Art partnerships celebrated at 'EXPOsion!'

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BENNINGTON — Regional collaboration was the story of the day as arts and community organizations from around Bennington County came together for the third "EXPOsion!" on Wednesday.

The event, hosted for the first time by the Bennington Area Arts Council and held at the Mount Anthony Country Club, represented a return of sorts for EXPOsion!, which debuted in 2015 but did not take place last year. Organizer Greg Van Houten, of GVH Studios, said that the event is intended to be a jumping-off point for the upcoming season of art, craft, and historical events throughout the region.

"While the winter was full of exciting shows, and exhibitions, and it is finally over, the coming of summer always creates a new wave of excitement through the valley," he said in his opening remarks.

The event was kicked off by a panel discussion entitled "Advertising In A Multi Media World," with Rita Fucillo, publisher of Art New England; Beth Maturevich, digital marketing specialist for New England Newspapers, the parent company of the Bennington Banner; and Melissa Kees, underwriting manager for WAMC.

After, art organizations from around the region met with the public and each other during the expo portion of the day. Van Houten opened the expo by touting some of the things the Arts Council has accomplished in recent months. Among the projects he expressed the most excitement about was the creation of a regional arts plan, which was made possible by a regional planning grant. The plan, when complete, will be incorporated into local town plans in order to strengthen, leverage, and coordinate artistic and cultural resources that address community needs and opportunities.

"I am thrilled to announce that the planning grant recently awarded to the towns of Bennington County has begun the regional planning process," said Van Houten. "After six years of work, the task has begun thanks to tireless efforts of the Bennington County Regional Commission working with the Arts Council and local municipalities. This cultural plan is going to be a culmination of all of our efforts, and will require all of our voices. Please keep an ear open, and get on board. This is an enormous boost to our cultural economy."

The keynote speaker was Julia Kim Dixon, the North Adams-based creative economy consultant who was chosen earlier this month to work with the Arts Council to formulate the plan.

"The arts can have an incredible impact on makers and consumers, for sure, but they can also transform communities for the better," said Dixon, who is a past director of Berkshire Creative.

"What was really important about Berkshire Creative was that it brought this seemingly disparate county together to create one creative industry," she said. "They understood that they were part of a larger community of like-minded people who are all trying to not simply make a living, but better their community.

"A cultural plan does the same thing, and then some. It defines the steps needed to leverage arts and culture to improve the community, not just economically... (but also) how the arts can impact a community's identity, appeal, education system, infrastructure, and cross-sector alignment."

Dixon encouraged everyone in the room to reach out to her and help craft the plan in the coming months. She said that she will solicit opinions from interested party throughout the summer, and will host community discussions in the fall.

"A cultural plan is not top-down decision-making," she said. "A cultural plan is not a document collecting dust on a bookshelf, a cultural plan is not an unrealistic set of expectations, and a cultural plan does not serve one individual's, organization's, industry's, or town's agenda. It is a road map for the region that you and you alone can create. So, please, plan to participate and let others know they should participate too."

Among the organizations that participated in the expo were the Bennington Redevelopment Group, the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, Bennington Downtown Alliance, Green Mountain Bluegrass and Roots Festival, Bennington College, the Vermont Arts Exchange, North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show, Bennington Potters, Tap House at Catamount Glass, GVH Studios, Bennington County Choral Society, Laumeister Art Center at Southern Vermont College, Sonatina Piano Camps, the Robert Frost House Museum at Bennington College, Dorset Players Company, Oldcastle Theatre Company, Weston Playhouse, The Harwood Hill, and the American Association of University Women.

To learn more about Bennington Area Arts Council, visit www.benningtonareaartscouncil.org. To learn more about Dixon, or to contact her regarding the cultural plan, visit juliakimdixon.com.

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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