Arts & Leisure

2020 in review: Arts & Leisure


Arts+Leisure celebrated it’s fourth full year in 2020. Twelve months, 52 issues, over 700 pages, all dedicated to arts and events going on in Addison County — in spite of COVID-19.
They say hindsight is 20-20, so what do we have to say now looking back at a year like no other?
We’ll stick to the positives:
In 2020, we had the opportunity to highlight the work of more than 46 local artists, actors, musicians and craftspeople; see over 36 exhibits; 12 film events; suggest 93 don’t-miss events happening right here in Addison County; learn nine valuable gardening lessons from our own Master Gardener Judith Irven and 15 more from the University of Vermont’s Master Gardener Extension, and recommend 51 books (reviewed by The Vermont Book Shop). Oh, and we hope you’ve enjoyed the 47 sneak peaks into the real estate properties we featured this year. 
Yes, this year we all did a lot of pivoting to digital platforms. As in-person gatherings became unsafe, we moved online to see films, theater, music and more. Most of us would rather be out and about, getting shoe-horned into our community’s town halls and local venues, but digital is better than nothin’.
This year Arts+Leisure has introduced people like Rusty DeWeese (a.k.a The Logger) when he performed life at Vergennes Opera House; Victoria Blewer’s hand-painted photography; Lauren Ringey’s hand-crafted dolls; and Pierre Vachon’s creative COVID-inspired calendars. The Henry Sheldon Museum provided three sets of series featuring women in Addison County’s history, Vermonters on Vacation and a lesson of politics from the past. We also launched the MiniBury partnership and publish the family-oriented news monthly; and had a fanciful photo spread of facemasks to encourage everyone to keep themselves and their neighbors safe.
Some of our favorite feature stories of 2020 are featured on the next several pages. 
Looking ahead to the New Year, we’re exited to continue publishing the Addison Independent’s Arts+Leisure section, and rely on your support and participation to help make it an engaging, creative and fun companion every Thursday. 
— Elsie Lynn Parini, editor Arts+Leisure
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Share love at storytelling event
Sarah King, a singer/songwriter from Ripton, shared her and her husband Travis’ love story at “LOVE, REALLY (.!?…)” in January, during a storytelling event at 51 Main St., in Middlebury. Audience members were invited to share too. “Sharing stories is super important,” she said. “And it’s important to celebrate positive, person-to-person connections.” 
The Logger comes back to the Little City
Rusty Dewees, The Logger, returned to the Vergennes Opera House in late January to perform an evening of humor, storytelling and music as part of his Tiny Town Hall Tour. “Today, we’re getting further and further away from physical connection with other people. It makes more sense to have everyone together in one place,” he said. Obviously that was before COVID hit. The show was used as a fundraiser for the VUHS senior class.

Art that’s a little fishy
Nick Mayer of Lincoln, uses pencil and watercolors to build up the life-like qualities of his paintings. He shared how his experiences as a marine biologist inform his artwork. After two near-death experiences (one on a fishing boat and the other in a float plane returning from a hunting trip) Mayer decided to pursue his dreams of being an artist full-time. “I’m a working-class artist,” said Mayer. “I grind every day to try and make it all happen.”
Endpapers spark interest in archives
Kaitlin Buerge, a 2013 graduate of Middlebury College, worked with Rebekah Irwin, the director and curator of special collections and archives at Middlebury, to curate the exhibit “Under the Covers: The Hidden Art of Endpapers.” The exhibit was on view at the Davis Family Library.  “In this exhibit we’re hoping to capture people’s attention, spark a curiosity and hope that it inspires people to take another look under the covers,” Irwin said.

Vergennes native recognized at Oscars
Jeff Pidgeon, a Vergennes native, has worked with Pixar since the early ’90s. His work has been recognized in Academy Award-winning films such as “WALL-E,” “Up,” “Toy Story 3,” and, at the Oscars this year, for “Toy Story 4.” “It’s always a huge thrill to have your work recognized in such a prominent way,” Pidgeon said. “It’s great to have the sense of recognition and accomplishment an Oscar brings. I worked hard on the film (Toy Story 4) for three years (others still more), so that’s very satisfying.”
Carnevale closes gatherings in style
The seventh annual Carnevale Vergennes brought some pretty stellar costumes to the Vergennes Opera House this spring. This year’s theme “Fashion is art and you are the canvas” was a wild clash of runway-ready fashion and wearable art. Proceeds from this modern take on the Italian tradition benefitted the Vergennes Opera House, Vergennes Partnership and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vergennes. What a nice last hurrah, before the pandemic set in.

Opera social distance style
Josh Collier, Brandon’s Barn Opera founder and tenor, launched and made plans to put on seven operas, to be released once a week starting during the summer. “We are not alone in this,” said Collier. “It’s poor timing for everyone, but if there’s a chance for a tiny bit of unity in this, then it’s done its job.”
Ripton Community Coffee House celebrates 25 years
The Ripton Community Coffee House was looking forward to an epic season to celebrate their 25th anniversary, but because of the coronavirus Andrea Chesman and Richard Ruane decided to pause performances until the fall (when they began in virtual space). To celebrate, Chesman and Ruane remembered how the beloved Coffee House began during one fateful house-warming/jam session dinner party back in 1994.

Art on Main gets new gallery manager
New York gallerist and artist Martine Bisagni became the new gallery manager at Art on Main (Bristol’s Main Street art gallery). Bisagni introduced herself to the Addison County arts community. “My excitement working for Art on Main is to be part of a small community, getting to know the artists and working with them so the public gets to know them and their work too,” she said.
Crafts offer work options at home
For Lauren Ringey of Cornwall, the isolation of COVID-19 reignited a creative flame for her handmade doll company. “I’m home all day with my machine,” said the 30-year-old Middlebury Union High School grad who started sewing just four short years ago for her son. She elaborated on her budding sewing business, giving us all hope that being stuck at home might not be so bad.

