Waitsfield, VT

Contact Name
Karen Nevin
Project Dates
August 1 - Labor Day
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2015
Event, Marketing
The Vermont Festival of the Arts consists of more than 100 arts-related events and activities each year and is designed to entertain the soul, enlighten the mind, and energize the spirit. The month-long Festival is a multi-dimensional, multi-media, multi-age series of events that provides something for everyone. The goal of the Vermont Festival of the Arts is to provide a platform for the myriad arts events that already exist in the region and to encourage new events. By marketing the diverse arts events under the single umbrella of the Vermont Festival of the Arts, we have transformed the Mad River Valley into a destination for experiencing and participating the arts – for the benefit of our entire community.
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:
The Vermont Festival of the Arts was created 18 years ago as a way to bring tourists to the Mad River Valley during what was considered an "off season" (versus the winter). Its specific goals was to give tourists a reason to visit and stay in the Mad River Valley during the summer. It was recognized that there were a number of arts-related events that took place during August, and by marketing them together under the mantle of a "festival," everyone would benefit. A keystone event was created - the Big Red Barn Art Show - to anchor the Festival. Other events at that time included a summer stock theater production, a culinary event, a photography show, and various workshops (all still exist today). Originally the Festival was two weekends and the week between them (10 days). Overtime, the Festival has grown to it current form -- 120+ events that take place during the entire month of August (ending Labor Day). The Festival promotes the Valley, its artists and its businesses for the benefit of everyone.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
The goals have not changed significantly overtime. However, in 2011 Hurricane Irene hit during the third week of the Festival, effectively canceling the remaining events in August and significantly damaging the region (our "arts district" was under water). After the storm, the Valley Arts Foundation decided to expand its focus to a year-round organization and hired a full-time Executive Director to put on the Festival - ensuring its success for the future. Over time the community has rallied around the Festival, creating special events specifically for the Festival.
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):
There are over 100 project partners and stakeholders involved in the Vermont Festival of the Arts. They include: Sugarbush Resort, Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce, Green Mountain Cultural Center, Artisans’ Gallery, Lareau Farm Inn home of American Flatbread, Mad River Valley Craft Fair, Valley Players, MRV Television, Mad River Valley Rotary, the Commons Group, the Vermont Playwrights Society, the Vermont Poetry Society, Joslin Memorial Library, Waitsfield United Church, Warren United Church, and the Historic Waitsfield Village business group. These non-profit, community and business entities represent the entire cross section of business and cultural activities, from a ski area that supports year-round arts performances to a 50-year old theater group. These groups create and host festival events, provide financial sponsorships, and provide access to additional marketing tools. In addition, we partner with state-wide organizations such as the State Department of Tourism and Marketing, the State of Vermont Chamber of Commerce, Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Crafts Council, Vermont Watercolor Society, and the Vermont Pastel Society. We work closely with all our partners to produce a spectacular Festival each year.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
The Mad River Valley Planning District recently completed an Economic Study (Spring 2014) which was presented to the community at an Economic Summit in June. Five economic sectors were noted as important to the future of the region: Tourism/Recreation, Agriculture/Food System, Professional Services, Arts/Creative Economy and Manufacturing/Incubation. The Vermont Festival of the Arts and the work of the Valley Arts Foundation were highlighted as successful representations of the Arts/Creative Economy sector.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
As this project began 18 years ago, I was not involved in the original inspiration of the Festival. However, the Valley Arts Foundation believes that the goal of the Festival and the Foundation is to support the interests of the Mad River Valley, including small businesses, restaurants, inns, shops, stores, etc. We wish to breakdown the barriers between the arts and people so that they can enjoy all of the arts. The Valley Arts Foundation recognizes the importance of the Arts for everyone. People should have equal opportunities to experience and participate in the arts throughout their lives.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
The Vermont Festival of the Arts takes about eight months to implement. The primary marketing tool is a 64 page, 4-color Festival Program and the Festival website. Beginning in January a Call to Artists goes out for events for the Festival. At the same time, advertising is sold for the Program and sponsorships are sought. Each event producer is responsible for their own event expenses and additional marketing. To become part of the Festival they need to register their event(s) by purchasing a listing in the Festival Program. 10,000 copies of the Program are printed in late May and are distributed state wide by the first week of June.

Additional marketing is sought through relationships with magazine and print news editors, online calendars, "Top 10" applications, radio and television stories. Marketing workshops are held for event producers to provide assistance with their personal marketing efforts. A Festival television show is produced by the local MRV TV station and run beginning in June. The Festival website, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts are managed throughout the summer.

