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About 10 years ago, I was walking through one of the galleries at the Bennington Museum with curator of collections Jamie Franklin, who was generous in giving me time in the middle of supervising installation of the museum’s major summer exhibition.

Franklin’s passion of the aesthetic was clear as we moved from one work of art to the next. But one thing stood out from the hour we spent in the exhibition hall. Franklin subtly but continually stressed the importance of logistics, resources and programming to bringing art to the public, something I have learned over time to make sure I mention in any of my writing on the subject.

“What happens behind the scenes and what it takes to get to where we have months of our busy season with people in the gallery isn’t really that sexy,” Franklin mused during our tour.

Operations. Logistics. Education. Programming — the lifeblood, really, of so many professional endeavors, but in the largely nonprofit world of arts organizations, a critical element of survival because of the reliance on fundraising, grants, capital campaigns and visitor revenue.

Just recently, in fact, a significant influx of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds have been distributed to Southern Vermont arts organizations through the auspices of the Vermont Arts Council.

The list is a long one, but some well-known names jumped out at me, places which over my two decades as a reporter and critic I have both visited on a professional and personal level. When I read the award amounts, they may not have had Manhattan-like cachet, but for our area, were considerable.

Here’s a sampling from the longer list from the Vermont Arts Council’s Creative Future Grant: The Bennington Museum received $95,000; Oldcastle Productions, $45,000; Southern Vermont Arts Center, $55,000, Dorset Theatre Festival, $112,500; Brattleboro Music Center, $75,000; Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, $65,000.

Other grants of a similar nature were awarded to various venues and organizations.

Remembering my chat all those years ago with Franklin — and to be honest, with so many other key leaders in the Southern Vermont arts scene — I reached out to as many folks as I could on the list to see what kind of plans were in the works at a time when organizations everywhere have been reeling in the aftermath of the COVID lockdowns and restrictions.

Aside from a few who were actively working on deciding on the disposition of funds, the overwhelming majority came back to me with the underpinnings of their work: the sinews and inner workings of what make the creative flair offered to the public possible.

Bennington Museum: still working on it, judiciously!

Brattleboro Museum and Art Center: “18 art exhibits, 50 to 60 events, and hundreds of school visits and other community engagement programs to be hosted in 2023.”

Brattleboro Music Center: “Operating expenses as [BMC] continues to recover and reset after three years impacted by the many challenges posed by the pandemic.”

Dorset Theatre Festival: “Extreme housing shortages and increased rental costs, wage increases for staff and artists, increased costs for deliveries and lumber, material shortages, and union safety protocols requiring investments in COVID tests, PPE, air purification systems, additional rental housing, and staff positions dedicated to pandemic safety have equaled more than $265,000 in new annual expenses.”

Oldcastle Theatre Company: “The grant is valid for any operating expenses. Recommendations [on use] to the [Bennington Performing Arts Center] board [are imminent].”

Southern Vermont Arts Center: “Programs for the community. High-quality exhibitions and programs for artist members; talks, lectures, and performances; partnerships with schools and hands-on art making classes for all ages, as well as continuing our scholarship program which makes educational programs available at a reduced cost for students demonstrating financial need.”

What was interesting during my gumshoe work is that just as I sat down to draft this column, my cellphone buzzed with a news alert from The Guardian, with a story about Broadway shows having to close early this year because of weaker attendance. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber’s vaunted “The Phantom of the Opera” is not being spared, now slated to close in April after its amazing 35-year run.

The bottom line to this? Critical grants in the wake of the pandemic are allowing many organizations to hang on, and it goes from macro to micro pretty quickly. But no one is immune to the ax.

I’ve been on this beat for almost 20 years, and can attest that every crumb, every morsel, goes a long way to keeping the arts’ vital contributions to society offered up for all of us. And that also reminded me how Southern Vermont’s own Jamie Franklin, one of the finest museum curators you will find anywhere in the country, ended his gallery tour with me all those years ago:

“Without resources, none of this can happen, and probably none of us would be here. How sad would that be, you know?”

Telly Halkias is a national award-winning freelance journalist and the secretary of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC). Email:

Twitter: @TellyHalkias


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