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Six Windham County arts organizations won three-year state grants to support general operations.

The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, Brattleboro Music Center, In-Sight Photography Project and New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro and Next Stage Arts Project and Yellow Barn in Putney were among 30 recipients of Arts Partnership grants from the Vermont Arts Council. All six were awarded funds to support operating and administrative costs, according to information from the Vermont Arts Council.

Leaders of local arts organizations say this grant program is unusual in that it is geared toward operations rather than specific programming.

"These grants are fairly unique in the world of arts and culture," said Keith Marks, executive director of Next Stage. "So many funders want to fund specific programs, but it takes human capital to make a lot of these things happen, and it's something that a lot of grants don't account for properly, so I'm really thankful to the the Vermont Arts Council to provide a grant opportunity that is specific to operations."

Next Stage, awarded $4,000, was a first-time recipient of the grant. Marks, who arrived in his position in January, said he has been looking for new sources of funding. Marks said Next Stage also recently won a $20,000 grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts Resilience Fund, and another grant for an unspecified amount from the Fresh Sound Foundation.

The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center won a $7,000 Arts Partnership award. This is the third time the museum has received this grant.

"It feels great, because these grants were awarded based on the general strengths and accomplishments of applicant organizations, not so much on specific plans for future projects, which is how most grants are awarded," Danny Lichtenfeld, museum director, wrote in an email. "As such, receiving this grant feels like a validation of the good work BMAC has done in our community for many years."

He said the grant will help pay the salaries and benefits of people who work at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, as well as critical expenses such as rent, utilities and building maintenance.

"Not the sexiest stuff, but these are unavoidable expenses, and not many funders are willing to help pay for them," Lichtenfeld wrote.

New England Center for Circus Arts received $8,000. Serenity Smith Forchion, founder and producing director, said the organization is both honored and relieved.

"Circus artists have been working to gain national level recognition for our performing art alongside dance, theater and music," she wrote. "NECCA deeply appreciates that the Vermont Arts Council acknowledges the significance of circus as an important cultural treasure as well as a vital and innovative art form."

Before the pandemic, she said the circus arts organization had planned to embark on a strategic plan marking three years since moving into a custom-built trapezium, and the grant is an effective way to support organizations that need time to reconsider the future.

"NECCA and circus arts education and performing arts are at a crossroads, alongside the economic questions that we are all facing worldwide. Operational funding for NECCA over the next three years will provide inexplicably important support as we face this pandemic challenge with openness and determination," she wrote.

She said the organization received the same grant in 2015, to support the move into the new trapezium.

"That support was vital to building NECCA's administrative infrastructure as we grew," she wrote.

Victoria Heisler, executive director of In-Sight Photography Project, said the organization's $3,000 grant will go toward programming. In-Sight has received the grant multiple times over the past decade, Heisler said.

"With the COVID-19 pandemic, we've had to innovate how we offer remote learning with the goal to keep our classes accessible to as many participants as possible," she wrote.

She said classes planned for the rest of this year will be a combination of live, online learning, physically-distanced outdoor classes and opportunities for self-guided instruction. To accommodate participants without access to a computer or high-speed internet, the organization is working on kits that can be sent through the mail. The organization is also training staff and volunteers to run virtual classrooms and exploring ways to engage via social media and virtual artist talks.

"Grant awards like the Vermont Arts Council's give us the ability to tackle these new challenges and also help us plan for the future," Heisler wrote. "We're looking towards the bright side of remote learning and, hopefully, we can turn this into an opportunity to reach more youth."

Yellow Barn received a grant for $8,000. Managing director Maria Basescu said the Vermont Arts Council has done an "especially amazing job rallying around the challenging circumstances of the pandemic, not only to provide funding to artists and arts organizations, but to convene meaningful conversations and exploration about creative new ways to come together and to move forward."

She said Yellow Barn has benefited from Vermont Arts Council grants almost every year since 2006, and will apply this Arts Partnership grant toward general operations, including artist residency programs, the summer festival and Yellow Barn Music Haul — a traveling stage.

Brattleboro Music Center received an Arts Partnership grant in the amount of $5,600. The organization uses this grant to help fund Music in the Schools, a program offering youth access to enhanced music experiences beyond the school curriculum, said Mary B. Greene, executive director of Brattleboro Music Center. The Vermont Arts Council has been supporting the center through various grant programs for about 10 years, Greene said.

"We are very grateful for the Arts Partnership grant — especially this year, the continuing operations support is a great help," she wrote in an email.


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