Woman outside smiles in front of autumnal trees
Community Engagement Coordinator, Creative Economy


CreativeGround highlights the people and places that contribute to New England’s thriving creative economy. Every other year, NEFA hosts the Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) to celebrate the projects that leverage those people and places for community development. This June, the sixth CCX will take place in Montpelier, Vermont. To prepare you for the imminent peer exchange of creative community initiatives, CreativeGround invites you to dig into the juicy activity in the area with the latest from local creative economy players. This week, we connected with Community Engagement Lab.


The CreativeGround profile for Community Engagement Lab shines a light on the innovative work they do.

Community Engagement Lab (CEL) is a Montpelier-based nonprofit that "places creativity at the center of learning so all students have the creative and critical thinking skills they need to succeed in school and life." Their flagship program, the Vermont Creative Schools Initiative includes creative projects, professional development for teachers, and community network building. We caught up with CEL's executive director, Paul Gambill to see what is going on at the Lab.

(Psssst... Dig up the most recent dirt from"On the CreativeGround" with our blogposts with Montpelier Alive and with Lost Nation Theater.)

CreativeGround (CG): What is a typical day for you at Community Engagement Lab?

Paul Gambill (PG): I’m happy to say that no two days are alike. I might have a day where I’m out visiting schools and talking with teachers about ideas for their Creative Schools Initiative projects – or meeting with our design team for the festival we are creating (fun!) – or sitting at my desk searching for the inspiration to write that next grant proposal that is due too soon (not as much fun). The one thing I try and do every day is to reach out and connect with one of our programming partners or potential future partners. There is always some type of communication needed to keep our initiatives moving forward. 

CG: Now that we have an idea of what you do on the clock, tell us how you’re involved in the region’s creative sector off the clock? Let’s start with what you’re reading. 

PG: I just finished Imagine It Forward by Beth Comstock, the former vice chair of GE. It is a fascinating look at how to be an instigator of change and innovation. She talks a lot about risk taking, turning ideas into action, and the challenges and pitfalls inherent in any creative process. Of all the books on creative thinking and action that I’ve read, this one ranks as a top favorite. 

CG: Name three New England artists, creative businesses, or cultural nonprofits we should all know about. 

PG: Scrag Mountain Music, based in Marshfield, is one of the most innovative and exciting chamber ensembles I’ve experienced. Founders and co-artistic directors Mary Bonhag (soprano) and Evan Premo (composer and double bass) are extraordinary artists. But what set Scrag apart is their commitment to engaging community. Whether it’s performing in a barn, or facilitating open rehearsals where the audience gets to interrupt and ask questions of the performers, they bring a very fresh and inviting atmosphere to everything they do. And all their concerts are “come as you are – pay what you can,” so everyone can enjoy the great music without worrying about a ticket price. 

Generator, in Burlington, is an amazing hub of energy and support for creatives of all kinds. As they say on their website, “Generator is a combination of artist studios, classroom, and business incubator at the intersection of art, science, and technology.” They host artists-in-residence, classes and summer camps for all ages and levels, and have an impressive array of tools, equipment and support staff to help bring projects to life. A spirit of creativity, education and inclusion seems to be is at the heart of everything they do. They offer too many cool services to list them all here, but if you’re looking for a model maker space, this is a good place to start. 

I’ve been working closely with visual artist and teaching artist Gowri Savoor for several years. She continually amazes me with her ability to bring people into a creative process and lead them to new and unexpected places. I have the deepest respect for her work as a master teaching artist in school and community settings. If you’ve ever witnessed the River of Lights parade that happens annually in Waterbury, which now attracts over 2,000 people marching through the streets carrying handmade lanterns of all sizes and shapes, then you can thank Gowri for being the force that brought that annual event to life. That’s just one example of the community-building work she leads through the power of her artistry.

CEL guest artist John Jorgenson performing with students from U32 High School in Vermont for the culminating event of their Creative Schools Initiative Project.

CG: What was the last New England creative business or cultural nonprofit you visited and what did you see? 

PG: I attended the opening of the new Garage Cultural Center in Montpelier last week. It was a great event that included a celebration of the reclaiming of an iconic building that had been abandoned for several years, as well as the opening of a new show “UNbound! 4 Women Sculptor Let Loose.” It was all coordinated as part of the Friday Montpelier ArtWalk, so the town was buzzing all over with people wanting to check out the new art space and then hit the many other locations around town that were presenting shows. 

CG: Why should New England artists, creative businesses, and cultural nonprofits be listed on CreativeGround?

PG: I’m a huge fan of networking, either in person or digitally. So anytime we can take advantage of an opportunity to connect with others, we should. CreativeGround is an excellent example of a robust, easy and accessible way to put it all out there for everyone to see. And it’s a valuable resource that I have come back to time after time.

Another CEL Creative Schools Initiative project: Third graders at Thatcher Brook Primary School in Waterbury, VT created an original puppet show to share their ideas for a new playground with the community.

CG: Are you going to CCX? What are you most looking forward to doing at CCX and ArtsFest?

PG: I’m excited about all the creative energy that is going to be in Montpelier. And I plan to take advantage of learning from the depth of experience and expertise that will be at the conference workshops, and getting to meet up with old friends and make new friends from other states. Plus, I’ve been in the planning session for the ArtsFest that Montpelier Alive is putting on for us, and it is really going to be a fun mix of activities and exhibits. I think the mix of CCX + ArtsFest + Montpelier has all the potential for a great event, and I’m looking forward to experiencing the synergy that will emerge. 

 Thank you, Paul. You've got us squirming in our seats with excitement about being in Montpelier for CCX and ArtsFest next week!

Want more? Check back in next week for "On the CreativeGround with..." yet another Montpelier creative economy insider that you might meet at #CCX2019. Until then, enjoy digging into CreativeGround, and/or catching up on last week's On the CreativeGround with Lost Nation Theater blogpost!