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Frog Hollow craft center sees red, plans major fund drive

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By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Leaders of the Vermont State Craft Center at Frog Hollow (VSCC) are working diligently on a plan to wipe red ink from the organization’s ledger and put it on a strong financial foundation for the future.

Deidre Healy, recently hired as Frog Hollow’s executive director, confirmed last week the 37-year-old, nonprofit arts organization is seeking to raise $200,000 within the next six months to shore up a budget deficit and help meet ongoing operating expenses. She added her board of directors later this year will announce a $1 million fund-raising campaign to invest in Frog Hollow’s staff, educational resources, facilities and other measures to ensure the operation’s future survival. The VSCC currently consists of galleries and a wide range of educational programs in Middlebury, Burlington and Manchester.

“Frog Hollow has had a challenging few years, and we are committed to restoring the organization,” said Healy, who attributed the VSCC’s current financial problems to a “perfect storm” of events — highlighted by a downturn in the economy that has seen revenues slump.

This revitalization effort will not come in time to save the VSCC’s Manchester gallery, however. The VSCC established that gallery two years ago at 4716 Main St., but it has thus far failed to pay for itself. The gallery will soon close.

“The decision was a fiscal one,” Healy explained. “Fiscally, it just wasn’t performing. So we will focus our efforts in Middlebury and Burlington.”

Healey stressed the VSCC’s scheduled programs in Manchester will continue through the summer. The organization is working with other institutions to host some offerings, and has not ruled out re-establishing itself in Manchester in the future.

Healy is hopeful the VSCC will soon be able to announce an anonymous pledge for a “major” matching gift that would give the organization a strong start to its fund-raising efforts.

For now, the VSCC is focused on strengthening its venues at 1 Mill St. in Middlebury and at 85 Church St. in Burlington. Healy noted these locations have offered classes to hundreds of aspiring artists and craftspeople, and have provided space in which more than 270 artists and craftspeople from around Vermont have exhibited and sold their works.

“There area lot of Vermont families who are part of what we do here,” Healy said. “In addition to the 270 artists we support, we have approximately 40 gallery staff, approximately 50 faculty members. So Frog Hollow is an organization that exists on a much larger scope.”

Nancie Dunn, a Middlebury resident and VSCC board member who worked at the Middlebury Frog Hollow location when it opened in 1972, said the VSCC’s value to artists and the community at large can’t be overestimated.

“We have a tradition in this state of having many painters, potters, craftspeople, weavers, metal smiths and jewelers,” said Dunn. “These people have been a very important and unsung part of our economy.”

Weybridge-based wood carver Gary Starr has been involved with the VSCC for 22 years, as a board member and exhibitor. He credits the Middlebury gallery for having helped him reach a broad clientele that flocks to Middlebury from all corners of the world.

“(Frog Hollow) is almost an anchor store for the town of Middlebury,” Starr said. “It brings a lot of outside traffic to the area.”

Dunn noted that one of her sons was inspired to become an architect by John Brickels, a regular Frog Hollow exhibitor. Brickels’ work has included clay depictions of deconstructed barns.

“That was an early seed that (Brickels) planted in his head,” Dunn said. “That is the power of art in this community.”

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