4 Freedoms Fest to fete Rockwell

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ARLINGTON — As a debate raged at an Arlington Town Meeting in 1941, acclaimed artist Norman Rockwell found inspiration.

Arlington Memorial High School had burned down, and the question of whether to rebuild it was the topic under discussion. A neighbor of Rockwell, said to be a likable farmer, was articulating an opinion that most in the room disagreed with.

Despite their disagreement, however, no one interrupted the speaker. From Rockwell's perspective, the basic American right to freedom of speech — one of four human rights central to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech given just days earlier — had come to life before his eyes.

The series of paintings inspired by the meeting, published by The Saturday Evening Post as the "Four Freedoms" in 1943, went on to become iconic American images of the World War II era. Portraying freedom from fear, freedom from want and freedom of worship alongside freedom of speech, Rockwell's "Four Freedoms" also played an important role in funding the Allied effort.

Now, the town of Arlington is preparing to celebrate those freedoms once again.

Founded by The Mill, a non-profit organization based out of Arlington, the 4 Freedoms Festival will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the famous oil series' original printing in The Saturday Evening Post, while simultaneously recognizing their current relevance. With a series of planned events beginning in July — recently named by the New York Times as one of "15 summer favorites" — festival founder Joshua Sherman is eager to honor the four freedoms and the artist that captured them.

"These works of art, created three quarters of a century ago right here in Arlington, are as relevant today as they were when they were first painted" said Sherman. "I am extremely proud of the entire Festival, and I am thrilled to present the musical Perfect Picture."

Inspired by the life of Norman Rockwell, the musical "Perfect Picture" will headline the month-long 4 Freedoms Festival. The show, already lauded by the New York Times, will utilize a Broadway cast and production team to bring Rockwell's story to the stage of the Arkell Pavilion at Southern Vermont Arts Center.

"The featured event is the musical Perfect Picture, which juxtaposes the remarkable story of Norman Rockwell's quest to create his iconic Four Freedoms suite with his real life challenges," Sherman explained. "The show has had various incarnations, but of course, it was thrilling to see it (and the 4 Freedoms Festival) featured in the New York Times. Who wouldn't be thrilled?"

The production is set in 1942, a time when "illustrators enjoyed celebrity status" and a too-old-to-enlist Rockwell hoped to use his superstar status to do his part for the war effort. Though he offered his services as an illustrator to The War Department, Rockwell was rejected in lieu of "real artists" according to the musical's description. In "Perfect Picture," the artist's' life, loves, insecurities, and resilience are examined through the lens of this rejection.

The musical is directed and choreographed by four-time Tony Award Nominee Randy Skinner — known for Broadway's 42nd Street, Dames at Sea, State Fair, and White Christmas — and will star Tony and Emmy Award winner Lillias White, Oliver Award Nominee Scarlett Strallen, Sara Etsy, Danny Gardner, and Jeremy Benton. Throughout the musical, Rockwell's quest to create the iconic "Four Freedoms" is juxtaposed with a portrait of the artist's own life — described as "anything but a perfect picture."

The show will be presented at both 3 p.m and 7:30 p.m. on July 20 and July 21 , with tickets currently available through The Mill's website.

"Of course, producing Perfect Picture with an extraordinary Broadway team and cast — and sharing it with the community — is a highlight," Sherman said. "But in truth, I am most excited about seeing the festival as a whole unite our communities."

Like "Perfect Picture," the festival's events celebrate both Rockwell and his "Four Freedoms," both of which went on tour in 1943 in an effort to sell war-bonds for the U.S. Treasury which, at the time, was struggling as Allied forces toiled across the Atlantic. Rockwell's effort raised $133 million, the equivalent of $1.7 billion today, to support the Allies' eventual victory.

Still, the Festival's events — highlighted on the official Vermont Arts Council Vermont Arts 2018 Calendar — also celebrate the community that inspired those pivotal works according to Sherman.

