Courtesy of Alex Perry
'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' at the Weston Playhouse in 2019
Ten Vermont arts and culture organizations received more than $600,000
in direct grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, as part of the federal coronavirus relief package.
The NEA awarded $50,000 grants to Kingdom County Productions
, Dorset Theatre Festival
, the Vermont Folklife Center
, the Community Engagement Lab
, the Yellow Barn
and the Weston Playhouse Theatre
The NEH awarded $133,512 to the Vermont Historical Society
, $69,263 to the University of Vermont, $29,362 to the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History
, $53,036 to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum
and an additional $97,017 to the Folklife Center.
The Weston Playhouse, Vermont’s longest-running professional theater, has lost all of its earned income since canceling its summer theater season, said executive artistic director Susanna Gellert. While the theater has been able to reduce its operating budget from $2.3 million annually to about $1 million, the grant support is still vital.
“The $50,000 NEA grant is a pretty huge leg up for us,” Gellert said. She said the Weston staff are planning to use it to budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which begins January 1. A Paycheck Protection Program loan ensured that no staff have been laid off so far, and Gellert is cautiously optimistic that donor support will remain strong enough that all staff can be retained.
The theater’s director of development, Emily Schriebl Scott, said planning for the future is about more than just financial concerns. There are more philosophical questions, too: What should a theater try to be during a pandemic? For the Weston, staff have focused on supporting playwrights and artists in creating new work and virtual offerings
“It’s been really heartening to land on these incredibly creative ways of moving forward,” Schriebl Scott said.
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act awarded $75 million each to the NEA and NEH, 40 percent of which was distributed to statewide organizations such as the Vermont Arts Council
and Vermont Humanities
to distribute further. Those two organizations have been distributing $700,000 from the NEA and NEH in the form of grants to nonprofits of between $2,500 and $10,000.
More than 200 organizations and individual artists have applied for grants, reporting more than $36 million in current and projected losses due to the pandemic. According to the arts council, the creative sector accounts for 9.3 percent of the state’s jobs.
The remainder of the NEA and NEH money was earmarked for direct grants. These national grants were highly competitive. The NEA received more than 3,000 applications and awarded 855 grants; the NEH received more than 2,300 applications and awarded 317 grants.
“We are incredibly grateful for everything the NEA does, and especially the arts council. But I would love to see government funding increase in this moment,” Gellert said. “We’ve talked, as a state, about how the creative economy fuels Vermont. I think we’re really going to learn what that means.
"I’m sure we will start to see some organizations have to close their doors for good," Gellert added, "and I think the impact will be profound.”
Correction, July 7, 2020: An earlier version of this story left out one of the recipients of an NEH grant, due to its omission from a press release.