Dixon selected to create countywide cultural plan

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BENNINGTON — A western Massachusetts creative consultant has been chosen to lead the effort to make a cultural plan for Bennington County.

Julia Dixon will conduct the process, officials announced recently. Her contract will run from April 16 to May 31, 2019.

That plan will be adopted into town plans to "strengthen, leverage, and coordinate artistic and cultural resources that address community needs and opportunities," states a press release announcing Dixon's hiring.

"While the county boasts top tier art and cultural institutions, as well as individual artists, craftspeople, and performers, a lack of capacity to establish collaborative structures in the arts also presents an immediate obstacle for the regional economy and impedes the development of the arts as a collective force in the region which can impact the economy in positive ways."

The first step will be assembling a steering committee to guide the work. That committee will be made up of individuals involved in arts and culture, local officials, and other community members from around the county. The committee will also collect information from arts and culture professionals and existing studies to understand the current state of cultural planning and activity in the county.

The process is expected to take about a year to complete.

Select Board members in both Bennington and Manchester adopted resolutions for an application for a municipal planning grant in September. And in January, the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development awarded a $35,000 municipal planning grant to both towns, matched by $10,000 of in-kind services from the Bennington County Regional Commission.

The step to formulate a county-wide cultural plan takes place in unison with the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) process underway in southern Vermont.

A selection committee interviewed applicants. Members were Pauline Moore, Manchester's economic development officer; Dina Janis, artistic director for the Dorset Theater Festival; Matthew Perry, executive director for the Vermont Arts Exchange; and Zirwat Chowdhury, Bennington's director of community development.

Dixon, from 2012 to 2015, was managing director for Berkshire Creative, an organization devoted to fostering the creative economy in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. She then served as a creative economy specialist for 1Berkshire, that county's leading economic development agency. In 2017, she began focusing on creative sector consulting and writing as well as independent project management.

Dixon was also the lead author of 1Berkshire's report that looked at that county's population loss and ways to recruit young professionals, the Berkshire Initiative for Growth (BIG).

Ed Damon can be reached at edamon@benningtonbanner.com, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.

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