"The Vermont State Motto is 'Freedom and Unity,'" Sherman said. "It seems only fitting that we should try to create events that are inclusive and allow us as a community to celebrate the four freedoms."

The festival will kick off at 11 a.m. on July 7, with a reunion of "The Rockwell Models" at Arlington Memorial High School — the building whose reconstruction sparked the debate that would inspire Rockwell's series. The artists' former "kid models" will share stories of their time with Rockwell, and reflect on their youth in the Arlington community. Local art historian Don Trachete Jr. will also give a presentation, and the Arlington Lions Club will host a fundraising barbecue immediately afterwards.

That same day an exhibit titled "Norman Rockwell and the Arlington Artists" will debut at Arlington's Martha Canfield Library, chronicling works from Arlington artists like Mead Schaeffer, John Atherton, George Hughes, and Gene Pelham — who collectively painted more than 275 Saturday Evening Post covers and illustrations in conjunction with Rockwell. That exhibit will be available to the public from June 30 to Aug. 18.

At 7 p.m. on July 11 the Bennington Garden Club will welcome regional farms for their presentation on "Victory Gardens Past and Present," highlighting the tenet of 'freedom from want' alongside Vermont's farm-to-table heritage. Taking place at the Bennington Museum, the event will explore the role of victory gardens in American history and the advantages of growing one in the modern era.

Celebrations will continue on July 13 with the "Challenges 4 Freedom" exhibition, inspired by Arlington author Dorothy Canfield Fisher's assertion that "the Vermont tradition grapples energetically with the basic problem of human conduct... how to reconcile the needs of the group... with the craving for individual freedom." Illustration expert Roger Reed will grapple with this concept himself in a special "pop-up" exhibition at the Bennington Museum, which will explore the balance between individual liberty and community responsibility.

The festival will culminate on the weekend of July 20, which will kick off with a statewide "Ring 4 Freedom" at 4 p.m. — when town and church bells will ring across Vermont for 4 minutes to celebrate the four freedoms.

"Tribute 4 Freedom" will be at noon on July 21 at Manchester's Factory Point Town Green, in which attendees will pay tribute to active military members, veterans, and fallen soldiers. Boy Scout Troops from Arlington and neighboring towns will line the Town Green's perimeter with over 2,000 American flags, paying homage to Rockwell's association with the Boy Scouts of America.

The winners of the "Create 4 Freedom" contest, launched in early January, will also be publicly recognized at the celebration. Intended to engage local youth, the contest encourages students in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade to create a work of art focusing on one of "The Four Freedoms" and why it is relevant today. A cash prize will be awarded to the artist of the winning work, which will be published by festival supporter Mountain Media.

The festivities will continue with "Arlington 4 Freedom" at the Arlington Recreational Park that evening, featuring the 65th annual Arlington Fire Company Carnival — the largest fundraiser of the year for Arlington's fire department.

The festival will conclude on July 22, beginning with "Pray 4 Freedom;" an interfaith ceremony to be held at Norman Rockwell's former home and studio in West Arlington at 1 p.m. Emphasizing freedom of worship, the non-denominational event will bring together regional interfaith leaders and organizations like Grateful Hearts, community food cupboards, and local food banks. All participants will be encouraged to donate food, in an effort to facilitate 'freedom from want."

A screening of the film "Price for Freedom" at the Manchester Community Library will draw the 4 Freedoms Festival to a close, featuring Arlington's Roger Cooper's depiction of oppression and resistance in post-Islamic Revolution Iran. Based on the true story by Dr. Marc Benhuri, the film won the award for Best Picture at the 2017 Palm Beach International Film Festival.

Through these events, and the dialogue that may follow, Sherman hopes to keep the four freedoms alive and well in the community that inspired their most famous depiction.

"The four freedoms are four essential human rights for all time, and they are particularly relevant in 2018," Sherman said. "At a moment in time when our world is so divided, the 4 Freedoms Festival is an opportunity for us to celebrate all that is just and good as a community. Why not attend a celebration of freedom?"

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