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5-Town arts group undaunted by pandemic

CHILDREN WORK ON potter’s wheels a the Bristol Clay Studio, which is a popular program of the 5-Town Friends of the Arts.

BRISTOL — 5-Town Friends of the Arts may have faced some fundraising challenges during the pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped the group from providing a steady stream of support to local artists, projects and organizations, or from dreaming up ways to expand that support in the future.

Formerly known as Bristol Friends of the Arts, 5-Town Friends of the Arts, or 5TFA, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide opportunities for Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro residents to participate in and appreciate the arts and cultural heritage of the region, according to its website.

“We provide community grants to schools, artists, theater groups, libraries and anyone providing exposure or access to arts in the community,” said 5TFA board co-chair Linda Cormany. “We also support artists in residence at schools and teachers who contact us about arts, culture or history programming.”

Among the organizations and events supported by 5TFA over the years: Bristol Best Night, Walkover Gallery, the Cabin Fever Music Series, the Mount Abe Fall Musical, Bristol Clay Studio and the MAUSD Fine Arts Festival, as well as two 5TFA affiliate organizations, Art on Main and the Bristol Historical Society.

The friends also award $750 scholarships to Mount Abraham Union High School seniors who plan to pursue the arts after graduation. In the past the organization has offered two such scholarships for each class, but they’ve had so many applicants in recent years that they’ve decided to add a third.

But the pandemic has slowed everything down, Cormany said, including fundraising.

Every year during Bristol’s Fourth of July parade, 5TFA typically holds a silent auction on the town green, which is one of the primary ways it funds the grants and scholarships. A big feature of the auction is a collection of chairs that have been painted by various local artists.

THE ANNUAL 5-Town Friends of the Arts silent auction during Bristol’s Fourth of July celebration, with its sale of chairs that have been painted by local artists, is usually a big fundraiser for the organization.

When the Bristol Fourth of July parade was canceled in 2020 and 2021, 5TFA took a “big hit” financially, Cormany said.

Yet Cormany and company still managed to make thing happen these past two years, thanks in part to a Spark Connecting Community Grant from the Vermont Community Foundation and one of the best annual donor drives 5TFA has ever had.

They’ve also found new ways to raise funds — last summer they netted almost $1,000 by participating in the 5-Town Yard Sale.

And they’ve found creative ways to keep the performing arts going.

Last summer they supported Bristol Music on the Porch, which featured local musicians playing at 13 different locations around town, allowing residents to walk around and enjoy a variety of music in the open air.

This winter and spring they’ve collaborated with Lawrence Memorial Library and Northeast Addison Television to present four monthly concerts featuring area musicians Patrick Fitzsimmons (January, viewable at tinyurl.com/5TFA-Fitz), DaddyLongLegs (Feb. 17), Va-et-Vient (March 24) and Peter Sutherland and Oliver Scanlon (April 21).

In the future, in addition to supporting performing arts events, 5TFA would like to produce some of its own, said board co-chair Rick Ceballos, a local musician and member of DaddyLongLegs.

That focus has already led to a series of local “Pop-up concerts” and a concert at Rocky Dale Gardens last year. Plans are afoot for other projects.

“My wheels are always spinning (for ideas),” Ceballos said.

LINDA CORMANY

For instance, in an effort to support emerging artists and musicians, 5TFA is exploring the possibility of collaborating with the Bristol Hub Teen Center to produce an ongoing series of events.

“One of our goals is to provide opportunities for student musicians — to perform for the first time or to open for other local acts,” Cormany said.

5TFA is also hoping to support the local poetry scene. An event featuring Bristol poet and visual artist Karla Van Vliet is already in the works, Cormany said, though she’s not sure yet whether it will be virtual or in-person.

Perhaps one of the biggest things on 5TFA’s horizon is the hoped-for resumption of its annual winter celebration at Bristol’s Holley Hall, which honors an individual in the community who has made invaluable contributions to the arts.

Honorees in recent years have included actor-storyteller Deborah Lubar, writer-director Marianne Lust and singer-songwriter Pete Sutherland.

“We haven’t been able to gather like that for two years,” Cormany said. “But we’re waiting. The next one is going to be a big one,” she added with a laugh.

Meanwhile, 5TFA will continue to pursue and grow its mission.

Its current budget calls for providing $8,900 in grants, scholarships and underwriting for other events and services this year.

To find out more about 5-Town Friends of the Arts and to make a donation in support of its mission, visit 5townfriendsofthearts.org.

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