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Arbuckle puts community on TV in Bristol area

LOCAL FILMMAKER MARY Arbuckle has captured film and video images of countless public meetings and cultural events during her time at Northeast Access Television. Her decades of work in community TV will be recognized at the 5-Town Friends of the Arts annual celebration next month. Independent photo/Marin Howell

BRISTOL — Around 20 years ago, Lincoln resident and longtime filmmaker Mary Arbuckle was recruited to help create a public-access television station for the Bristol area. In the years since, Arbuckle has used her camera to capture countless public meetings and local events for that station, known now as Northeast Addison Television, or NEAT.

The 5-Town Friends of the Arts now plans to recognize Arbuckle for her work in community television and her other contributions to the arts in the Bristol area.

“(Arbuckle) has done amazing work in putting together videos and short films a lot of times of events that have happened. We felt that was important,” said Rick Ceballos, a member of the 5-Town Friends of the Arts board of directors. “She also, through NEAT TV, has documented so many events through the years.”

The 5-Town Friends of the Arts, or the 5TFA, is a nonprofit organization committed to providing opportunities for residents in Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro to engage in and appreciate the region’s arts and cultural heritage.

Each year, 5TFA’s annual celebration invites residents to gather, meet the organization’s board and celebrate a member of the community for their contributions to the arts in the 5-town area.

This year’s celebration will be the first the organization has held since the start of the pandemic in 2020. The event is scheduled for April 2 at 1 p.m. at Holley Hall. That’s where 5TFA will honor Arbuckle’s contributions.

“I am looking forward to the arts community gathering together after the COVID hiatus,” Ceballos said. “It will be good for the folks to see 5-Town Friends still viable and going strong.”

The April celebration will also give the 5TFA a chance to recognize Arbuckle, whom the organization had hoped to recognize at its annual celebration in 2020.

The board chose Arbuckle as this year’s recipient in part because of how she has captured various cultural events throughout Bristol over the years, Ceballos said.

“We’re always looking for somebody that has contributed a lot, but done so over a long period of time,” he explained.

A HOBBY THAT CLICKED

Arbuckle first moved to Bristol in the 1970s, shortly after graduating from Boston University with a degree in philosophy and religion. She began building a cabin for herself in the woods, and quickly took a liking to the Green Mountain State.

Soon after she’d changed her address, Arbuckle received a gift that would change her life in another way.

“Somebody gave me a camera, and that was really it. It absolutely clicked, and I feel forever grateful,” she said. “I just fell in love with film and images.”

Through her explorations with the camera and different forms of photography, Arbuckle discovered a passion for documentary filmmaking. She returned to Boston to study the craft at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and subsequently worked in Boston and New York as a camera operator and editor in addition to producing and showing her own work at festivals and museums throughout the country.

Eventually, she found her way back to Vermont and began sharing the art of filmmaking with community members of all ages through artist residencies and media workshops. Arbuckle also started a documentary program at the now-closed Burlington College during her time teaching in the school’s film department.

“It’s been so interesting teaching and sharing with people, whether it’s kids or adults or teenagers, this joy of filmmaking. It’s just such a joy,” Arbuckle said. “(Filmmaking) is a beautiful way of connecting with people.”

Ceballos said Arbuckle’s work in teaching others about filmmaking is another reason the 5TFA chose to honor her at this year’s annual celebration.

“She’s passed on her knowledge and her expertise to a lot of young folks that have been able to go on and do their own filmmaking,” he said.

MEDIA THAT MATTERS

In 2002, Arbuckle found a way to blend her passion for filmmaking with her love for the 5-town area. Around that time, she heard that a group of parents and teachers in Bristol were looking to start up a public access television station.

“It was sort of an added chance to explore media in this way in my community and making it useful and meaningful to people,” Arbuckle recalled.

Arbuckle applied for the job and was hired to help create the station. In the early days of starting NEAT, Arbuckle leaned on the expertise of Dick Thodal at Middlebury Community Television, a local legend in community television, and met with members of Bristol’s various boards to talk about recording their meetings.

Arbuckle said some of those initial conversations centered around making sure selectboard members and others were comfortable with the filming.

“When I started filming, it was really important to be really respectful,” she said. “It was just talking with them and saying I’d like to be doing this, how do you feel about it?”

Today, NEAT covers public meetings and local events in the Bristol area, which are broadcast on Comcast Cable channel 1080 and are livestreamed online at neatbristol.com.

As NEAT’s longtime executive director, Arbuckle has witnessed the media center’s home move from a darkroom in the library at Mount Abraham Union High School to its current location off Bristol’s Main Street. Additionally, Arbuckle has navigated major changes in technology over the last two decades, as cameras have shrunk in size and VHS tapes have become obsolete.

While much has changed within the media landscape, Arbuckle’s mission at NEAT has remained the same. From filming selectboard meetings to the Ripton Community Coffee House concert series, Arbuckle said she has always sought to capture real things in real time throughout the Bristol-area.

“Some of it is filming nuts and bolts that is really critical, that is the civic government and all the meetings, but it’s also filming all of the wonderful things that happen in this community,” she said. “Those sorts of things are really just fantastic.”

While Arbuckle hopes to provide the 5-town community with media that matters through her work at NEAT, she feels her time with the television station has been rewarding on her end of the camera as well.

“It’s using what I know as a filmmaker and with documentaries and my subject matter is my community,” she said of the work. “It’s wonderful, I feel very lucky.”

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