VAC Awards

Former Poet Laureate of Vermont Sydney Lea of Newbury, who received the 2021 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, reads from his work in a new Vermont Arts Council film.

The Vermont Arts Council has honored its 2021 Arts Award recipients in the premiere of short video tributes about their work, as well as a video message from Gov. Phil Scott.

Each year, the Vermont Arts Council in partnership with the governor’s office honors five individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the state’s cultural landscape. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Arts Council was unable to hold its annual in-person ceremony, so instead the Council is honoring its recipients on film.

Former Poet Laureate of Vermont Sydney Lea of Newbury received the 2021 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the highest honor presented to an artist by the state of Vermont.

“I’m so impressed by the wide-ranging scope of his work, which includes publishing a number of books, serving as Vermont’s Poet Laureate, and teaching at top universities. But maybe what I appreciate most is how his love of Vermont seeps into everything he writes,” Gov. Scott said in a video introducing the award to Lea.

In his video, Lea wanders through woods and along trails near his home and describes the discovery process that occurs for him in composing poems. He reads two poems, “Metaphor” and “Mahayana in Vermont: from his 2013 collection, I Was Thinking of Beauty.”

The 2021 Walter Cerf Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts was presented to Pamela Polston of Burlington for her outstanding, sustained contribution to the arts and its impact on Vermont’s cultural life. For over 40 years, Polston, who co-founded Seven Days, has been writing and editing arts and culture stories for Vermont media and training the next generation of culture writers and editors.

In the video, Polston visits the historic Kent Museum in Calais to review the annual contemporary art exhibition, Art at the Kent, held on the grounds and inside the historic former tavern.

The 2021 Ellen McCulloch-Lovell Award in Arts Education was awarded to Steffen Parker of Williston for his longtime involvement in mentoring Vermont’s young musicians. For more than 25 years, Parker, who teaches at Rice Memorial High School, has directed the Vermont All State Music Festival, which draws more than 400 participating students annually.

Parker’s film captures his enthusiasm for the music festivals and also reflects on his family connections to them, going back several generations in Vermont.

The 2021 Margaret L. (Peggy) Kannenstine Award for Arts Advocacy was awarded to Mara Williams of Brattleboro, who recently retired as chief curator of the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) after 32 years. Williams has worked as an independent curator and consultant for numerous, major arts exhibitions around the state, introducing Vermonters to major artists of international renown.

In the video, Williams works with sculptor William Ransom to find just the right space and angle of light to capture his work for a BMAC exhibit.

The 2021 Arthur Williams Award for Meritorious Service to the Arts was awarded to Lydia Clemmons of Charlotte for stewardship of the historic Clemmons Family Farm and for nurturing African-American and African diaspora culture across Vermont, building upon the creative vision and legacy of her parents, Jackson and Lydia Clemmons.

In the video, Clemmons describes the ways that the Clemmons Farm, with its origins going back to 1962, has now grown far beyond its early roots as a family farm to become an important resource for the state and nation, as a place for people of color to celebrate and share identity, art and culture.

“The arts, culture, the knowledge that Black Vermonters bring to this state are fantastic for the entire state, and also fantastic as part of the celebration and empowerment of our own people, of Black Vermonters in Vermont,” Clemmons said.

The Arthur Williams Award is the only award selected by the staff of the Vermont Arts Council. The Governor selects the recipient of the Governor’s award from a list of nominations compiled from across the state and vetted by the Arts Council. The other awards are determined by an outside panel from a list of nominations, which are solicited from around the state each spring.

The recipient films were created by Willow O’Feral and Brad Heck of Haptic Pictures, based in Southern Vermont.

To view all of the films, go online to For more information, visit

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