The Caledonian Records has recently reported about local arts developments that could become blueprints for the future of our communities. Catamount Arts director Jody Fried described his plans to lease a massive 24,000 square foot at the Green Mountain Mall – for use as an ambitious multi-purpose “ArtPort” facility. It’s too early to tell what that might specifically look like but it’s safe to assume that there will be performances, workshops exhibits and much more.

Catamount stages annual July performances by Circus Smirkus at the Mall – and Jody mentioned his lack of good and reliable back-up space for Catamount’s popular Levitt Amp summer music series – in case of rain. These combined needs led to a larger discussion with Mall owner Mark Healy for an ambitious permanent arts facility. Stay tuned.

The Colonial Theater in Bethlehem announced the appointment of former assistant director of advancement, Christine Kelly, to replace founding director Steve Dignazio who got things going for The Colonial back in 2000 when he launched a fundraising effort to purchase and develop the 105 year-old venue. Since then, the Colonial has made a huge impact on the local performing arts and film scene. Kelly has her work cut out for her – but, thanks to Steve’s leadership, planning and programming, the Colonial seems strong, dynamic – and ready for its next steps.

On January 1st, the town of Littleton announced plans to invest $2 million in a further development of the Littleton Opera House. Plans include provisions for a performance venue, lounge, deck and radio broadcast facility.

All three of these developments signal a future for the region that will substantially increase the potential, and even reliance, on the arts and culture as economic drivers, quality of life enhancements, community gathering places and catalysts for lifelong education in the arts. This includes more opportunities for young people who will have a chance for exposure to the arts. For many, this will trigger larger interests they will surely pursue in music, theater, dance, writing, filmmaking, circus, and visual arts.

A recent story by arts writer Jason Farago, in the New York Times, points to the importance of the arts to strengthening our sense of shared community and stimulating human experience.

“What is art’s function?” Farago asks. “What does art do for a person, a country?

“Scholars, economists, revolutionaries keep debating, but one very good answer has held now for 2,500 years. The function of art, Aristotle told us, is catharsis. You go to the theater, you listen to a symphony, you look at a painting, you watch a ballet. You laugh, you cry. You feel pity, fear. You see in others’ lives a reflection of your own. And the catharsis comes: a cleansing, a clarity, a feeling of relief and understanding that you carry with you out of the theater or the concert hall. Art, music, drama — here is a point worth recalling in a pandemic — are instruments of psychic and social health.”

Despite all of this, artists are suffering during the pandemic. More than 52 per cent of actors and 55 per cent of dancers are unemployed, says the Times. At a time when the national unemployment rate is 8.5 per cent.

There is some talk about the possibility of establishing an American Cabinet-level department for arts and culture. And why not? The United States boasts music, theater and dance companies that are considered among the very finest in the world. American movies dominate the planet – why not use the new plethora of streaming outlets and community theaters to cultivate a professional regional cinema, too?

The Times continues: “Not since 1945 has the United States required catharsis like it does in 2021. The coronavirus pandemic is the most universal trauma to befall the nation since World War II, its ravages compounded by a political nightmare that culminated in an actual assault on democratic rule. The last year’s mortal toll, its social isolation and its civic disintegration have brought this country to the brink. Yet just when Americans need them most, our artists and arts institutions are confronting a crisis that may endure long after infections abate.”

In our own communities, arts organizations are taking steps to open big, once the pandemic lifts. We will look to them, to help re-connect us with each other, to treat our kids to the joy and wonder that the arts offer and to provide connective tissue within our communities and business that will increasingly need to draw people to our towns.

All we need to do, at least for starters, is imagine.

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