As summer approaches volunteers are sought to help manage the Festival booth at the local Farmers Market, put up posters and other signage and deliver Festival Programs to locations throughout the region. A Festival Information Center is created in July for further dissemination of information.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
With the hiring of a full-time executive director in 2012 the planning process for the Festival has been better managed. Deadlines are earlier than in the past in order to have the Program printed and out for a full TWO months in advance of the Festival (previously, the Program came out 2-3 weeks in advance of August 1st). In recognition of the many events that are repeated each year, we created early registration discounts to encourage event producers to submit their listings early. Financial penalties are also charged for late registrations. Hiring a separate graphic designer and photographer has increased our ability to produce a truly excellent Program. Having a photographer on staff has improved our library of images to use for marketing and advertising.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
The primary obstacle is funding. It costs about $60,000 to produce the Vermont Festival of the Arts each year. The businesses and organizations in our community are tapped out with requests for financial sponsorships of events such as ours. We have steady sponsors who we can count on each year, but it is important to continually seek out additional sponsors and grants from outside of the Mad River Valley.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
We are creative in finding ways for local businesses to support us. Local civic organizations are incredibly supporting of the Festival. By being creative we receive support through volunteers, donations of space, printing, and marketing. In-kind donations are also critical to our success such as the local event supply company that provides us with linens for a culinary event and a local cookie manufacturing business that hosts and manages our website. We give back to these organizations by listing them as sponsors and making sure they receive recognition on our website and the Festival Program.

Sugarbush Resort is our primary sponsor and has repeatedly helped us out in all of the ways listed above.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Take an inventory of the Arts and Creative Economy activities happening in your region during a specific period of time. Make sure your definition of ARTS is very broad! Gather those folks together to get consensus to market the area as an arts destination, focussing on those events. Include all local arts organizations, the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary clubs and schools.

Consider creating a keystone event that celebrates the arts in your community.

Reach out to artists and others to produce specific events during the chosen time period.
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?
The Mad River Valley is now considered a destination for people who are interested in the experiencing the arts. The Arts are celebrated year-round by many different organizations, including a community chorale, two community theater groups, a movie theater that supports independent film and local music, two artist co-ops, three galleries and multiple business venues that host art exhibits. Arts venues include churches, cafes, garages, barns, inns, sidewalks and storefronts. The arts provide value-added activities to guests visiting the area for recreation, weddings, and vacation. Local residents feel that the ease of experiencing the arts adds to their quality of life.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
YES! In 2011 the Vermont Festival of the Arts had approximately 8,000-10,000 event attendees during the month. In 2014 we saw 17,000 attendees at Festival events! In the past three years, the Festival has been named at "Top 10 Summer Event" by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and in 2014 Yankee Magazine named the Festival a "Top 20 Festival" for New England. Though counting overnight stays still is difficult to do, we know there were a minimum of 88 overnight stays in 2014 (up from 50 in 2013). However, anecdotally we believe there were many more (many inns do not count stays for us). Though originally the Festival was created to aggregate the many arts events that already existed in the Valley, we now have multiple events celebrating artists from all over the world (in 2014 - national piano duet Elaine Greenfield and Janice Meyer Thompson, nationally recognized artists Janet McKenzie and Frank Corso, and broadway actors in Skinner Barn production of Violet).
How did you measure this success or progress?
The Valley Arts Foundation measures success by assessing attendance at each event, surveying event presenters and attendees, and seeking comments through our website. Our survey of the 2014 Vermont Festival of the Arts showed that there were 17,000 event attendees, over 120 works of art sold (that could be counted – plenty more were sold privately or in stores), and 88 overnight stays directly attributed to Festival-goers. For 17 years we have been recognized as the premier summer arts event in the Mad River Valley and in Vermont. Over 50 local businesses and organizations support the Festival each year.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
At the Economic Summit in June, the Arts Economy was mentioned over and over as a key to the successful growth of our region. This acknowledged support has encouraged the Valley Arts Foundation to begin the work to create an Arts Center in the Mad River Valley. Discussions are happening now to purchase and renovate a major historic building in the community that will expand arts offerings beyond the Festival. This will possibly include a year-round gallery space large enough to host national traveling arts exhibits (currently our gallery venues can only be used in the summer), small recital and concert space and workshop and classroom space for adult and children programming. Enlarged offices would also provide shared workspace for other local arts non-profits that will encourage collaborative marketing and promotion.
CCX Workshop Handout