Bennington group sets goals for cultural plan
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | April 08,2013
Anthony Edwards / Staff Photo
Bill Colvin of the Bennington County Regional Commission speaks during the Bennington Cultural Summit hosted at the Mount Anthony Country Club on Sunday.
BENNINGTON — A group of people working together to find a way to help Bennington’s arts community prosper while it enhances the town’s economy met Sunday to develop a short list of future priorities that includes the possibilities of establishing an arts council and a downtown venue for arts projects.
Using break-out groups and a voting system, the group, which met at the Mount Anthony Country Club, decided to focus on five overall goals, with some of those goals having several related sub-goals. One goal was to create a place in the downtown that would serve as an arts venue or a focal point for an arts district while another was to reach out to local schools and colleges.
As an example of the sub-goals, the outreach to students included finding ways to attract the students at Bennington’s colleges to visit the downtown as well as to encourage residents to seek out the arts offerings from the colleges and Mount Anthony Union High School.
An arts council might be created that would coordinate the efforts of local artists and develop a calendar so the public could easily follow what’s happening on a particular date. The last two ideas involved increased marketing and communication efforts, both among the local arts groups and to the public, and considering ways to develop “lifelong participation in the arts.”
The goal of the unofficial group of area residents who have an interest in the town’s arts community is to develop what Bill Colvin, who facilitated Sunday’s meeting, called a “cultural town plan.” The town’s Planning Board had already created a town plan that looks at ways for Bennington to develop and grow physically. Colvin said the cultural town plan would support the town plan but also look at how the arts in particular could serve as an asset.
Sunday was the second “cultural summit” for Bennington and drew about 45 people. Select Board member Greg Van Houten said about 80 people attended the first meeting in February.
Colvin made a presentation Sunday which used the input from the first cultural summit to create a “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats,” or SWOT, analysis. Colvin said the group was asked to focus on Bennington’s strengths while setting priorities as well as the examples he provided from other communities that had already developed their cultural assets.
Now that five priorities have been established, the next step is expected to be a third summit during which the group can develop action steps “which hopefully attack” those items listed as threats and weaknesses, Colvin said.
Van Houten, who has been one of the driving forces behind the cultural summits, said he thinks the timing is right for a look at Bennington’s cultural assets. In a separate process, the town is developing an economic strategy plan and Van Houten pointed out that one of the suggestions for the plan was to “create a cultural town plan.”
“That’s basically what we’re doing here so we were pretty encouraged. (These summits) put us ahead of schedule on that,” he said.
While Van Houten noted that the attendance at the second summit was less than it had been for the first, he said he was encouraged because many of the people involved were key members of the arts community.
The date of the next cultural summit has not yet been set.