Arts community seeks boost in Town Plan


MANCHESTER >> An update to the town plan is due next year, and as part of the every fifth year overhaul, a group of local residents is pushing to expand the recognition of the role of the area's arts, culture and entertainment communities.

Additionally, a new arts and crafts committee should be established by the town as a bridge between local government and the arts community as well, said Derek Boothby, a Manchester resident who urged the town's Planning Commission to consider bolstering the language in the town plan that refers to the arts and creative economy.

"We see for profits and non-profits as a seamless creative sector in what they can do for the town, what they (already) do for the town, and the contribution they make," he told the commissioners.

He presented a list of 111 businesses, artists, events and institutions who participate in way or another in the creative economy of the region, all of which tie into or utilize Manchester as a hub that helps form the economic background for their business enterprises. They ranged from art galleries in Weston and Jamaica, live entertainment in Winhall to events like the local street fests, the Peru Fair and the Vermont Summer Festival, along with numerous other businesses that feed off the arts in general.

"There's nothing in the Manchester Town Plan that seems to recognize that Manchester is a commercial hub for the area as a whole," he added.

The current Town Plan, adopted in 2012, runs 94 pages long, plus annexes, but only has less than a dozen lines in it stating that "Manchester's broad array of cultural attractions also enhances the quality of life for residents and non-residents alike," and adds a partial list of attractions that includes some of the better-known entities like Hildene, the Southern Vermont Arts Center and Riley Rink.

In comparison, Brattleboro's Town Plan needs six full pages to describe the local arts offerings and related cultural resources, plus a four page appendix listing an inventory of those assets, he said.

"That's something we'd like to see corrected," Boothby said, referring to the more minimal treatment accorded the arts community locally when the town plan was last reviewed and adopted.

Boothby has been working with Lisa Helmholz-Adams, a local art gallery owner, attorney Patricia Nelson and Bob Gasperetti, one of the principle partners in Epoch 18, an arts collective which operates a store on Main Street, to push the effort to broaden the scope of formal recognition of the arts in the town plan. They submitted a draft text of what might be included to replace the current mention, with goals, policies and actions spelled out.

The goals stress the economics of a strong arts community, along with the formation of a committee to leverage the existing assets as a lure to draw more business and visitors, as well as measuring the economic impact of the arts and entertainment industries in Manchester and the Northshire generally.

Planning commission members did not seem opposed to the idea.

Chairman Greg Boshart said he was certainly willing to expand the section dealing with arts.

"I completely agree that the arts and culture aspect of the area is the core, really, of why people enjoy it," he said, adding they were open to helping support that.

The area's creative economy, as it's sometimes referred to, has been the focus of other initiatives designed to raise its profile. A conference in 2007 explored the breath of cultural offerings the area had, and the Manchester 2020 initiative three years ago also looked to the large number of local artists and arts institutions as areas of local strength and comparative advantage. More recently, the Northshire Economic Development Strategy, or NEDS, an economic study which the towns of Manchester and Dorset, plus Manchester Village, helped finance, called upon area leaders to foster the growth of the arts and creative economy. So did the Southern Vermont Development Zone study, released in draft form last year and updated more recently, which also noted enhancing the arts and cultural economies as important contributors to the Bennington-Windham county region.

And best of all, this was a proposal that wasn't going to cost the town any money, Boothby said to the commissioners, to a round of laughter.


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