Allison Coyne Carroll advocates for the arts
MIDDLEBURY — Ever wonder just how the Middlebury College Performing Arts Series books such incredible and diverse performers? Her name is Allison Coyne Carroll. If you don’t already know, Carroll is the director of the Middlebury Performing Arts Series. She’s been at the helm since ’97, and she’s the one who brings all those fabulous performers from across the globe to the Robison Hall stage at the Mahaney Center for the Arts.
Just yesterday, Carroll received the Margaret L. Kannenstine Award for Arts Advocacy during the Vermont Arts Council’s annual Governor’s Art Awards ceremony in Montpelier. Carroll is the fourth person to receive this award since 2015; following John Killacky, Robert McBride and Cornelia Care.
Along with Carroll’s award, the Vermont Arts Council, in association with the Governor’s Office, recognized Chris Miller and Jerry Williams (Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts), Alison Bechdel (Walter Cerf Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts), John Willis (Ellen McCulloch-Lovell Award in Arts Education) and Judith Chalmer (Arthur Williams Award for Meritorious Service to the Arts).
“I am grateful to the Vermont Arts Council and Governor Scott for this incredible honor, to be in the company of this illustrious group of awardees, and for this annual event celebrating and affirming the importance of the arts in Vermont life,” Carroll said in her acceptance speech. “As Vermonters, we are most blessed to have such a vigorous and dynamic Arts Council, a legacy of passionate arts advocates — such as this award’s namesake Peggy Kannenstine… plus legislators who recognize and support the value of the arts in Vermont’s economy and culture.”
Along side her work booking talent for the Performing Arts Series, Carroll serves as a grant panelist and advocates for the arts with our local legislators and in Washington, D.C. — specifically in regard to issues relating to cultural diplomacy, immigration and taxation for artists from abroad.
Whew, that just sounds like a lot of paperwork. And it is.
In fact, since this past June 26, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Presidential Proclamation 9645 — a.k.a. the “travel ban” — Carroll has had even more paperwork to file in order to bring certain performers to Middlebury. And it doesn’t always work out.
Like last month, when the Rahim AlHaj Trio had to fill in for duo Moody Amiri. That was because saunter-player Amir Amiri is a native of Tehran, Iran (despite having lived as a refugee in Canada for the past 22 years) and the travel ban did not permit him into the states.
The restrictions extend to foreign nationals from Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen.
“This whole Amiri situation inspired me to go one step further,” Carroll said. “I’ve started a repository website — that agents and artists can populate themselves — where you can find an artist who’s currently in the U.S. and artistically represents one of these seven countries.”
When Carroll had to cancel Moody Amiri she was hoping to find another Iranian artist, and did in the Rahim AlHaj Trio — the santour player Sourena Sefati is a native of Iran and happened to be in the country legally at the time. This is exactly the resource Carroll hopes to establish with her website artistsbannedtogether.org.
“Right now it’s really important that these voices are heard,” she said. “It’s important that the ban is not silencing the voices of these countries — that only increases the divide between America and the rest of the world.”
Are you starting to get a sense of the advocate in Carroll?
She’s been to Washington, D.C., four times since 2007 to advocate for the arts. She advocates mostly for tax, visa and cultural diplomacy issues that artists face. “We meet with legislators and members of their staff and then hit the hill,” she said.
Admittedly, advocating for the arts in the Green Mountain State isn’t overly difficult, but “it never hurts to preach to the choir.”
Senator Patrick Leahy has repeatedly introduced the Artists Require Timely Service (or “ARTS”) act to the U.S. Senate since 2007 — which makes the artist visa process more reliable and affordable — and he continues to support it. Thank you.
The process artists must go through to perform in the U.S. is complicated to say the least.
“At any part of the process they can be denied,” Carroll said. “It’s burdensome.”
So why do foreign artists want to come to the states to perform?
“Because,” Carroll said, “the artists understand that we want this exchange… The current political climate is creating a growing misunderstanding and increasing divide between people of different backgrounds. Cultural exchange through the arts allows us to share our stories and bridge our cultures without the barrier of language. This transcendent power of the arts — to enable people to see beyond their differences — is vital now more than ever… We’ll continue to make it happen, it just takes a little more work right now.”
Plus, Carroll added, “once they’re on the ground, it’s a nice place to be.”
Often times, Middlebury is the first stop on the artists’ tour. “Because we’re not a large metro, venue we try to make up for it with rehearsal time, a very friendly audience and workshops — an easy entry,” Carroll said. “As rural as we feel here in Middlebury, we’re actually in a nice location between Montreal, New York and Boston.
Plus when things go wrong in travel — like TSA seizing resin or a cello arriving without the musician — there’s a little buffer time to “fix it” before the artists go on to perform at Carnegie Hall.
“Our performers always say how gracious and generous Middlebury is,” said Carroll, who does her best to offer the performers unique and intimate interactions with the town and students. “Plus they actually like to come to the land of Bernie Sanders. They know Vermont’s an OK place.”
For as much travel and advocacy for foreign performers as Carroll does, these performances still only make up about a third of the whole series.
“We’re slowly trying to broaden our series,” she said, noting that the Bach to Barber Paul Nelson Chamber Music Series Fund — a $1.75 million endowment that was given anonymously a few years ago — assures that 8-10 concerts annually feature classical music. That doesn’t leave a huge amount of room for diversification, but Carroll is finding unique ways to accommodate both needs.
“Anyone can advocate for the arts,” Carroll urged. “It could be putting up public art in town, or sending letters to your legislators, or performing art yourself… it’s important to keep art in our conciseness — it’s food for the soul.”
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