As we spring forward to a new year of unforeseen expression through the arts, this last Arts Weekend page of 2013 looks back at the exciting artistic events, developments and changes that happened around town during the past year, as documented in the pages of the Banner by former Arts editor Andrew Roiter and myself.
Although Andrew left Bennington at the end of the summer to explore the wide world of journalism abroad, he left behind a huge collection of stories that illustrate the eclectic energy of Bennington's art community. I have tried to keep moving in the same direction since I took over the desk three months ago, and I'm still learning a lot about the self-reliant, deep-seeded creative spirit that exists in this beautiful corner of the world.
Thanks to this artistic energy, there have been simply been too many individual exhibits, concerts, performances, readings, screenings and events over the past year to possibly sum up concisely. So, rather than taking on that impossible task, this glance into the past is just going to touch on some of the big changes and recurring themes of the Banner's 2013 arts coverage.
Several pillars of the Bennington art community went through some significant changes and upgrades this year, probably none more than the Oldcastle Theatre, who acquired their own performance space for the first time after moving to 331 Main St. The theatre first opened for "Northern Boulevard" last December before closing for renovations and re-opening for the 2013 season.
"We've had overwhelming support from the community," Liz Stott, Oldcastle director of marketing and development said. A large portion of the work and money which went into the renovations came from community donations, either in the form of labor or funds. Re-opening in March, the new space features movable seating that can be adjusted to fit the needs of different performances. This came in handy for Oldcastle's 2013 season which included runs of "Around the World in 80 Days," "A Strange Disappearance of Bees," "Other People's Money," "The Fox on the Fairway," "Sherlock Holmes - Knight's Gambit" and Stephen Pouliot's "Grandma Moses: An American Primitive."
The last of these shows feature Caroline Decker as the legendary local painter, mixing entertainment with a strong dose of local history. For the show, Oldcastle partnered with the Bennington Museum, which houses an extensive collection of Grandma Moses' artwork. Before certain performances, curator Jamie Franklin took the stage to engage the audience in a freewheeling discussion about the artist's work and life story. Oldcastle and the Museum also offered discounts for those who wanted to see the both play and Moses' paintings in person.
Besides the Oldcastle partnership, 2013 was also a busy year for the Bennington Museum. After their usual winter hiatus, the museum went through a significant remodeling that both increased exhibit space and re-organized existing presentations. The museum's executive director Robert Wolterstorff told the Banner that the new layout and coloring is intended to give the museum a more modern feel, while still maintaining the classical vibe worthy of the museum's 160-plus year history.
One of the most noticeable changes is the new location of the museum's Bennington-built 1924 Wasp automobile, which moved out of its own room into a larger gallery (a process that involved completely disassembling the car), where it became the centerpiece of the museum's "The Gilded Age of Vermont: 1865-1929" exhibit.
The museum also added exhibit on Bennington's contribution to modernism in the 1960s, which traced an interesting and lesser-known period in the town's rich artistic history, and celebrated the 150th birthday of the remarkable Jane Stickle quilt, which was on display from Aug. 30 through Oct. 14. The celebration included quilt-related events like quilting workshops with Brenda Papadakis.
Another interesting trend in local art was this spring and summer's string of music festivals, which appeared in several shapes and sizes around the area.
In April, the MOVE festival brought hundreds of bands to Albany for a day of concerts spread around ten different venues, giving local acts and undiscovered bands the chance to make an impression on larger audiences.
"I see the MOVE festival as an important component of artist development for (the Albany) community," said Nadine Gelineau, an industry professional who works in artist development.
In contrast to the commercial motivations of MOVE, North Adams DJ Jon Del Sordo organized his own festival in May called MyGlo, hosting a day of music at The Range mini-golf course that showcased the best of the North Adams music community.
"It just all came together so fluid, it was so remarkable," Dol Sordo said. "It's for the community. I just want it to be like a happy environment where we all hang out. It's really just hitting all markets of what this town can do." In testament to the success of MyGlo, Del Sordo followed it with a sequel event, dubbed MyGlo II, at the same venue in mid-September.
Further demonstrating the diversity of the summer festival scene, the Freshgrass Festival drew huge crowds to the campus of Mass MoCA in September, offering traditional and neo-traditional music in the context of the museum's progressive exhibits. This combination of traditional and modern art gave the whole festival a particular character, as banjo player and Freshgrass veteran Alison Brown noted, saying "it's fitting to have the festival on the campus of a modern art museum because a progressive band's music is built on the shoulders of people who came before, and its the same way with contemporary artists."
While festivals like Freshgrass and MOVE thrived on a larger scale, 2013 was also a great year for local art around Bennington and the surrounding towns. One great example of this came in April when Jason Jensen of the Hoosick Armory Youth Center and Community Coalition organized a night of Music in Hoosick, which invited local acts to perform around the Armory in demonstration of the area's artistic vibrance. Acts included the Living Composers, Keith I. Drinkwine, Welcome Blend, 3's Harmony, Tune Travelers, The Sage City Six and Gilbane Peck.
"I think Hoosick Falls is in a renaissance, I truly believe that" Jensen, the HAYC3 gallery manager said. "It's important to have music everywhere, and we need to have it in Hoosick." Bennington drummer Justine Curry made more local music news when she reached the finals of a contest for female drummers called "Hit Like A Girl," competing against other musicians from around the world who entered the competition by uploading videos of their playing.
"It's empowering to women it's bringing not just one country together, but the whole world we've got drummers from all over the world involved," Curry said. "It's about showing the world that female drummers are just as good as male drummers we can really rock out, and there's still a stigma against girl drummers."
In another local artistic success story, sculptor Joshua Primmer raised $6,306 on kickstarter to fund 4 months of his stay at Medalta Potteries in Medicine Hat, Alberta after realizing that he would not be able to get a work visa to fund the opportunity. Primmer's residency at Medalta will help him pursue his goal of a Masters of Fine Arts in pottery, which could open opportunities to become a college professor.
Of course, this is merely a small sample of the local artists, museums, theaters and arts organizations who contributed to Bennington County's growing artistic community.
From the Vermont Arts Exchange's Basement Music Series to the Sage City Symphony to the consistent lineup of speakers at the Northshire bookstore and others, Bennington is lucky to host many robust forums of artistic expression and enjoyment that sweeten our lives with beauty and constantly challenge us to re-consider our expectations and perceptions of the world we live in.
With no signs of slowing, the art community promises even more growth and development to come as we enter 2014. Happy new year to us!
Contact Jack McManus at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @Banner_Arts.