Festival Series ends evening performances; focus remains Arts-in-Education

By Cynthia Prairie

The 28-year-old Green Mountain Festival Series evening performances will no longer be held. The GMFS board of directors  announced on Wednesday, July 11, that the series was ending its annual performance lineup to focus on its Arts-in-Education program.

In announcing the decision in an email, the board wrote, “For many years the GMFS was the only show in town. Now the Arts have found homes in a variety of places in the surrounding area and they are patronized and supported by many of us.” The performances were held throughout winter months at Green Mountain Union High School, always ending with the school’s annual spring musical.

Now, live entertainment can be found year-round within easy drives of Chester: at the Weston Playhouse, the Bellows Falls Opera House, the Claremont Opera House, the Paramount Theatre in Rutland and Northern Stage in Hanover, NH, among others. Another factor that could have played into the drop in attendance is the Great Recession, which many people are still suffering from.

Smaller audiences

In an interview on Friday, July 13, treasurer Alison DesLauriers said, “It was a hard decision to make to stop the evening performance series. … But we’ve watched our audience become smaller over the past several years and feel that the dollars raised can be better spent directly on Arts-in-Ed,” a program that has introduced thousands of area students to a variety of studio and performance arts and the artists who practice them.  Some of whom have spent week-long residencies within the schools.

The evening performances also introduced thousands of adults to performers that they may have only had the chance to see in a city, such as pianist George Winston, the Alvin Ailey II dance company, the Joffrey Ballet and musician Leon Redbone.

But, DesLauriers said, there are large costs associated with bringing in the acts: paying the performers, the technical needs, hospitality, promotion, among others.

Besides the festival series’ net proceeds, funding for the Arts-in-Education program has come from local donors, the annual silent auction, arts grants, the individual schools and the Windsor Southwest Supervisory Union. Annually, the Arts-in-Education program spends about $20,000 to serve Flood Brook Union Elementary, Chester-Andover Elementary, Cavendish Town Elementary and Green Mountain Union High School.

“The financing of the (Arts-in-Ed) program is a process question that we’ll address in the fall,” said DesLauriers.

She added that the recent consolidation of the WSWSU with the Rutland-Windsor Supervisory Union was not a factor in “the decision to end the evening performance series. … but it will cause us to consider how we will grapple with the situation as we go forward.”

In-school program continues

“We’ll serve those same four schools in the upcoming school year. … and decisions affecting the schools after that … will be made in fall,” DesLauriers said.

Under the consolidation, the RWSU towns of Ludlow, Mt. Holly and Plymouth are uniting with the WSWSU towns of Chester, Andover, Baltimore and Cavendish. Peru, Landgrove, Weston and Londonderry, which feed into Flood Brook elementary, earlier voted to regroup into the Bennington Rutland SU.

Over its 28 years, the evening series has staged more than 150 performances from a wide variety artistic disciplines and geared toward a wide variety of audiences.

In its press release, the board said it has donated $500,000 to support “artists in the classrooms via mini-grants to teachers, school-wide residencies” including dance, performances by the “Vermont Symphony Orchestra, the Early Stages program at Weston Playhouse for elementary students, and the GMUHS musical in the spring,” which, DesLauriers said, “Arts-in-Ed will continue to support …”

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeFeatured

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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