Saxtons River, VT

Contact Name
Margo Ghia
Project Dates
2010 through 2016 and beyond.
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2015
Event, Networking
MSA’s Five Seasons is an original, community-wide arts project that weaves music, poetry, performance, theater art and history into a celebration of Saxtons River and its environs in Southern Vermont. As part of our capital campaign to fund our building’s new, accessible addition, we commissioned five local artists with national reputations—Eric Aho, Charlie Hunter, Julia Zanes, Donald Saaf and Michele Ratte—to each paint a full size theater curtain representing one of Vermont’s five seasons—spring, summer, fall, winter, and—mud. These art curtains are backdrops to the Saxtons River Suite written by Saxons River composer, Carol Wood. Each movement is based on a season and the lyrics for chorus are based on poems by VT poets, including two poems written by the eminent poet John Wood.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
MSA created Five Seasons to raise money for its new addition, support and publicize its notable local artists, poets and musicians, and create contemporary art curtains for its historic theater. Our artistic ambitions are to use Five Seasons to inspire creativity in communities locally and beyond, and use our building to meet the demand for arts.

What other 500-person village can inspire the creation of original music, poetry and paintings? Carol Wood’s Saxtons River Suite launched Five Seasons, a groundbreaking multi-media celebration with a 9’ x 18’ theater curtain for each Vermont season including Mud. The project supports MSA’s fundraising and tours with the Vermont Symphony in 2016. Our goals are:

1. To celebrate Saxtons River and its creative economy.
2. To show how one art form can inspire other art forms and ripple outward into the larger community.
3. To support Main Street Arts and its capital campaign for its new addition.
4. To encourage other communities to celebrate their special, unique identities or histories, and in turn, stimulate the creative economy for their towns.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Our goals have not changed over time, but have broadened to include more and more individuals and organizations that have learned about Five Seasons and wanted to partner with MSA. As we have completed sections of this project, other artists have stepped forward with ideas about new ways to use elements of this project.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
MSA’s vision is to be a catalyst for creativity, accessible to all. Each of our local partners views MSA as the lynch pin for revitalizing our community. Our regional partners see us (and our Five Seasons project) as a teacher skilled at inspiring and educating audiences about the power of the arts to celebrate and strengthen communities. Together, our committed partners help us widen our reach and generate excitement for our many diverse programs and projects.

