Vermont Arts Exchange
Making art available to everyone, the 23-year-old Vermont Arts Exchange (VAE) provides locals with arts education, performance, and exhibition opportunities by Heather DiLeo
Situated between two other major cultural hubs—the Berkshires and New York’s Capital Region—Bennington has often been defined by its neighboring draws and less often by its own creative pull. In 2017 that changed when the National Center for the Arts ranked Bennington the third most vibrant arts community in the U.S. for its size.
Bennington’s artistic vitality owes considerably to the way area arts organizations share objects from their respective collections, synchronize shows, and think about how their programming can complement one another’s. Then, there’s the symbiotic relationship these organizations have with the College.
When you pair College faculty and student artists, the start and stop of these collaborations between institutions can be difficult to distinguish. Members of the College community curate for, perform, exhibit, volunteer, and intern with nearly all of the cultural organizations in the area. The history of specific College-institutional collaborations would fill several volumes. Underlying all of them is a common vision of the vital role the arts play in the community.
Anne Thompson, inaugural director and curator of Bennington College’s Suzanne Lumberg Usdan Gallery, came to Bennington drawn to the local/campus permeability. She sees her role as curator inside and outside of the Usdan Gallery—one that will build on the myriad of developing partnerships with arts organizations locally, regionally, and globally.
“Bennington has a rich history and stunning landscape,” Thompson says. “I’m talking with a lot of people, looking at campus, looking at the region, seeing what opportunities there are to work in a context-specific way here in Vermont. The College’s history of innovation lends itself really well to thinking in an experimental way about how art gets exhibited on and off campus and in collaboration with institutions in the region and around the country,” she says.
While the area is saturated with a growing art scene, here are some of the current cultural exchanges between arts organizations and the Bennington College community.
Vermont Arts Exchange
48 Main St., North Bennington, VT 05257
Making art available to everyone, the 23-year-old Vermont Arts Exchange (VAE) provides locals with arts education, performance, and exhibition opportunities. The VAE works with therapeutic and community organizations, Head Start and preschool programs and schools, often employing Bennington College students as teachers.
With several exhibition spaces in the community, and a concert venue in the downtown Masonic Hall, the VAE is a kind of proving ground for College student artists and musicians where they can present to a wider audience and be part of shows that occasionally feature knockout talent, says VAE founder Matthew Perry.
Faculty member Thorsten Dennerline sees the pedagogical value of this. His advanced printmaking students have presented work in an annual show hosted by the VAE over the last ten years. “It’s about students’ engagement not only with their own work but with the work of their peers and a broader audience than what they might encounter in an academic setting,” he says.
In addition to the many formal collaborations the VAE has with the College, the organization’s basement music series showcases national and international musicians and regularly features Bennington students, alumni, staff, and faculty musicians.
Perry feels that the communities of Bennington and North Bennington have helped incubate and foster the VAE’s mission. “We’ve been nurtured by people like (visiting artist and former Bennington board member) Ken Noland and (former faculty member and writer) Jamaica Kincaid and people who have been in and out of the College who’ve laid the groundwork,” he says. “Their spirit is here.”