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Vermont Philanthropist Presents a Challenge, and Money, to Artists

State of the Arts


Published August 6, 2008 at 5:14 a.m.

It seems everyone in Vermont is concerned about its future these days, and with good reason: Unique local challenges are severely compounded by economic and environmental ills affecting the entire globe. And yet, in a small, still largely agrarian state, resources are scarce. From political bodies to nonprofits that help low-income Vermonters cover their home-heating bills, the search is on for meaningful solutions.

And now there's an artistic one - a search, if not solutions. At the very least, 10 Vermont artists will benefit from a new art project underwritten by philanthropist Lyman Orton and called "Art of Action: Shaping Vermont's Future Through Art" - and, in theory, the work they produce will inspire the rest of us. Administered in collaboration with the Vermont Arts Council, the commission is among the largest ever awarded to individual artists in the Green Mountain State - an average of $25,000 each.

The idea is this: The call to artists is out for two-dimensional works in any medium "that grapple with issues as identified by the Council on the Future of Vermont." The projects should aim to "raise awareness and inspire a vision that will shape Vermont's social, political, environmental and/or economic future." If the piece can "catalyze action and affect change on a statewide level," so much the better. The group will be winnowed down to 20 artists, and from that group, 10 will be selected to develop their projects. The Requests for Qualifications are processed only through an online application system called CaFE - visit for more info. Deadline for submissions: August 28.

Orton, whose family owns the Vermont Country Store and maintains the community-minded Orton Family Foundation, is also a longtime art collector - in particular, of "art that reflects Vermont's social and cultural values," according to the VAC. Three decades ago, Orton spearheaded an effort to locate, and retain in-state, such artworks that might otherwise have been sold outside Vermont. The resulting collection, 50 paintings, woodcuts, serigraphs and etchings called "Lost Vermont Images," depicts the lives, work and landscape of the state and its inhabitants circa 1920-'60. It might more aptly be called "Found Images of Lost Vermont."

Orton's current project, which recalls the WPA grants to artists during the Great Depression, "will go a long way toward demonstrating that artists are an integral part of any community," says VAC Executive Director Alex Aldrich, "and quite often what they have to say about issues and opportunities is both profound and challenging."