The art of creating a new economy

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This is shaping up as a blockbuster arts and culture summer for the Northshire.

Please forgive us if we left anyone out, because it's a long list: Dorset Theatre Festival and Weston Playhouse Theater Company both have promising seasons lined up for the summer and early fall. Manchester will be bursting at the seams with music, with the Manchester Music Festival, Taconic Music, a series of popular music concerts at SVAC and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra at Riley Rink on July 2. Stratton also has concerts planned.

There will be remarkable art on display at SVAC, in storefronts around town as part of ART Manchester, and at galleries and museums throughout the region. And when fall rolls around, ITVFest will bring hundreds of television writers, actors, producers, executives and independent TV fans to Manchester.

But there's a more serious side to these exciting developments, one that might inform the region's business planning and marketing efforts going forward.

The Northshire is already known as a place where arts and culture of all sorts are sought after and appreciated. Not every town our size has an independent bookstore that can draw best-selling authors such as John Grisham and Jodi Picoult. Manchester does.

We could very well be approaching a tipping point where arts and entertainment, long a significant portion of the Northshire and Bennington County's larger tourism offerings, becomes an economic engine in its own right.

Technology has made it possible for people who create content for a living — writers, actors directors, composers, special effects wizards — to live just about anywhere there's broadband access. Where those people go, their businesses and the economic impact they create can easily follow.

Philip Gilpin Jr., the executive director of ITVFest, sees this as a strong possibility. It's one of the reasons his organization and its annual independent television festival found its way here from Dover.

There are already a great number of content creators and behind-the-scenes executives in our region. Some are here for the summer; some are year-round residents. Many are hiding in plain sight, happy to be far from the stresses of the rat race.

Their presence here could potentially give the region a head start in building the critical mass needed to put the Northshire on the map within the creative arts industry.

This is admittedly not as easy as it sounds. One post-production firm setting up shop does not an economy make.

But if you have multiple such entities doing high-quality work here, and employees and clients raving about how special this place is, you're suddenly onto something.

Is it a sure thing? Nothing ever is.

Is it a dream worth pursuing? We think so.

One of Vermont's most pressing long-term economic goals is providing jobs for its young adults so they don't have to leave the state and reversing its decades-long population decline.

It won't happen overnight, but the creative economy in the Northshire could be part of the solution.


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