Singers find a way to harmonize
Social distancing and closed schools brought on by COVID-19 meant that the 70 young Addison County singers who contributed to a new video recording of the Vermont state song this spring did not have the luxury of performing in person. Instead, each singer worked alone at home to record their audio and video contributions to “These Green Mountains.” The project was a great example of how artists and musicians have responded to the pandemic in creative ways.
COVID Calendar, why not?
Comedian and piercing artist Pierre Vachon playfully poured hand sanitizer on his head while showing off his tattoos for his upcoming COVID Calendar. The Middlebury entertainer found new creative outlets since public gatherings went away when COVID-19 showed up. “I wanted to make something more fun and lighthearted, something for people to laugh and smile about,” Vachon said.

Album responds to the BLM movement
Musician and professor at Middlebury College Matthew Evan Taylor responded to the unrest over racial inequality by recording a series of jazz improvisations, distributing the work on, and contributing the proceeds to Black Lives Matters charities. “There are seven improvisations, each one representing my reaction to the news of the day since the George Floyd video was broadcasted and the protests began.” The album is called “Say Their Names” — look it up.
New drive-in theater in Brandon
The Paramount Theatre partnered with the town of Brandon and the McKernon Group to build a drive-in movie theater screen in Estabrook Field on the north end of town. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered theaters, concert venues, amusement parks and other public entertainment spaces, the Paramount had to literally think outside the box. “It’s cool to give folks in Rutland County and Addison County something to look forward to in a time when so much has been cancelled. It’s a win-win and the community will have this for years to come,” said Paramount Theater Interim Executive Director Eric Mallette.

Film fest goes virtual
The Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF) announced it was going to be virtual this year. Organizers of the sixth annual event selected more than 20 features to headline the festival. And while the coronavirus pandemic was responsible for substantially shortening the film menu compared to years past, MNFF officials worked to infuse the virtual festival with some of the personal touches that have made it a consistent success.
Bring on the bridges
A bunch of artsy bridges popped up around downtown Middlebury. The outdoor architecture exhibit, dubbed “Bridge 20/20,” was put on by Town Hall Theater as a fundraising event with a timely theme. “The thought of bridges was born out of the idea that we have this bridge project happening downtown,” explained Lisa Mitchell, executive director of THT. “We planned this before COVID-19 and our goal was to help drive downtown foot traffic. In the wake of COVID-19, it has allowed us to continue moving forward with community engagement.” 

Performing Arts Series goes virtual
The Middlebury Performing Arts Series hosted an array of online performance in an all-virtual fall season. And, although the Mahaney Arts Center couldn’t host its traditional lineup of top-notch talent, Series Director Allison Coyne Carroll and MAC Director Liza Sacheli programed a remarkable lineup of nationally and internationally renowned musicians. Every performance was free. Thank you!
Duo join 251 club
Michele Hernandez Bayliss and her daughter, Alexia, completed visits to all 251 Vermont municipalities this summer. “With the pandemic, we were limited,” Michele said of recreation options. “We hadn’t seen our home state, so we thought we might as well try to see it.” With mom driving and daughter navigating, they spaced the visits out over 18 separate outings. No overnights; just a lot of round trips from their Weybridge home.

New exterior mural at Flatbread
Jennifer Herrera Condry and Will Kasso Condry worked to spread understanding of race and community through public art. The husband and wife art duo moved to Brandon two years ago and formed their business, Juniper Creative, which paints large, public murals. American Flatbread in Middlebury now has a mural called “Nourishment” on it’s exterior wall. “It’s essential to see us (Black people) in representations of joy and abundance,” said Jennifer.
Couple gets creative with sticks and stuff
Bristol husband-and-wife team Diana Bigelow and Jim Stapleton collaborated on a series of short storybooks based on the creatures Bigelow constructed from found natural materials over the years. Bigelow’s work, along with the books they’ve made, were on display in the exhibit “Sticks, Stones, Shells & Bones” at Lawrence Memorial Library through November. 

A magic course to lift spirits
Tom Verner and Janet Fredericks of Lincoln launched a self-guided magic course online. They are the founders of Magicians Without Borders, but when the pandemic hit their gigs dried up. Instead of continuing with live performances online they put together a 13-session magic course that is available to mostly libraries throughout New England. “We know how wonderful kids can feel when they perform magic,” Fredericks said. “It would be wonderful if between now and the holidays kids could learn a 30-minute magic show to perform for their family.”
American Dream Project launches
Middlebury Acting Company (MACo) prepared to launch a six-part series called The American Dream Project. Through this project MACo “seeks to create a community of people interested in reading and discussing some seminal, relevant plays that directly pertain to issues of racial and economic inequities in our country.” The first play “Spinning Into Butter” was led by Rebecca Strum. Check out the series at to see the rest of the lineup in 2021.

Purposeful portraits
Local artist Doug Lazarus installed an exhibit of portraits on the green just past the roundabout in downtown Middlebury that highlights heroes of Middlebury’s past. “What was needed to achieve the objective is the heroizing of these individuals,” Lazarus said. “It makes me feel good to remind people that human beings are to be viewed in a positive light… The world has heroes and we need to recognize them.”
A Jukebox for the holidays
This season the Town Hall Theater put together a Holiday Jukebox — videos of local musicians — that streamed online from Dec. 24-26. Proceeds benefited the Addison County Food Shelf at H.O.P.E. “This extraordinary year, Town Hall Theater is happy to bring holiday cheer, while helping those in need,” said the Middlebury theater’s executive director, Lisa Mitchell. 

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