I live in the Northeast Kingdom. But my daily writing job takes me south to Hanover, where I have a tiny condo. Especially on stormy winter days, the hour-long, white-knuckle commute makes it tempting to move to the Upper Valley altogether. But, in addition to dear friends and family, the Kingdom has cultural assets you can’t find anywhere else.
In one winter week, I could have visited Glover’s self-service gallery of oddities, the Museum of Everyday Life, heard the Shanghai Opera Symphony Orchestra perform at Lyndon Institute, strolled through “Arts Connect,” the Catamount Arts Gallery’s latest juried exhibit, sipped local rum at St. Johnsbury’s new tasting room and, best of all, watched my three-year-old granddaughter schuss down Burke Mountain wearing a tutu over her snowsuit.
That quirky image captures the spirit of the Kingdom, where outdoor beauty meets unfettered self-expression. So for me, it’s a hard place to abandon. Yet it’s an equally hard place to make a living. I wonder if that little dancing skier will have to leave home to find a job she loves, when she’s older.
Maybe not, says a hopeful new report commissioned by the Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Creative Network. Of the roughly 35,000 people employed in Caledonian, Orleans, and Essex counties, more than 3300 work in visual design and crafts, the performing arts, film and media, artisanal foods, culture and heritage, literary arts, and design. That’s about 9.4 percent of the total workforce. And increasingly, that workforce is finding innovative ways to share resources, in new maker’s spaces and co-working studios.
The big question now is how to sustain and expand that fledgling creative economy. The authors are experienced rural planners and offer achievable suggestions. But it’s a long to-do list, and people need to read the report in order to act on it.
Too often, big economic development plans end up sitting on dusty shelves. But in the Kingdom, a lot of those shelves are handmade, and, like much else that gets created around here, they’re beautiful, marketable things.