New Year's Eve cello tradition

Cellist Nathaniel Parke performs at The Left Bank in North Bennington on Dec. 19, 2020,  recording the 15th North Bennington New Year’s Eve Cello Concert. 

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Great news this week that, thanks to the federal American Rescue Plan Act, organizations throughout Southern Vermont are receiving significant grants to continue their important work providing us with the art, music, theater and more that feeds our souls, culture, quality of life — and our economy.

The state’s total share of the ARPA funding was $9 million. That’s serious money.

Closer to home, in the first round of allocations, the Bennington Museum received $95,000, Oldcastle Productions got $45,000, the Southern Vermont Arts Center received $55,000, the Dorset Theater Festival got $112,500, the Brattleboro Music Center received $75,000, the Brattleboro Museum & Arts Center got $65,000 and other grants were awarded to various venue and organizations.

The first round of grants totaled just under $3.7 million, and another round of awards is months away. That’s money well-spent.

We can imagine some grumbling. After all, the arts are for rich people, right? Going to a play or the opera, touring an art museum or even attending an opening isn’t for the average patron. Why should (federal) taxpayer dollars support the muckety-mucks?

There are so many reasons why. And here are a few.

First and foremost, the arts are not just for the rich. Visit an art museum when a classroom of elementary school students is touring for free, excitedly asking questions about the work and the artists; or attend some of the classes and workshops — and even play days — for children and adults hosted by our arts organizations.

Walk around the grounds of the Southern Vermont Arts Center for free and enjoy not only the solitude of the site, but the fascinating sculptures that dot the property. Attend for free an opening at the Brattleboro Museum and not only study the work, but often meet the artists and ask about the pieces. And many arts venues will work to ensure no one is priced out of a play or concert.

We are the arts, all of us. We grow and learn through the arts. Our children are the next generation of great painters, sculptors, actors and musicians. These grants ensure the inspiration for those young minds remains available and accessible.

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Our sense of community is strengthened through the arts. We attend concerts, social events like Trivia Night hosted by local arts organizations and children’s programs with other families. Barriers break down; we talk to the people around us about what we are experiencing. In those moments, we share something special — a love and conversation about the arts.

Attending plays, museums, concerts and more is good for our mental well-being, too. Our lives and our world are complicated, and arts can help us make sense of the noise. The arts reflect our diversity and uniqueness. Some of our new refugee neighbors use art to tell their stories and teach us about their histories. We learn about places we’ve never been through music and art; we are able to respectfully talk about divisive issues through art; we can share a smile over fun and interesting paintings, music and more.

Perhaps the most persuasive argument for using public dollars to support and grow the arts comes down to dollars and cents.

Many of even our smallest communities have venues that offer art shows, music and concerts — and in addition to enticing locals out for an evening, these events also draw tourists, and their wallets, to our state. Those visitors eat in our restaurants, shop in our locally owned stores and stay in our hotels, paying the taxes that fund government services. And the arts employ Vermonters as, among other things, artists, promoters and employees at venues.

In Vermont, the latest Arts and Economic Prosperity Report found that “nonprofit arts and culture is a $123 million industry supporting thousands of jobs, demonstrating that an investment in the arts provides both cultural and economic benefits,” according to the Vermont Arts Council.

Vermont is not a state that can — or wants to — rely on giant industry to fuel its economy. The arts economy is a vital slice of the state’s budget. We depend on the arts economy to ensure the ship of state runs smoothly.

Like all businesses, the arts were hard-hit by the COVID pandemic. Venues closed, events were canceled, artists were sidelined in their work. We the public were starved for cultural experience. It is appropriate that ARPA dollars are now being used to restore and strengthen this important sector of our economy.

Today’s Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal devote significant space to the arts in our region (see the arts and entertainment pages in the print or online editions). Check it out.

And this weekend, go hear some music, hit a museum, visit an art studio, see a play, attend a music jam. We’ll see you there!


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