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Ch-ch-ch-changes

State of the Arts

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Internet, blogosphere, podcasting - what's next? No one knows better than a longtime editor how much the publishing world has changed in recent years. Tom Slayton has been at the helm of Vermont Life for more than two decades; though his official title is editor-in-chief, he also writes, and is part of a team that runs the state's print cheerleader. Now approaching 65, Slayton says he plans to retire next year and focus on a book he's already begun -- about Thoreau's New England. Before making that transition, however, he'll be helping the 60-year-old magazine make a significant change of its own: hiring its first publisher. In other words, someone to mind the moneymaking.

Yep, the magazine that still makes hay out of Vermont's downhome character and leafy landscape is looking for a hardnosed CEO type who can help sell "quaint" in the 21st century. In an employment ad published last Sunday, one line reveals a direction the quarterly mag needs to take: ". . . seeking new business opportunities through brand extensions, the Internet, creative marketing and other opportunities."

Slayton takes all this in stride, suggesting that the new boss should be someone "more in tune with that [changing] world, maybe someone more plugged into the Internet . . . Vermont Life's problems, if there are any, are financial, not editorial," he says. "We need to focus on that."

Though it's overseen by the Department of Tourism and Marketing, the magazine receives no funding from the state; its budget of just over $2 million is supported by advertising and merchandise sales and, of course, subscriptions and newsstand purchases. According to vtlife.com, the current nationwide circulation is around 75,000.

Not surprisingly, Slayton generally reflects what is beloved about Vermont, past and present, in his editorial selections for the magazine -- as well as in his elegiac commentaries on Vermont Public Radio. He's a nostalgic but clear-eyed journalist, one who has witnessed considerable social, economic and technological shifts in the Green Mountain State over his lifetime. Slayton seems happy with the addition of a publisher at Vermont Life -- in fact, he says, he recommended the move himself. "I can't really take credit for it, but I brought it up more than a year ago," Slayton says.

He figures it could take months to find the right person for the new job. Meanwhile, the current issue of Vermont Life kicks off a 60th-anniversary series, featuring a couple of vintage covers and the stories behind them. Its yin-yang title sums up the challenges of publishing -- in print -- today: "Change and Stability."

*****

Ric Kasini Kadour has not only put himself on the Vermont art map, he's creating new ones. First came the Vermont Art Guide, which Kadour compiled with his partner Christopher Byrne and published this winter under his own Kasini House umbrella. The guide inventories art venues around the state, and not just the official ones; the paperback also lists locales as obscure as the Corridor Art Gallery -- a hallway in the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.

Kadour, 31, is a former AIDS activist who until 2004 was based in Shoreham. Though he now lives in Montreal -- he has dual citizenship -- Kadour explains, "Chris and I have an interest in promoting art in Vermont and making Vermont an arts destination." After creating the Art Guide, they "decided there was a niche we could fill." The implication -- though Kadour won't say it on the record -- is that existing efforts by arts organizations are just not enough.

Last week, Kadour upped the ante by facilitating three events in Burlington: an Art Town Meeting at Club Metronome, which 70-some people attended; an informational session about First Friday, the city's monthly art walk; and "Buzz," a marketing workshop for artists. Clearly, Kadour has designs on the Queen City. But while the Art Town Meeting attracted the most attention, it was the second event that hinted at an ambitious Kadour project to launch in April: Art Map Burlington.

No, it's not the kind you fold up and stick in your glove compartment. As Kadour explains, the Art Map will be a monthly publication describing every venue in Burlington that shows artwork -- that is, every venue willing to pay the modest annual listing rate of $60 (or a lesser monthly rate for artists who want to post an open-studio event). The booklet will also include reviews, which should be good news to those artists who crave more critical voices in the community.

The point is to promote the city's First Friday Art Walk, but also to help visitors locate art exhibits and events all month long throughout the city. Kadour believes the current First Friday, organized by Burlington City Arts, should be more inclusive and should happen year round. He takes his inspiration from Brattleboro's wildly successful art walk, which "hordes of people" attend every month, Kadour says.

But is he stepping on BCA's toes? There's been "quite a bit of talking," he says, with BCA Executive Director Doreen Kraft and Firehouse Gallery curator Ruth Erickson. Kraft is officially diplomatic. "It was very exciting for us to see someone so motivated to play a partnership role to promote the arts in Burlington," she says. Kadour's enterprise is "an enhancement of what we're already doing," Kraft adds. "We'll try it for a year, and see how it goes."

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