Arts and the Creative Economy

Since the legislature adjourned in late May, I have been busy with arts-related projects around the state: attending a conference about Creative Communities in Montpelier, opening an exhibition I curated at Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, visiting Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, speaking at the Governor’s Institute on the Arts at Castleton University and participating in a workshop in Salisbury. I enjoyed free events during Burlington’s Discover Jazz Festival and saw compelling theater in Waterbury Center’s refurbished Grange Hall Cultural Center. How pleasant it is for me to drive, windows down, amidst verdant fields – my favorite time of year.

On my road trips, I was reminded how essential cultural organizations are to the vitality of each of their communities, and how the arts are, in fact, economic drivers in urban and rural economic development. The Flynn Center, which I ran before becoming your legislator, employs 300+ people with an annual payroll of over $2.8 million. The Vermont Arts Council recently released a study showing that the creative economy in the Northeast Kingdom employs 3,327 individuals, 9.4 percent of the workforce of 35,500. The Arts Council is expanding its research state-wide to illustrate how substantial the arts sector is in each community.

As a legislator, I feel Vermont can do more for the arts. Few cities and towns, including South Burlington, provide direct support to artist residents. This year, the Vermont Arts Council received an appropriation of $717,735 from the state. This money matches federal dollars and provides small grants to artists and arts organizations. Additional dollars, locally and statewide, can have transformative impacts. 

As we seek to encourage younger people to relocate here, added support for the cultural sector will make our region even more attractive and deliver immense returns on investment. Additionally, increased funding for the Vermont Department of Tourism can expand promotion of the vast array of cultural offerings year-round. Our artists, museums, theaters and festivals are world-class and can complement outdoor recreation, agriculture and craft breweries as tourist draws. At my Brattleboro Museum opening last month, so many folks told me they visit the museum three or four times each year from out of state.

Here in South Burlington, arts abound. Katie Baritt’s public art project with community members decorating utility boxes has enlivened our neighborhoods in subtle, yet profound ways – bringing smiles to all as we drive, cycle and walk by. Lines Vermont dance studio just opened its beautiful facilities on Farrell Street. Next week, SoBu’s Nite Out Summer Series begins free music concerts in Veterans Memorial Park. Longer-term, city leaders are discussing the viability of a building a new performing arts center as yet another economic anchor.

In addition to arts-related activities, I had the honor of joining the governor and fellow legislators at Norwich University as we signed a law encouraging veterans to register on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. Military Affairs is part of my committee work, and I am proud that we were able to pass this bill into law this session, helping 10,000 Vermont Veterans deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan document the ill health effects of toxic contamination from waste disposal from open air burn pits on bases.

I hope to meet more constituents at the upcoming summer park concerts and look forward to hearing your concerns and legislative priorities for the upcoming session. See you in Veterans Memorial Park. Enjoy the music!