Courtesy of the Flynn
Students at the Integrated Arts Academy in 2017
The Flynn has canceled its teaching artists program for the fall semester, putting a halt to a program that employs about 10 artists to work in Burlington schools.
“At the heart of the matter, it’s a public health consideration,” said the Flynn’s interim executive director Charles Smith. “The complications are just too great.”
State guidelines for Vermont schools are explicit: “No outside visitors and volunteers except for employees or contracted service providers for the purpose of special education or required support services, as authorized by the school or district.”
For teaching artists such as dance and choreography teacher Lois Trombley
, the Flynn’s programs have provided a reliable source of income for years. She said the performing arts center has been as supportive and communicative as possible, but it’s simply a difficult time to be an artist.
“At a minimum, I have three jobs,” Trombley said. She’s been teaching at the Flynn for 25 years, including as the head of the dance program. Five years ago, when she took over Swan Dojo
, a Church Street dance studio, she stayed on as a teaching artist with the Flynn; she typically teaches kindergartners through second graders at Integrated Arts Academy.
Trombley is also an adjunct dance instructor at the University of Vermont, but she’s unsure whether UVM will rehire her in the fall.
“I’ve just been struggling. My overhead is $2,000 a month that I have to pay, and I’m a single mom,” Trombley said. “I’ve been sort of hoping for a miracle … At a certain point, I’ll have to do something else for work.”
Still, despite her personal struggles, Trombley said her first thought when she heard of the Flynn program’s cancellation was about what the kids would miss out on.
“I know that the work that I do and other teaching artists do has a huge impact on the children. I think part of it is the art, and part of it is that you’re this other person that comes in for an hour a week,” Trombley said. “It’s allowing the children a fresh opportunity to have a fresh interaction with a new adult.”
Trombley leads children in movement-based lessons that supplement the topics they’re learning in the classroom. She said her classes allow kids a different way to learn and interact with their classmates.
“Children that might have a harder time in the classroom can just become these superheroes,” Trombley said. She understands. “I was a kid that hated sitting at my desk. I would just tune out,” she said.
A recent class of second graders worked with Trombley to create a dance that represented a world without art. She described how the kids visualized that world: “It would be really sort of sad and boring and dull and everything would be gray.” Luckily, that piece had a happy ending: Art returned to the Earth and life was filled with color.
Smith said the Flynn has had an enthusiastic response to its free virtual summer camps, conducted via Zoom. In early June, the center also hosted a virtual Burlington Discover Jazz Festival; the live version was canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. More livestream performances are being planned, Smith said.
The Flynn canceled its Main Stage performing arts season through the remainder of 2020. That room seats 1,400 people. But staff haven’t ruled out putting on smaller shows in the Flynn Space, depending on future COVID-19-related restrictions, Smith said.