In operation since October, the Brattleboro CoreArts Project proposes to explore Brattleboro’s cultural assets, its aptitude for community placemaking and its cultural and economic sustainability in the context of a potential cultural district.
Lots of vague words? Perhaps. Yet as we learn from each other and from fine examples of community development elsewhere, we reach toward a definition of undeniable, sustainable community right here at home. And in this process, we each find words to attempt to describe the richness, the interactivity we find in this place we call home.
In the first track of the CoreArts Project, the leadership secured the consulting services of the Conway School of Design, from nearby Conway, Mass. We selected the Conway Team to explore our community, to discover the range of its cultural activity, to engage folks in interviews and discussions, and to ultimately create a report that could illuminate Brattleboro in keen and unusual ways.
All told, the Conway Team spent several weeks conducting research: decoding official Town documents; sampling digital and print publications of local cultural organizations; interviewing one-on-one, in focus groups, and in organizations; and conducting large group exercises.
Each week, Conway faculty and design specialists reviewed and criticized the Team’s work, encouraging deeper understanding and development of clear, effective presentation methods. And the CoreArts Team worked closely with the Conway Team to develop meaningful structure for their work.
Together, we determined that, to increase value, we would not produce only lists of artists, arts organizations, arts purveyors and arts educators.
Rather, we wagered that greater value could be created by illustrating the cultural themes and relationships apparent in the Brattleboro community.
The Conway Team struggled with us to get at essences rather than at numbers. Written and spoken presentations focused varied types of light upon Brattleboro’s known and not-so-well-know cultural assets -- in three rigorously accepted formats: a descriptive, verbal overview; a visual mapping of cultural assets (the kind of diagrams that most of us picture when we think of "mapping"); and an interpretive representation of the various themes and forms that arose from the research phase.
Called "Brattleboro: An Atlas of Cultural Assets," the Conway Team’s final product speaks about the Brattleboro community in engaging and perhaps unexpected ways.
Predictably, the report has met with a full range of responses (the report is at our website: www.brattcorearts.org, click on Documents). The CoreArts Team has been energized by the variety of responses, here in Brattleboro, and further afield in other communities.
We believe the Atlas is best understood when placed in the context of other documents that address our community’s cultural life: the recently adopted Brattleboro Town Plan (www.brattleboro.org, click on Charter, Ordinances, Policies); the recently updated Compendium of Arts Organizations; and two other similar records under construction, on Individual Artists and on For-Profit Arts Corporations.
Additionally, the Atlas finds context in the several public, community meetings convened by the Town Arts Committee on the role the arts play in our community.
In future articles, we will discuss plans for Track Two.
This article is part of a short series presented periodically in the Reformer. For more information about the CoreArts Project, visit www.brattcorearts.org.
Zon Eastes, a longtime resident of Guilford and advocate for the arts, works at the Vermont Arts Council in Montpelier.