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By Karen Nevin
Life and our lives are enriched by the contribution of artists and the arts in the Mad River Valley. It infuses our world with images, song, laughter and tears. We find art in classrooms, on sidewalks and back roads, in cafes and galleries, on mountainsides and barns. Thousands of people attended the Vermont Festival of the Arts this summer. Artists did what they do best: created and sold their artwork, performed on stage, made music and treated us to culinary delights. Children let their imaginations fly by trying their hand at clay, paints, cartooning and tie-dye. Volunteers welcomed visitors and lent a helping hand at events throughout The Valley. All this and more because people came to The Valley to experience the arts with us.
This year the Valley Arts Foundation, which runs the festival, decided to track as much "data" as possible to help us understand the festival better. By using polls, tracking information with inns and doing a lot of counting, we have a good idea of what happened this summer.
The Vermont Festival of the Arts consisted of 111 events held over 32 days. There were over 13,800 event visitors (an increase of about 3,000). Visitors represented 34 states and 14 countries. People from 65 towns in Vermont came to The Valley to attend a festival event (up from 43 towns last year!). For the first time, inns tracked the number of guests who came specifically for the festival. There were 50 overnight stays in The Valley of guests who came from such states as Kentucky, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey. "This year, we offered a special package for the opening weekend of the festival," said Peter MacLaren, innkeeper, West Hill House B&B. "The opening weekend is a perfect opportunity for people to experience the festival – there's so much going on." Peter took advantage of our partnership with the Department of Tourism and put the inn's package on the state travel website. People discovered the inn and the festival and came for a fun art-infused vacation.
We've established outstanding partnerships with the state, with media outlets, with social media folks and with businesses who support us and help get the word out about all that we do. Through these connections we received extensive local and regional press, including multiple television and radio interviews, articles in statewide papers, and a highlight for our Barns and Bridges Tour in the Boston Sunday Magazine. You are sharing the message, too. Volunteer Janet Ellison from Warren told me, "People think about coming to Vermont for the foliage or for skiing. I feel strongly about encouraging people to come to Vermont at other times too ... we need to get everyone to take advantage of what we have here ... not just from a financial aspect but from a sharing point of view."
All these visitors are spending their money here as well. We counted all of the works of art that were sold, including those sold at the Green Mountain Watercolor Exhibition in July. There were 104 works of art (paintings, sculpture and photography) sold at Valley art shows and exhibits over two months. The estimated value of those sales is $38,500! I don't know anywhere else where artists are selling their work in such quantity. "It's a wonderfully stimulating and nurturing place to be an artist," said Liisa Laaspere Colby, an artist from Fayston. "Do we have more artists per capita here? It seems we must. For such a small area, there are so many places to see art on display. It's incredibly inspiring to see what your fellow artists are creating. The creative spirit lives here!"
We've named what we are doing "Art Tourism" – promoting the Mad River Valley through the arts to encourage people to visit and spend time here. The Valley Arts Foundation has already begun planning for 2014. The Vermont Festival of the Arts, the Green Mountain Watercolor Exhibition, the Festival Gallery and Bridges Gallery, the Holiday Paint-In and the Great Vermont Plein Air Paint-Out all promote The Valley, its artists and its businesses for the benefit of everyone.
We live in a special place: summers of art, with each and every day filled with art, music, theater, dining and play in the beautiful Green Mountains; galleries, studios and stores promoting our creative output year-round; children, families, adults and seniors painting, dancing, singing – bringing alive their imaginations and dreams. The Mad River Valley is the center of arts in Vermont.
Nevin is the director of the Valley Arts Foundation and the Vermont Festival of the Arts.