There is considerable buzz throughout the state about this project. Our five painted theater curtains have been on display in the River Garden in Brattleboro for the month of October, and the fall curtain by Michele Ratte was a featured cover story for the fall issue of So Vermont magazine Additionally, many feature stories about our project and artists have been written in numerous local papers. We have plans to display the curtains at the State House in Montpelier and we are currently in discussions with Alan Jordan, Executive Director of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra (VSO), to perform the Saxtons River Suite for their Farmers’ Night concert and their Made in Vermont concerts next year (late 2015 and early 2016).
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
In creating and implementing this project, we have seen how other community groups have been inspired to champion community development projects. For example, the Saxtons River Park Committee has worked closely with MSA to develop a fundraising plan to create a community park on an old gas station property in the middle of town that abuts the beautiful Saxtons River. Our volunteer fire department is also looking to MSA for help with fundraising for a new fire station. We are the community torch that lights other fires in the village.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Bach’s First Cello Suite inspired the design of Yo-Yo Ma’s Toronto Music Garden; music created a garden, dance, poetry, more. Similarly, MSA’s Five Seasons project ripples outward to inspire, more.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
1. Saxtons River resident Carol Wood composed the Saxtons River Suite based on four seasonal poems by Vermont poets. (2010)
2. Four noted Saxtons River artists were invited to create a Painted Theater Curtain inspired by the Saxtons River Suite for Main Street Arts’ historic Heptebo Theater. (Spring, 2012)
3. A group of amateur singers and musicians learned the music and performed and recorded the Suite. The recordings were given to each artist as inspiration for their work. (Fall, 2012)
4. A fifth season was added to the Suite (Maple and Mud) and a fifth artist (Charlie Hunter)—was invited to be part of the project. (Winter, 2013)
5. A kick-off fundraising event was held for the project. (Fall, 2013)
6. Each artist was given 9’ x 18’ muslin drops to paint.
7. Celebration parties (studio openings) were given for each artist as they finished their 9’ x 18’ curtain. (Spring, 2014)
8. A fundraising event was held to celebrate the completion of the curtains. (Fall, 2014)
9. The River Garden in Brattleboro displayed the curtains for the month of October. (Fall, 2014)
10. Curtains to be displayed at the Vermont State House in Montpelier. (Spring 2015, Spring, 2016)
11. World Premiere of the Saxtons River Suite with members of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and Counterpoint to take place at Main Street Arts. (Fall, 2015)
12. The Saxtons River Suite and the Curtains to tour with the VSO and Counterpoint to various locations in Vermont. (Fall, 2015)
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
From early on, we knew that we were taking on a complicated project. We haven’t refined the steps as much as added new aspects to them, including creative collaborations with other organizations around the state.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Fundraising is often the most difficult aspect of the creation of a work of art. In this case, once members of our village heard the performance of the Saxtons River Suite and came to the unveiling of each of the Painted Theater Curtains, people stepped forward to support them. We are still looking for donors for 2 of the curtains, The Suite and the other curtains have all been sponsored.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
We are very lucky to have a small group of committed board members and a strong executive director who have spearheaded this project and continued to support it as it unfolds. Each person brings a distinct skill and all work extremely collaboratively with each other. The development professional who heads up our capital campaign is most important to our success.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
--Work with your local arts organization to find unique and exciting ways to celebrate your community.
--Identify inspirational projects that inspire creativity.
--Collaborate with and support creative individuals in your community around these projects.
--Find a small group of smart, creative, dogged individuals who are willing to commit to spearheading the project. They must work well with each other. They will be the dream team that fuels the project’s success.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
Thanks in part to the success of MSA’s Five Seasons project, we are about to complete an ambitious accessible addition to our historic building. As a thriving organization for 26 years, MSA needed to become fully accessible to welcome all our community and create more space for events and programming. Our campaign to expand our building and programming is already revitalizing the historic mill village of Saxtons River. Artists and galleries are moving in, a park is being built, the inn is under new ownership, the market is flourishing again after closing during Hurricane Irene, and a seasonal crafts cooperative is now open year round.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
MSA’s vision is to be a catalyst for creativity, accessible to all. The Five Seasons project helped us raise money for our new addition, support our local artists, and be a catalyst for creativity for other organizations. Now, each of our local partners views MSA as the lynch pin for revitalizing our community. Our regional partners see us (and our Five Seasons project) as a teacher skilled at inspiring and educating audiences about the power of the arts to celebrate and strengthen communities. Together, our committed partners help us widen our reach and generate excitement for our many diverse programs and projects.
How did you measure this success or progress?
--In funds raised: $125,000 plus several arts grants with several still pending for the Five Seasons project. (Total capital funds raised: $1.6M).
--In reach: As many as 100,000 viewers of the curtains in Windham County to date.
--in impact: MSA and Saxtons River is now seen as a hub of creativity in the region; excellent publicity for the artists.

The music, which inspired the curtains, will continue to inspire new works that celebrate our community. Current discussions are underway for a play to be written & performed using the curtains as backdrops. A community outreach project is planned that allows community members to artistically represent what Saxtons River means to them via a postcard campaign. The ripple effects continue…
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
We are thrilled that the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and the Vermont Supreme Court want to partner with us to travel the Suite and display the Curtains. New unexpected impacts will continue to come our way as more and more organizations and individuals are exposed to our Five Seasons project. The Creative Communities Exchange will help us tell other New England organizations about this project and give us feedback on its potential impacts beyond our community and Vermont.
CCX Workshop Handout