If you don't know about the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial yet, no doubt you'll soon be hearing, and reading, plenty. The 400th anniversary of the lake's "discovery" by Samuel de Champlain is in 2009, but for event planners that's just around the corner. And the momentous occasion has inspired a frenzy of projects from creative, commercial (think tourism) and educational types, all linked to the "sixth great lake."
One of the visual-art components is a juried, touring exhibit entitled "Champlain's Lake Rediscovered." Spearheaded by Doug Lazarus, painter and proprietor of the Great Falls Fine Art Center in Middlebury, the project invites Vermont artists to interpret "this treasured Vermont landmark through their diverse perspectives." That "landmark" being the lake itself, and "diverse" meaning paintings of any persuasion. "I'm looking for the widest range of styles possible," says Lazarus. "I don't want nicely rendered Adirondack chairs - I'm looking for creativity here. People should be surprised."
In fact, Lazarus contends that people will be surprised by the variety and quality of art in the Green Mountain State. "The intent of the project is to announce to the rest of the country that Vermont has a disproportionate number of artists living here," he declares. "My theory is that there's been a paradigm shift in culture, in that art used to be incubated in cities, but cities have gotten so expensive that they no longer support it. For the last 25 years," he says, "artists have been drifting away from cities."
Lazarus is not alone in boasting about the number of artists per capita in Vermont. Most of them might say they have to sell outside the state to make ends meet, but this is, after all, a nice place to live and work.
Perhaps more to the point, though, is what Lazarus calls a "style shift." Sure, tourists in Vermont can still find folky "cow art" and pretty landscapes, and there's nothing wrong with that. But Lazarus says visitors and even residents may be surprised to discover "the sophistication and the postmodernism in the styles."
Along with the re-emergence of regionalism in American art, the landscape genre itself is enjoying a resurgence thanks to "the rising, new environmental consciousness and a frustration with the rootlessness of late twentieth-century life," according to the project's website. What Lazarus expects to elicit from the "Champlain's Lake Rediscovered" call to artists are 50 high-quality paintings that combine all these attributes.
And then he plans to take them on the road. The exhibit will launch, Lazarus says, from the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn in May 2009, and then embark on an ambitious itinerary that includes other venues in Vermont as well as in Manhattan, Boston and Washington, D.C.
The deadline for submissions to "Champlain's Lake Rediscovered" is September 15. The high-profile jury includes Stephan Jost from the Shelburne Museum and State Curator David Schütz. Environmentalist Bill McKibben, who's been asked to write a forward for the show's catalogue, will be the guest speaker at a fundraising dinner this summer in Middlebury.