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Guyon: Arts in Vermont

05/19/09 7:55AM By Annie Guyon
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(HOST) Commentator Annie Guyon has a deep sense of state pride, especially when it comes to the arts. And there's one annual exhibit, now up and celebrating its 80th anniversary until June 9th, that she finds particularly inspiring.

(GUYON) When people talk about state pride, it usually has to do with things like natural beauty, notable luminaries, specialized products or particular disposition. Vermont has all of those, of course: lush Green Mountains, storybook villages, the dairy industry, maple syrup, a fiercely independent spirit and, well, folks like Howard Dean, Ben and Jerry.

 For me, though, the most impressive aspect of life here has less to do with scenery, sensibilities and celebrities as it does splashes of paint and well-drawn lines. What makes me most proud to be living in Vermont is its art and every spring that creative impulse is manifest in a huge annual exhibit at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester. This year is the Center's 80th anniversary, so it's a celebration of artistic tenacity as well.

The SVAC, whose three buildings are nestled into 400 acres along the lower slopes of Mt. Equinox, began in the 1920s as a small collective of regional artists.  Over the decades, it has grown both in membership and exhibition space and now mounts major shows by artists from around the globe, as well as local talents.

What I love about this exhibit is that it pokes holes in a lot of staid notions about New England art. Sure there are vivid autumnal maples, weathered barns and the occasional herd of heifers in amongst the images-and they're gorgeous--but for every exquisitely crafted landscape, there's an unexpected take on Vermont life as well.

Last year there was a massive canvas bearing an oversized, extreme up-close portrait of a young woman's face. There was an inventively angled photo of a zig-zag fence disappearing into the distance.  And hanging on the wall near a tiny abstract pastel was a spectacular bouquet of driftwood.  Many Vermont artists are clearly working outside the milk crate and examining life in this unique place from fresh, aesthetically brave perspectives.

The other thing I like about this show is that while some of the artists are well-established professionals others are still in the early stages of their career. Still others are longtime, productive artists who don't exhibit in many other venues, happy to simply keep making their work and to be part of the remarkable lineage of this local organization.

Attending this exhibit is a bit like strolling through the state's artistic family album. I only just moved here 8 years ago, so I'm hardly a native and yet when I come to this show, I feel like one. A sense of pride washes over me, knowing that I am surrounded by such vibrant creative energy, remarkable technical skill and dynamic visual interpretations of this place that we're all lucky enough to call home.

I remember one year at the exhibit overhearing a visitor-who was clearly a fellow flat-lander-commenting on the amazing range of subjects and telling his friend he found it hard to believe that so many talented artists live here.

"Hey", I wanted to say to him, "this is Vermont."

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