Courtesy of Catamount Arts
A print by Laurence Gartel
has come a long way since May 1975 when its founder, filmmaker Jay Craven
, packed a projector, a couple of ladders and some two-by-fours into his car and drove around the Northeast Kingdom screening films. Over the decades, Catamount established itself in the former Masonic Lodge in St. Johnsbury, where its organizers have held film screenings, displayed visual art and hosted a variety of educational arts programs.
In 2008, renovations to the bottom two floors of the building enabled Catamount's leaders to "really make a huge leap for ourselves by having this wonderful facility, but also evaluating who we are and what we do," says executive director Jody Fried.
Now entering its 40th year — the official anniversary is in May — the Northeast Kingdom's primary arts hub is gearing up for a celebratory year. It even has a flashy new anniversary poster (see above) designed by the nationally recognized digital-arts pioneer Laurence Gartel. A native of the NEK, he was recently named the official artist of the 57th Grammy Awards.
This month, Catamount also announced that it had hired a new gallery director, Katherine French, an acclaimed curator in the region who's received awards from the Boston Arts Association and the New England chapter of the International Association of Art Critics, among many others.
Also a local native, French recently retired as the executive director of Danforth Art Museum\School
in Framingham, Mass., and moved back to Vermont with her husband. "She’ll bring just a great connection to Vermont from the Boston area, New England and nationally in terms of her visual arts experience and her relationships," Fried says, "so we’re really excited she’s landed here in the NEK. It’s really exciting to have her back in the area, and the fact that she wants to stay engaged in the arts is wonderful for everybody."
Catamount will continue to devote equal energy to its film and performing arts programming, Fried says. In March, for example, the organization will mark its fifth year as a satellite location for the Green Mountain Film Festival
. This year, for the second time, it will host a 48-hour student "film slam," in which high school students team up to create a film in a single weekend. An awards ceremony (hey, kids: the top prize is $1,000) and a screening of those films will be held at the GMFF.
In April, for National Poetry Month, Catamount will be a satellite site for PoemCity
, an annual event based in Montpelier.
In May, Catamount will begin to roll out anniversary programming including a historical retrospective in the gallery and talks with Craven; other events will be announced in the coming months.
Some of the organization's expansion moves beyond art. "We’ve been getting involved in economic and community development projects to initiate change in the Northeast Kingdom and surrounding areas, and we're more and more involved in statewide activities," Fried notes. He cites partnerships with the Vermont Community Engagement Lab
and Vermont Arts Council
, and involvement with events held outside the Kingdom, such as last year's benefit concert
by Neko Case at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
"Right now and for the future, we see our role expanding," says Fried. "That's in terms of acting in a role to promote not just the arts, but also the arts organizations and the artists in the area.
"Going on six years in the new facility," he continues, "we've really made the leap and expanded our wings outward, but also [grown] in terms of trying to integrate the arts into the community here in the Northeast Kingdom."