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New group forms to promote Middlebury arts

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October 22, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Members of the local arts community are joining forces to market Middlebury as a destination for arts and entertainment.

The effort is being called “ArtsConnect,” an idea that emerged from a series of “Creative Communities Program” forums held earlier this year to find ways of stimulating Middlebury’s economy. Resident Nancy Malcolm was a lead organizer of that Creative Communities effort, and is chairwoman of the ArtsConnect committee.

“We want to promote and celebrate the Middlebury area,” Malcolm said. “The general idea is to be very inclusive.”

ArtsConnect boosters will hold their first of what are expected to be monthly gatherings on Thursday, Oct. 25, at 4:30 p.m. at Carol’s Hungry Mind Café. The meeting is expected to attract representatives from Middlebury College, the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, the Town Hall Theater, the Vermont Folklife Center, the Vermont State Craft Center at Frog Hollow, the Middlebury Business Association and area schools.

“This is a way to communicate, to get people together who speak the same language,” she said of the various players in the local arts scene.

ArtsConnect participants on Oct. 25 will begin to brainstorm ideas on how to publicize the vast menu of theater, visual arts, music and cultural events that are available in Middlebury. Malcolm plans to suggest some of the following ideas:

• Producing arts brochures that could be left in rooms at area hotels and B&Bs to inform tourists about local arts events.

• Approaching the Middlebury Business Association for help in promotions, such as displays.

• Collaborating with restaurants. Such a partnership could result in “dinner-and-a-show” relationships between theaters and eateries.

• Establishing kiosks — basic displays from which visitors and locals could pick up information on the latest arts events.

Malcolm said the group could also consider creating a Web site, though she conceded “keeping (a Web site) up and going could be an expensive proposition.” ArtsConnect does not have a budget, though the group will seek grants, donations and in-kind contributions.

ArtsConnect’s activities could become a boon to the local economy as well as the Middlebury arts scene. Boosters noted that people who visit local museums, theaters, galleries and music venues also tend to shop at local stores and/or grab a meal at area restaurants.

Those who participated in the broader Creative Communities Program forums suggested that along with ArtsConnect, Middlebury could invigorate its local economy by:

• Making better use of the Otter Creek as Middlebury’s economic calling card. In that spirit, several community volunteers recently removed debris and pared back brush near the Middlebury Falls.

• Establishing the town as a pioneer in alternative energy production and management.

• Founding a “creative economy association” to bring together all of the local organizations, businesses and socio-economic groups that make Middlebury unique.

Malcolm is pleased with progress made thus far and is looking forward to the next step for ArtsConnect.

“We’re hoping for a big turnout on the 25th,” said Malcolm. “There are so many creative people in this area. When we pool our energies and coordinate our efforts, it will have a terrific impact on Middlebury.”

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