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Artful Dodger


...It was a lot of words, but the message was simple: At a time when public funding for necessities such as roads and schools is imperiled, public arts funding could simply cease to exist. When the recession chopping block comes out, programs that enhance people’s lives in intangible ways — say, by putting paintings and sculptures in public spaces, or funding the artists toiling in every community — tend to be the first to go.

But that doesn’t mean public art has to disappear. Its support just might get a bit more . . . private. At least, that’s the concept behind “The Art of Action: Shaping Vermont’s Future Through Art,” the joint brainchild of nonprofit director Aldrich and businessman Orton. At first glance, it appears to be a perfectly standard private grant program. The 20 artists gathered at the Statehouse had been winnowed down from a pool of 300 applicants from across the country. These finalists were competing for 10 spots — each carrying an average commission of $25,000.

But, rather than giving their respective muses free rein, the competitors had an assignment: Their proposals would address the “critical challenges facing Vermont over the next generation,” as Aldrich put it. Using data about Vermonters’ hopes and fears gathered by the Vermont Council on Rural Development, the finalists would take three months to develop presentations.