exciting and inspirational arts episodes, in Vermont’s history, is firmly underway.
To give some perspective of the magnitude of this project, I can tell you that there were more than 300 artists, from 26 states and three foreign countries, who competed in the multifaceted-selection process, which also involved input from the Council on the Future of Vermont (CFV), the Vermont Downtown Program, and the project’s Review Committee. Of that effort, ten fortunate, but well-deserving, finalists received the largest artist commissions in VAC history, averaging $25,000 a piece. Once this new group of artists—the now-dubbed “Green Mountain Ten”—was solidified, the artists were given nothing short of an education, as they were “enlightened” by the wealth of data, previously gathered by the CFV through polling, research, and interviews (i.e., nearly 4000 Vermonters’ concerns and opinions about the challenges facing Vermont/Vermonters) in order to get a clear sense of what Vermont’s priorities need to be for a sustainable future.
Well, despite today’s almost unbearable heat, the reception—held at a beautifully-restored Vermont treasure, the West Monitor Barn of Richmond—was a huge success. Not only did VAC folks and their project associates get the opportunity to meet en masse, but all in attendance got to mingle with the “Green Mountain Ten”—who have been working solo for the past year, creating the exhibit’s 100+ pieces of art—and watch as many of the exhibition’s pieces were installed in a makeshift exhibit display, before the traveling exhibition heads off to its debut venue—a Chevy-car dealership, in Manchester Center, set for September 4th.
Now, upon first hearing that, some people might cringe—or at least seriously question the choice of that locale, especially if they’re familiar with Manchester’s acclaimed Arts Center and numerous, quaint-yet-chic galleries. But that’s what’s so unique—and extraordinary—about this project. It’s The Art of Action, after all; and one of its primary goals is to make Vermont’s everyday-scenes (as depicted in the artworks) accessible to the public—that is, make it accessible to all Vermonters—at ordinary, non-traditional venues, with the intent of not having the art be tucked away in some exclusive art gallery, where only upscale tourists and cultural elitists might venture.
Naturally, with this blog’s focus being topics that relate to Vermont and its uniqueness, especially how issues, events, and the like are viewed from its “privileged” nook of the world, it seemed fitting to share news about this project with the blogging community. From what I could gather today, at the reception, by speaking with the artists and the Arts Council folks, no other state is undertaking such an ambitious project—certainly not one that encompasses so much artistic talent along with such critical ideals and vision for the state’s future. As Lyman once put it, he was tired of seeing art that only revealed Vermont’s past; he wanted to see art that dealt with Vermont’s future and—in doing so, impact it for the better.
Fortunately for us, particularly Vermonters, the “Green Mountain Ten” rose to Lyman’s challenge and tackled the project’s primary mission. At today’s reception, the resounding consensus was that this singular collection of artwork far exceeded anyone’s expectations, but probably most especially those of the three individuals—Lyman, Janice, and Alex—who first tossed around the idea for an arts project, centered on giving art and artists a key role in the dialogue to determine Vermont’s future.
And so, even though the project is technically past its time-line’s midpoint, the fact that the artwork was unofficially “unveiled” today makes it feel as if, somehow, The Art of Action is at a new threshold—a second beginning, if you will. For the next ten months, the project’s accumulated art pieces will be divided up into two, traveling exhibits—“The Artists’ Choice Tour” and “The Curator’s Choice Tour”—while they work their way across the state, through 24 venues and 19 communities, as well as the Russell Senate Office Building Rotunda, in Washington, DC, next spring (thanks to our arts-friendly Sen. Patrick Leahy).
If you’re intrigued by what you’ve read so far, I invite you to check out this link at the Vermont Arts Council's website for more information—and stay tuned, as I’m sure I’ll be writing future posts about The Art of Action, before all is said and done.