Last week, a hundred or so creative types convened at the Vermont State House for two days in order to do what people mostly do there. Talk. But what about?
Two years ago, the Vermont Creative Network began with a similar, better attended conference with a stated purpose: “The Vermont Creative Network is a broad collective of organizations and individuals all sharing a goal to advance Vermont’s creative sector.”
Which sounds a lot like bureaucratese. But, in fact, with this year’s summit, a concrete purpose and path forward began to emerge. The project has the possibility of becoming important to all of Vermont.
Several years ago, inspired by the success of the state’s farm-to-table movement, the Vermont Arts Council decided that approach might have a much wider application. Under the leadership of Zon Eastes, the council’s director of outreach and advancement, the VAC surveyed the state and began formulating a plan.
Notably, all creative types and organizations, not just the usual arts, were included. Still, after the first two-day summit in 2015 at Montpelier’s Vermont College of the Fine Arts, full of discussions, most participants were scratching their heads, asking, “What is this all about?”
Nevertheless, the Vermont Creative Network began percolating. A steering committee was created. Public regional meetings were held around the state, resulting in creation of six regional creative zones, each with its own committee of folks with an investment in creativity. In 2016, a one-day convening summit was held at Montpelier City Hall Arts Center.
Still, many participants weren’t quite sure what they were doing there. With this year’s summit, the real value began to reveal itself. “I actually feel very good,” Eastes told me recently. “We had set up a number of objectives, and we got very close to achieving them. The conversations that I heard were strong and engaged, and I’m looking forward to some next steps.”
Before the summit, the regional zones submitted some 30 different ideas for the summit to focus on. The steering committee selected the three it felt best represented the rest.
“One was investment, the notion of public and private in the creative sector in Vermont,” Eastes said. “The second was Vermont’s identity, not just its brand and marketing it, but how we think of ourselves, how we frame the state of Vermont as we talk to other people about it who might consider visiting or residing here.”
The third was infrastructure. “Hard and soft issues are there,” Eastes said. “Hard meaning physical spaces, and soft meaning policies that make investments into the sector, or incentives for the sector easier to manage.
“Those three issues were addressed throughout the summit,” Eastes said. “We aimed for two large goals — to give people the opportunity to connect with one another. The second large goal was to advance some next-step planning for key policy issues.”
In fact, three different task forces were formed.
“It gives us a blueprint the next steps for the Creative Network,” Eastes said. “What we’re doing is building an infrastructure. The network has a framework of six creative zones, a steering team and a backbone organization, which is the Vermont Arts Council.
“That’s all put in place,” he said. “And we know what some of the next steps need to be, and they have been articulated in our one-year report. And we have some clear next steps for the steering team that might turn into some policy changing activities.”
In fact, what Eastes and the Vermont Creative Network are doing is “herding cats.” They are enabling the arts and creative communities to define their problems and needs and working toward solutions. Together.