Harmony Through The Arts: Clemmons Family Farm, Catamount Arts Launch Partnership For An African Diaspora Performing Arts Program for the NEK

Ruth Michoma has joined Clemmons Family Farm as Creative Director of the new performing arts collaborative in the Northeast Kingdom. (Courtesy photo)

Clemmons Family Farm and Catamount Arts are partnering to promote greater racial equity in Vermont’s creative economy.

The two organizations will collaborate in developing and running an 18-month performing arts program in the Northeast Kingdom, using socially relevant themes and public education objectives. “The program will offer audiences in the region increased access to members of Vermont’s African-American and African Diaspora Artists Network (VAAADAN), and strengthen community engagement through arts appreciation, participation and education about African-American and African diaspora histories and culture,” says Caramount Arts Executive Director Jody Fried.

The programming and education collaboration between the two organizations will showcase the work of Vermont artists of African descent and model how Black-led and white-led arts and culture organizations can collaborate in leveraging their respective resources for the benefit of all arts and culture patrons.

Clemmons Family Farm

Located in Charlotte, Clemmons Family Farm is one of a handful of Black-led arts and culture 501c3 nonprofit organizations in the state, and supports a network of nearly 200 Vermont artists of African descent. One of just two percent of applicants to win a prestigious National Creative Placemaking Grant from ArtPlace America, the organization is grounded in the legacy of Jack and Lydia Clemmons, owners of the 148-acre Clemmons farm in Charlotte, and nearly 60 years of their family’s work building community in Vermont around African-American and African diaspora arts and culture.

The Clemmons Family Farm’s arts and culture programs include “Windows to A Multicultural World,” a remote learning platform for Vermont students in grades K-12 that integrates arts engagements led by the Farm’s collaborating artists of African descent into curriculum on African American history and culture. Other programs include K-12 field trips, tours, art exhibits, book talks, wellness arts, and a storytelling series— all led primarily by the Farm’s collaborating artists.

The arts and culture programs run alongside the daily operations of a working farm with 60 acres of prime agricultural land and a nearly 60-acre forest. The organization uses African-American heritage as a living, vibrant theme around which all people can unite, building relationships and cultural connections that expand beyond the farm and into the broader community.

Catamount Arts

As the region’s only full-service community arts center, “Catamount Arts is a natural partner for the Clemmons Family Farm,” Fried stated. “For over 40 years, Catamount Arts has worked to make the arts a fundamental part of community life, serving over 40,000 visitors annually.” From its humble beginnings screening independent films from the back of a pick-up truck in the 1970s, Catamount has become a vital cultural and economic resource, offering foreign independent and classic films; exhibitions by local and national artists; live music, dance, and theater performances; summer camps and arts education for children and adults; a regional box office for more than 40 organizations; and a gathering space for community events. Catamount is the proud presenters of the KCP Presents Performing Arts Series, bringing world-class professional performance tours to Vermont’s rural Northeast Kingdom; First Night North, one of only two family-friendly, substance-free New Year’s Eve performing arts festivals in Vermont; Circus Smirkus in St. Johnsbury; the EPIC Music program; and the Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series. Catamount’s visibility, established partnerships, and broad reach across all community sectors allow the organization ample opportunity to play an active role in dismantling systemic racism. As community leaders, they consider such work their responsibility.

“An important component of addressing systemic racism,” Fried says, “is for community organizations like Catamount Arts to establish equitable partnerships with organizations that are led by our BIPOC peers. Our goal is to redefine the traditional power dynamics that have been in place historically and serve as a model for social change here in Vermont.”

“Curating diverse programming has always been Catamount’s mission, but this partnership will give our arts programming additional depth, whether it’s a performance on stage or an arts education setting,” adds Associate Director of Live Performance Molly Stone. “I am thrilled to see this partnership come to fruition and cannot wait to see, and learn, from its implementation. It is notable that a collaboration of this size began with one simple conversation, demonstrating that it is within everyone’s sphere of influence to make positive change. Not only will this partnership serve as a model for other organizations, but for individuals as well.”

Arts As A Bridge

“There will be a lot of learning on all sides,” agrees Clemmons Family Farm President Lydia Clemmons. “Building equity in the arts and forging equitable partnerships is a social-change process that shifts the balance of power. Shortly after the George Floyd protests began in Vermont and around the world, the Farm was suddenly inundated with requests to deploy Black artists to perform or to engage with a community. I believe that all of these requests were well-meaning, but the sense of urgency we observed sometimes felt like it was more about making a quick public display of Black artists and less about engaging in dialogue to learn about ways to truly value and empower Black artists and Black-led arts and culture organizations.

“We want to help lead and build a diversity and equity initiative in Vermont’s arts and culture sector that doesn’t end when the performance is over and the audience goes home,” Clemmons added. “The work that goes into planning, curating, coordinating, directing, educating, supporting, fundraising, promoting and delivering the arts to Vermont’s communities needs to be more diverse and equitable, too. So we are delighted to begin this important initiative, step by intentional step, with Catamount Arts as our partner. We hope to share the lessons both partners will learn through this new collaboration with other organizations who are wanting to offer more opportunities to Vermont’s artists of African descent in a way that supports equity and positive change.”

“During this unprecedented time, it is all the more important to create platforms where our artists’ beautiful and diverse voices can nourish, soothe and inspire us to greater depths of community oneness and healing. I am excited and honored to be part of this important collaboration,” added Ruth Michoma, who recently joined Clemmons Family Farm as its Creative Director of the new performing arts program in the Northeast Kingdom.

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