Bennington Third in National Arts Vibrancy Index

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BENNINGTON — There is no doubt that Bennington boasts a vibrant community.

That local color and character has been recognized for the second time by the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR), ranking third in a national list of the top arts-vibrant small communities.

Three lists based on population are collected annually by the Center, with factors including supply, demand, and government support for the arts weighing heavily.

"A few years ago we were ranked 15th in the country, and we were shocked that we were even recognized out of communities all over the country," said John Shanahan, executive director of the Bennington Downtown Alliance."Then we began to look inward, and realized that Bennington is a beautiful community that has so much to offer, but we are so critical of ourselves."

The Bennington micro-area, which includes Manchester, was bested only by Breckenridge, CO and Summit Park, UT on the list of small arts-vibrant communities. This is due in large part to the plethora of arts and entertainment venues in the region including the Bennington Museum, the Dorset Playhouse, the Vermont Arts Exchange, and the Southern Vermont Arts Center.

"We don't recognize what an unbelievable area we live in, we just demand better all of the time," said Shanahan. "They rate the 900 communities in the country that are even on their radar, and most of these are towns that do stand out for one reason or another."

Though the designation does not include any monetary award, it does not come without benefits.

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"There are definitely marketing benefits," said Shanahan. "This is raising our visibility to the outside world for the assets that we do have here, and it's great being recognized by experts whose job is doing this research."

The Downtown Bennington Alliance hopes that Bennington's high rank on the NCAR Top Arts-Vibrant Small Communities list will also boost tourism, an industry on which both Bennington and Manchester rely heavily.

"Cultural tourism attracts a phenomenal market, one that we would love to attract," said Shanahan. "Now with this designation we know it's going to have a positive effect on our economy, and the town realizes that."

The most recent Arts-Vibrancy Index is the third annual ranking conducted by the National Center for Arts Research, an extension of Southern Methodist University in Texas. The index includes every region of the country, and aims to recognize arts vibrancy in all of its innumerable iterations.

"In the current climate, it is more important than ever to recognize the vital role that the arts play in creating dynamic places to live, work, and visit," said Dr. Zannie Giraud Voss, director of NCAR. "The index helps us understand what factors contribute to making an urban area artistically vibrant and culturally rich, and illustrates how vibrancy manifests in a wide variety of forms that are often tied to that community's unique identity."

"You couldn't pay for this type of positive exposure," said Shanahan. "Going forward, I think it will draw more attention to the great arts community that's here in Bennington."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.


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