A community heritage

SVAC announces summer season

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MANCHESTER — When it comes to cultivating community, the Southern Vermont Arts Center is going back to its roots with a summer season designed to engage, unite and edify those with an interest in the arts.

Founded in 1922 by a group of artists looking to provide cultural, educational and creative opportunities to their surrounding community, connecting with the public on a multitude of levels has long been at the core of SVAC's work.

In 2018, however, that goal has taken on new life under the leadership of Executive Director Elizabeth Paxson — who assumed the helm of the organization last summer.

"We have new board members, as well as a board with significant engagement, and I think they've come with a lot of new ideas on how to look into the future," Paxson explained. "Our big goal this year was really about outreach, and engaging our community."

Local art aficionados may notice a number of upgrades to the facilities at SVAC, including a revamped gift shop and refurbishments to the Arkell Pavilion. Paxson is particularly excited about the refreshed performance facility, she says, and the lively line-up intended to fill it.

While community favorites like the Manchester Music Festival will return to the Arkell this summer, two theatrical performances will also be coming to SVAC this year — both products of Arlington's Joshua Sherman, whose organization The Mill is also working to invigorate the arts locally.

"Perfect Picture" will be the first performance to come to SVAC in July via The Mill's 4 Freedoms Festival, recently named by the New York Times as one of "15 summer favorites." Sherman will then bring an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" titled "The Importance of Being Earnest (in New York)" to the Arkell stage in August through Joshua Sherman Productions.

Alongside the theatrical productions, notes Paxson, will be SVAC's new "Friday Night Live Series," which will bring live music, food trucks, and family-friendly fun to their campus on six evenings throughout the summer.

"Friday Night Live is a new concept, and it's all about making music fun, accessible, and family friendly," Paxson said. "We want the community to feel like this is their arts center; the place that they should come to and experience music, art, and theatre."

The fine arts are also in full-swing for 2018, with current exhibitions — including Art From the Schools (and educators) and Timothy Greenfield Sanders' Identity: The Women's List, featuring screenings of three documentaries by the artist — bringing a community dialogue to the SVAC campus.

"Art From the Schools is probably our top community event; I think there's a lot of joy for students to see their artwork hung in a gallery," Paxson explained. "The Timothy Greenfield Sanders exhibit and screenings were really about opening up a conversation in our community about diversity and biases when it comes to gender, sexual orientation, and race. Those are important conversations, and they exist in every community."

Students from Burr and Burton Academy worked in conjunction with SVAC on their own film project inspired by Sanders' work, asking local community members to speak on issues surrounding race, gender, and sexual orientation.

"It's about taking young, fresh minds and having them be part of our experience," Paxson said. "Having them participate in the process, and hearing their voice as well as their conversation on these subjects, has been a really nice kick-off to the season."

The season will continue with SVAC's Summer Solo Shows exhibition on June 9, featuring works in mediums including sculpture, photography, collage, landscape, abstract, portrait and encaustic paintings. Japan Week, taking place between June 18 and 23, will celebrate Japanese culture, cuisine and art in conjunction with Cafe Sora.

"Cafe Sora is not necessarily new, but they're coming back for their third year," Paxson said. "It's really nice to see that they've built such nice momentum here, and people know that when they want home cooked Japanese food, this is the source."

George Kalinsky, the official photographer of Madison Square Garden, will be the next artist to come to SVAC with his exhibition "Faces of Champions," which depicts the highs and lows faced by athletes through his lens.

SVAC's Summer member show "In a Different Light" will begin on July 14, with work from member artists up for sale. A Fall member show, "Inside Out," will kick off on Oct. 13. Brother-sister artists Susan and Peter Hoffman will also come together on July 28 to display their sculpture and quilting works respectively, harkening back to SVAC's own history.

"We're working to also be a little more true to our heritage, because that's a really important piece," Paxson explains, noting that the Wilsons' father was a longtime member of SVAC's Board and an honorary trustee. "It's really just a beautiful way to shine a light on their work, but also with the heritage of someone who has served us."

A juried show titled "Vantage Point" will award artists from the SVAC community and beyond between Aug. 25 and Sept. 30, with an exhibition titled "Graffiti & Glass" following on Sept. 8.

"We're introducing street art, combined with glass under the theme of nature," Paxson said. "We like the idea of juxtaposing an urban medium with a more traditional discipline like glass, and it's another opportunity for the community to engage with us."

A number of workshops and summer camps will also serve to engage community members, Paxson says, continuing the organization's initial goal of providing opportunities in the arts. Revisiting those historic tenets of the organization, while also ensuring a vibrant future, has guided SVAC's 2018 season according to Paxson.

"This year was about opening two doors," she said. "It's so important to hold to the core of who you are. Paying homage to our history is essential, it's part of our identity, but I also think it's really important for us to show another dimension of who we can be — and who we want to be to our community."

And that goal, from Paxson's perspective, brings SVAC even closer to their heritage.

"The Southern Vermont Arts Center was founded by artists who believed in community coming together, and they would want that community to still feel alive and awakened by what they started," Paxson said. "That's really the mission: continuing to extend, build, and encourage our community."

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