'Creative economy' shines

by Justin Mason, Reformer Staff
Brattleboro Reformer
October 2, 2004

BRATTLEBORO -- Local artist William Hays knows how valuable a strong creative community can be to a healthy town's economy. On Friday evening, he had the opportunity to demonstrate that value to politicians and campaigners visiting the town, as art lovers took to the streets during the town's monthly Gallery Walk.

"One of the best things here in Vermont is that so many of the artists are so accomplished," said Gov. Jim Douglas as he perused Hays' colorful landscapes and vibrant portraits.

In February, a collection of Hays' works adorned the governor's office in Montpelier, as part of a two-month exhibit organized through David Schutz, the Statehouse curator.

During the opening of his exhibition in Montpelier last winter, Hays invited the governor to come to Brattleboro to see for himself.

Having appreciated Hays' artwork, Douglas made a point of visiting the local man's studio while in Brattleboro Friday.

Flanked by Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, Douglas reflected fondly about his stroll through dozens of galleries in the area that opened their doors.

"It's just been a pleasure all the way around," he said.

Gov. James Douglas listens to Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center Director Konstantin von Krusenstiern explain an image of Uncle Sam that is part of the Andy Warhol "Myths" series hanging at the museum as part of the exhibit "Warhol: The Jon Gould Collection."
photo: Jason R. Henske/Reformer

Meanwhile, authors and book lovers were gathered at the Metropolis on Elliot Street to kick off the Brattleboro Literary Festival -- a weekend-long event. Earlier in the day, Douglas toured the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center that, when it opened two weekends ago, seemed to put an exclamation point on the town as an arts community.

With streets bustling with artists and art lovers, Hays said it was good for Vermont's top politicians to see how powerful an arts community can be on an economy.

"When the state of Vermont has the funds to assist someone in an art endeavor, it's not just superficial," Hays said. "This is the creative economy at work."

Arlene Coughlin, the executive director of Wild Root Arts agreed, noting that even if people don't buy artwork during events like the Gallery Walk, the influx of pedestrian traffic bolsters the economy in other ways.

"For every person who spends a dollar in the arts, they spend at least four dollars elsewhere," she said. "The creative sector can drive the economy."

In 1995, Hays, along with Patricia Long, Greg Worden and Sally Fegley, help organize the walk, which started with about 10 exhibits altogether. Less than a decade later, the monthly event features more than 30 exhibits and draws hundreds of art lovers from the region.

With election day looming, several politicians and campaigners capitalized on the event, shaking hands, making appearances and spreading their respective messages.

Although Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle didn't attend the walk, about a dozen of his supporters moseyed about Main Street, waving placards, handing out campaign material and drumming up support for their gubernatorial candidate.

Supporters for Steve Hingtgen, the Progressive candidate for lieutenant governor, were at the walk in force, as well. One supporter drew a chalk moosehead -- the party logo -- on the sidewalks while another, dressed in a moose suit, waved to people passing by.

Attending his second gallery walk, the Burlington representative noted that Brattleboro's arts community was as strong if not stronger than that of Vermont's largest city. He lauded the artists for their effort to fan a growing community that adds fuel the town's economy.

"This is a remarkably strong community," he said. "It is a major economic engine these days."

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