SVC working on plan to manage donated arts center

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BENNINGTON — A working group of faculty and staff members at Southern Vermont College is developing academic programming in the arts and preparing an updated events calendar for the Laumeister Art Center at SVC.

The center off West Road, which includes a 315-seat theater and significant gallery space, was donated to the college in early December by founders Bruce Laumeister and his wife, Elizabeth Small.

"Initially, we'll be working most on the public side of the center — exhibitions, performances, etc. — as that is the most time-sensitive thing right now," said SVC President David Evans. "We will roll out academic programs as they are developed, most likely starting with arts administration this fall. As the center becomes more active, we probably will subdivide the duties more completely."

The basic mission of the center won't change, Evans said. "It will remain a center for promoting and celebrating art, music, theater, and other artistic expressions," he said. "And I hope that with SVC's resources we can expand its programming and invite a diverse array of artists, community members and visitors to enjoy this wonderful facility."

Evans said that among those at SVC planning for the transition are Kimberly Gould, dean of academic operations, and arts faculty member Eric Despard. They will look at the many academic opportunities that have opened up with the acquisition of the gallery space and theater, the president said, and intend to reach out to the artistic community for input.

By the fall, SVC hopes to have a soft launch for a new arts management program, Evans said, and the college will be considering or developing programming related to the stage, exhibition curating, the creative arts and other courses now possible because of access to the facility.

Concerning the arts community and other educational institutions, he added: "We do not want to compete with Bennington College, or have a negative impact on any other institution. We want to see how we can collaborate."

In setting the annual calendars, Evans said SVC wants to enhance the performance and exhibition events list while retaining some of the existing schedule. A key consideration, he added, will be in deciding how to honor the legacy of the donors while mixing in additional events and programs.

Laumeister and Small constructed the Bennington Center for the Arts during the early 1990s and it opened in 1994 at Gypsy Lane and West Road (Route 9). Wings were added over about 15 years, resulting in a total of 36,000 square feet of space, including seven galleries, offices and other spaces. The grounds feature a covered bridge museum and gardens.

"We are currently engaged in an intensive — and quick — initial planning process to determine our most urgent short-term priorities to activate the Laumeister Art Center as part of Southern Vermont College over the next few months," Evans stated in a release. "In the longer run, we are exploring interesting academic options that could add strength to the college, increase our appeal and reach among students who are specifically interested in the arts and arts management, and bring lively, regular events to the center."

He added this week, "One of the things guiding every decision as president is that I want to make SVC a vital part of the community. I think the art center will reflect that."

Although not taxed because of its nonprofit status, the center, located on a 5.81-acre property, is valued at just under $2 million on the Bennington grand list.

Evans has termed the donation "by far the largest gift in the history of the college."

Included in the gift are the building, the land and about a third of the center's pieces of art, which number in the hundreds. The facility also comes to the college free of debt, Evans said.

Persons with ideas or questions are encouraged to contact the center at artscenter@svc.edu.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. Email: jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com. @BB_therrien on Twitter.






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