'Hills Alive'

Shame on us for not getting in a mention and an encouraging word about the expanded "Hills Alive!" program planned for this coming summer before now. Better late than never will have to suffice.

To back up for a second, many will recall that nearly two months ago, the state's Department of Tourism and Marketing announced it would again provide support - significant support - for a local initiative that got off the ground last year, and offers a model for how to leverage the assets this corner of the state has to offer visitors and friends.

About 11 months ago, the Southern Vermont Arts Center, the Manchester Music Festival, the Dorset Theater Festival and the Weston Theater Festival announced a collaborative program of discounted tickets for a week's worth of shows and productions they had already scheduled. Known as "Hills Alive!", the leaders of each of those organizations wisely understood that while they could push themselves hard to market their offerings and tempt visitors to attend, their impact might be stronger as a group.

While the first year was the first year, and results were a mixed bag, there's no question that such a collaboration points the way to marketing the area not just for the future, but for the now. And this year, the original four partners will be joined by several others in Bennington, and possibly Stratton and Bromley as well. The more, the merrier.

And it will be for longer. Last year's event was about a 10 day-long event. This year it will grow to five weeks. By starting earlier, and having had the advantage of some practical experience, the chances of having the event be a bigger bang look promising. By teaming up in this way, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

While we're still waiting and curious to hear more about exactly what "significant" support translates into, having the attention of the state's tourism office can only be construed as good news. Our corner of Vermont has amazing artistic and cultural resources to exploit. It's good to see that someone north of Route 4 has seen that. And we're hopeful that whatever revised format the expanded group of partners comes up with, and uses to draw more interest to our area, it will benefit not only the organizations directly involved, but the entire region as well.

A press conference has been scheduled for next week which will perhaps shed more light on all of this, so we'll be following that with interest.


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