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Bennington Select Board backs renewed arts council


By Ed Damon, as seen in the Bennington Banner:

BENNINGTON — Leaders behind a newly energized Bennington Area Arts Council have the support of the Select Board.

Members voted unanimously this week to renew the organization's designation as the official arts council for the town.

The council was originally officially sanctioned by the Select Board in 1989, according to Greg Van Houten, vice president for the council. The group has been revived after a period of dormancy; realigned missions of the council and town suggested an update was due, he said.

The region "has a unique and storied legacy of art, crafts and history," Van Houten said Monday night. "We are fortunate that we are not trying to create an arts economy, like so many places across our country. The assets are here. We are asking you to continue to help us protect and support what is such a grand contributor to our overall economic and intellectual well-being."

Chairman Tom Jacobs said that the culture and the arts are closely tied to economic development.

Members also voted unanimously to pledge $1,000 to the fourth annual EXPOsion! event. The roll-out of the arts and cultural plans for the upcoming season is planned for April 25 at the Mount Anthony Country Club.

Vice Chairman Donald Campbell called the pledge "something we support and feel we get a good bang for our buck on."

Van Houten said council members are looking towards the future and hope to have an executive director.

"We want to stay away from short-term grants and funding, which leads to the demise of an organization," he said.

Van Houten, along with other members of the cultural economy, were involved with the Cultural Bennington Planning Committee. That committee grew from the Vermont Council on Rural Development Community Meetings held here in 2012.

That committee over the past three years has absorbed the arts council after it was dormant due to a lack of funding, according to Van Houten.

The arts council now has nonprofit status and "a full and active board of directors," Van Houten wrote in a memo to board members. The council has partnerships with institutions like Oldcastle Theatre, holds regular networking meetings, and a rotation of arts and economy columns in the Banner and Manchester Journal. It also has an active Facebook page and a new website:

A key piece going forward will be Southern Vermont College's Laumeister Art Center, he said. The center off Route 9 (West Road) includes a 315-seat theater with gallery space was donated to the college late last year by founders Bruce Laumeister and his wife, Elizabeth Small.

The college has "been working with us since the beginning," Van Houten said. He called the art center "one of most exciting stories in arts economy now... the educational promises there and cultural access to community is outstanding."

He said that funding awarded for a county-wide cultural plan, which members had been seeking for several years, is "welcome news."

Members voted 6-0 to approve the request for a renewed designation, as well as the $1,000 pledge. Member Chad Gordon was absent.