The Manchester Music Festival, Southern Vermont Arts Center, the Dorset Theatre Festival and the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company have developed a calendar of events for the week of July 7-15, where holders of the passport - obtainable at other area businesses - can use to attend any of the events throughout the week.
The hope is that by marshaling their resources together, more visitors will be drawn to the area and come away with favorable impressions of the several venues involved, as
"It's an opportunity to celebrate what we do best, and to say this is an incredible area," said Dina Janis, the artistic director of the Dorset Theatre Festival, during a press conference "It's a chance to get the word out about the destination and everything that's available (for visitors) to do."
Known as "Hills Alive! A festival of the arts in southern Vermont," visitors coming through the Manchester area will be able to take their pick of the various shows each of the organizations will be hosting or staging that week, which range from
Representatives of the four arts groups had been meeting informally for awhile, discussing ways to collaborate, but the process of organizing a program of events didn't fall into place until recently said Joseph Madeira, the executive director of the Southern Vermont Arts Center.
"By using resources together, we could have a greater impact than working together as individuals," he said. "This is an idea whose time has come and we felt we could do something here. The arts have seen hard times but there's a pie here - we want to expose the arts to a broader audience."
The arts in Vermont are a factor in the overall statewide economy. Statistics developed in 2010 reveal a sector that accounts for more than $443 million in total activity, employs more than 6,000 people with more than $197 million in wages and payroll. The arts sector generates nearly $20 million in taxes for the state, according to the Vermont Arts Council.
The organizers of the Hills Alive! week are hopeful that many other local businesses, from retail shops to lodging establishments to restaurants, will want to jump on the bandwagon and promote it. The passport tickets customers will use for their discounted entries will have to be picked up in person at one of the participating businesses, and will be sequentially numbered, so that the numbers of people who ultimately use the ticket to attend events, and which ones they attend, can be tracked and analyzed afterwards, said Tricia Hayes of Focus Advertising, an advertising and public relations firm that is helping the four arts organizations promote the event.
The venture will have an initial budget of approximately $15,000, said Steve Stettler, the producing director of the Weston Playhouse. The state will be chipping in $5,000 towards that, said Megan Smith, the state's commissioner of tourism and marketing. Almost all the $15,000 budget will go towards promotion and marketing costs, Stettler added.
Additionally, the state will be marshaling its promotional resources to spread the word, Smith said. Shopping and arts experiences are among the top reasons many overseas visitors want to visit the U.S. and Vermont, said Smith, who had just returned from a large tourism conference and exposition in Germany. And Manchester had plenty of both, she added.
"The problem is we've never been able to figure out how to market it," Smith said. "Arts organizations are individual, fighting for the same grant dollars. What we're doing here is an example for the whole state; we have to collaborate," in an apparent reference to the struggles many arts organizations have had over the past three years of economic downturn.
Five other local businesses are also participating as sponsors of the event: The Berkshire Bank, Manchester Designer Outlets, The Northshire Bookstore and Vermont Country Properties/Sotheby's, and the Perfect Wife/Spiral Press Cafe.
If successful, the week-long arts fest could grow into an annual event. Ultimately, its success will be measured by the additional tax revenues it generates, Hayes said.
"We looked around to see what we could do together," said Ari Rudiakov, the artistic director of the Manchester Music Festival. "As Steve Jobs (the former CEO of Apple Corp.) once said, 'it's time to think differently.'"