On May 6, 2020

Vermont artists convene to reimagine the role of arts in the age of Covid

Thursday, May 12 at 4 p.m.—MONTPELIER— Over three Tuesdays in May, artists and arts leaders from across Vermont will come together to learn from each other and begin re-imagining how the arts can support communities during and after the pandemic. The three forums will be facilitated by international arts consultant Eric Booth, and feature panels of artists and arts leaders in dialogue about the challenges and opportunities facing the arts field. Vermont Arts: What Do We Want To Become? is free and open to the public, who are encouraged to participate with questions and comments for the panelists. Hosted by the Montpelier-based Community Engagement Lab, the forums will be on the Zoom online platform, May 12, 19 and 26, from 4-5:15 p.m.

For an industry whose main business is to bring people together into creative experiences, the realities of social distancing provide the opportunity—and the necessity—to think boldly about what it means for artists and arts organizations to serve their communities.

The disruptions created by the health crisis present many complex challenges for the arts field. A recent national poll by Americans for the Arts found that 95% of artists have experienced income loss, 62% are completely unemployed, and 80% have no plan for how to recover. The financial crisis demands fresh thinking for how artists can chart a sustainable future as essential and catalytic to the greater success of their communities.

During crises and social change movements, the arts have historically played a vital role in building the empathy and civic agency needed to make real change. But what is the change our communities want? And what do artists and arts organizations know that is directly pertinent to those needs?

Eric Booth, co-founder of the Community Engagement Lab and facilitator for the forums, feels that those questions are at the heart of the challenge and opportunity facing the arts field in this time of great disruption.  “Right now is the time to envision, gather agreement and begin taking actions to put the arts and artists in a central role in community change,” Booth said. “Vermont is uniquely poised to accomplish this.”

Matthew Perry, one of the forum’s panelists and executive director of the Vermont Arts Exchange in North Bennington, feels that we need to seize the moment. “If we go back to the way things were, we will have lost the lessons of this experience,” he said. “This is a time for the arts to help us imagine and build a better future.”

The forums will explore how artists and arts organizations can serve communities in the ways that communities truly want and need right now. Each forum will focus on a different arts sector: May 12, artists/teaching artists; May 19, arts centers; and May 26, performing arts organizations. Everyone is invited to attend and contribute to the conversation. To join the conversation and register for one or more of the free forums, visit communityengagementlab.org.

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