Last year, Yankee Magazine did a great article on the uniqueness of Bennington. This is how they described Bennington, “a jumble of artsy shops and cafés that have a jittery beat-poet buzz, spiced up with some highly regarded museums.” In 2015, Bennington was named the 15th “Most Vibrant Arts Community in the Country” by the Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University, a very noteworthy designation. What’s going on here?!? Culture Bennington I’ve mentioned the group Culture Bennington in the past and I think they are a lead catalyst for the explosion of art, performance and entertainment that we have seen in the past year. Culture Bennington is a mixture of interested groups (Bennington Museum, 4 Corners North, North Bennington’s Left Bank, Better Bennington Corporation, Vermont Arts Exchange, and more), as well as interested people and artists who convene twice a month to spread ideas and drive culture projects forward. Over the past few months I’ve attend a great many ‘cultural’ events including Story Time at the Tap House, a community theater play at OldCastle Theatre, the Aurora Gallery Portal near Allegro and Panache, and VAE’s Basement Music Series. It has been refreshing to see such action and excitement in Bennington. Have you attended any of these or others? Rebooting and Retooling Our Town Through the Arts The ‘culture’ industry, with over $40 billion in annual revenue nationally, is a potent force in economic development nationwide. Communities have begun to integrate the arts into their economic development plans to achieve a wide range of direct and indirect economic goals. A focus on building a vibrant art culture assists economic development to leverage human capital and cultural resources to generate economic vitality, restore and revitalize communities by serving as a centerpiece for redevelopment, create vibrant public spaces integrated with natural amenities and resources, and contribute to a region's "creative economy" by simultaneously improving regional quality of life and making communities more attractive to highly desirable, knowledge-based employees. I think we’re on to something here, Bennington. Perhaps a renaissance of sorts, a “Bennington Rhapsody?” Bennington Rhapsody I use the term “Bennington Rhapsody” as a play on the famous Queen song “Bohemian Rhapsody.” To be Bohemian, besides a place of origin, is to be a person who has informal and unconventional social habits, usually an artist or writer. In the same way as Bohemian is described, I think we might be able to begin to describe certain areas of Bennington that way. The definition of rhapsody seems to correlate with how Yankee Magazine described Bennington, “a highly emotional utterance; effusively rapturous or extravagant discourse.” I do believe we’re creating a Bennington Rhapsody, one that encourages effusively rapturous, extravagant discourse (this is the way it's always been done vs. let’s explore new ways of doing things) and one that has unconventional social habits (much like the artists, performers, writers, craftspeople and the like that are shaping the future of Bennington as we speak). I encourage all citizens to take a look at the many cultural events that are taking place in the coming months and support the arts movement. Visit our Chamber Facebook page weekly as we collaborate with the Bennington Young Professionals to provide a running list of culture events. Here are a couple to keep an eye on: Oldcastle Theatre’s Winter Series, the Vermont Arts Exchange’s Basement Music Series at the Masonic Hall, the Bennington Museum’s Marble photography exhibit or their annual Student Art exhibition, as well as all that’s happening at other local restaurants and establishments weekly. The Culture Bennington group is also hosting their annual EXPOsion event that brings press and media outlets in from around the world to focus on the arts culture and events taking place throughout the Berkshires and the Shires of Vermont in the coming year. This event is on April 20th at the Mount Anthony Country Club. I’m of the mindset, much like the famous Field of Dreams quote, “if you build it, they will come.” We are building a foundation for a new era of art and culture in Bennington. And, we’ve only just begun.