Creative Windham County residents honored with Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts

Wednesday November 28, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- If they weren't already, the eyes of the arts world will be on Brattleboro on Dec. 10, when Gov. Peter Shumlin comes here to present the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts to four people from Windham County.

Authors Karen Hesse and Archer Mayor, cellist Sharon Robinson and teacher and clown Stephen Stearns have all been selected to receive the award, which honors Vermont residents who have made significant contributions to their art forms and to the cultural life of the state and beyond.

The award will be presented at the 2012 Vermont Arts Award Gala on Monday, Dec. 10, at 8 p.m., at the Latchis Theatre in a night of historic firsts -- the first time ever that four people have been honored with the Governor's Award in a single year and the first time the award has been presented outside of Montpelier.

"I haven't the slightest idea what I've done to deserve this, but I'm grateful nevertheless. ... I consider this exalted company to be in," said Mayor in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. "It's an extremely important testament to the region's artistic strength and presence."

Admission is free, and the public is welcome to come enjoy a night when these four artists -- and the area they call home -- are in the spotlight.

"You should be deservedly proud," said Alex Aldrich, executive director of the Vermont Arts Council, which nominates the finalists, who are then selected by the governor. "I think it demonstrates, not just to the rest of Vermont, but throughout New England and the country, that, in particular, the Brattleboro area is definitely what I call a cultural destination."

Not only do tourists recognize Brattleboro as such -- and come there to enjoy the cultural offerings -- but other artists do and move here, creating what Aldrich called the "critical mass" to sustain and perpetuate its lively arts scene.

There are artists everywhere in Vermont, but Aldrich said the Brattleboro area is rare in having that critical mass of artists continuing to live and work there.

"The two communities in the state of real significance (for that) are Burlington and Brattleboro," he said.

"I think it's just one more affirmation of what a great place it is for artists here to live and work," said Douglas Cox, artist and president of the Arts Council of Windham County. "I think it's a sign of a healthy community."

Each year, the Vermont Arts Council compiles a list of nominees for the award, with the winner selected by the governor. When officials realized that this year's list contained four people who call the Brattleboro area home, the idea of honoring all four and holding the ceremony in Gov. Shumlin's home county came together.

Aldrich hopes the Dec. 10 gala evening is not only a fun and fitting celebration of the achievements of these four artists but also helps the town and the state continue to make the case for the importance of the arts to healthy communities.

"The arts, in case anybody didn't notice, have really arrived," said Aldrich. "I often find myself with people who are mired in the belief that the arts are a luxury ... that they are something to do when you've run out of other things to do. ... Instead, the arts are frequently the cause of what works in a community, of how you get people talking to each other."

The Dec. 10 gala ceremony is free, but reservations should be made by calling 802-828-3293; please RSVP by Dec. 3, at 4 p.m.

Cox said the Arts Council of Windham County will be encouraging all artists to attend the ceremony and to wear a tag describing themselves as artists -- to wear their art on their sleeves as it were -- not to upstage the honorees but to show their pride and to remind people "that these things only happen when there is broad, rich humus of artistic activity."

About the award-winners

* Karen Hesse has written more than 20 novels, primarily for young readers. In 2002, she received a MacArthur Fellows Program award. She has also received a 1993 National Jewish Book Award, the 1998 Newbery Medal, the 1998 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, the 1993 and 2002 Christopher Awards, and the 2006 Kerlan Award from the University of Minnesota. Her book "Out of the Dust," which won the Newbery, is a story of the dust bowl and the Depression. Hesse's other novels include "Witness," the story of the Ku Klux Klan's attempt to recruit members in a small town in Vermont; "The Cats of Krasinski Square," a portrayal of the Holocaust; and, her latest novel, "Safekeeping," published in October. Hesse lives in Brattleboro.

* Archer Mayor is the author of the Joe Gunther detective series. Before turning to popular fiction, Mayor worked as an editor, researcher for Time-Life books, photographer and journalist. He also worked for the University of Texas Press in the late 1970s, where, as Special Projects Editor, he found and caused to be published "The Book of Merlyn," the barely known conclusion to T.H. White's famous "The Once and Future King." Mayor's first novel, "Open Season," was published in 1988, and was the first of his popular 23-book Vermont-based mystery series. Since then, a new novel has been published almost every year, typically in the fall. Mayor works as a death investigator for the Vermont State Medical Examiner's office and as a deputy for the Windham County Sheriff's Department. He also has 25 years' experience as a firefighter/EMT. He lives in Newfane.

* Sharon Robinson, cellist, graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts and the Peabody Institute. She made her New York debut in 1974, collaborating with violinist Jaime Laredo and pianist Samel Sanders. Robinson has performed with many major symphony orchestras throughout the world. In 1976, she joined colleagues Jaime Laredo and Joseph Kalichstein, to create the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio which has performed worldwide and is considered among the finest chamber ensembles in existence. Robinson has participated in music festivals such as Aspen, Edinburgh, Granada, Madeira, Marlboro, Mostly Mozart and Spoleto. She has served on the faculty at Indiana University and recently joined the faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Robinson lives in Guilford.

* Stephen Stearns is a teacher, director, professional clown, mime and actor. In 1977, he began his solo clown/mime career while simultaneously creating the Horizons Project, a federal program bringing Vermont artists into rural schools. In 1980, he and Peter Gould formed Gould & Stearns. Their play, "A Peasant of El Salvador," has won several awards. They are Vermont Arts Council grant recipients and have been sponsored by the Lincoln Center Institute. In 1998, Stearns founded the New England Youth Theatre. He lives in Brattleboro.

In a Facebook message, Stearns wrote: "I am honored to be receiving this award with three other amazing Windham County Artists. Please come and help me and NEYT celebrate all the work we have done together over the years to make NEYT a place where young people can find their own voices and do amazing things with great power and confidence. That is my life, and you are in my life, and I honor and love all of you who allow me to teach and direct in one of the best places on earth, our town of Brattleboro."

The Dec. 10 gala ceremony is free, but reservations should be made by calling 802-828-3293; please RSVP by Dec. 3, at 4 p.m.


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