Cheyenne Vaughn ‘17
After many years of performances in the Mill, the Vermont Arts Exchange’s 2016 Basement Music Series opened in the Masonic Hall this year. With the help of VAE volunteers, Masons, and several local businesses, the VAE had a successful season in the Masonic Hall after opening in January.
The partnership between the VAE and the Masonic Hall is the sort of collaboration the hall was built for according to Mason member David Young: “When it was ceremoniously opened in 1912 there were several thousand people on Main street. It was put there to be a center of the town and to be a gathering place.”
This gathering place may continue to play a role in the revitalization of downtown Bennington. The January to April season brought 1,400 people through the Masonic Hall’s doors, paid 38 national touring artists and 34 local artists—all with 12 volunteers.
“I think it’s time that we jump in,” says VAE’s cofounder and executive director, Matthew Perry. “The Masonic Hall can play a key role as a performing arts venue and gathering place.”
Bennington College has also collaborated with the Vermont Arts Exchange’s performance venue in the past with open mic nights and senior concert shows. The most successful of these have come from the ground up through students: that’s where the energy, momentum, and power are, according to Perry.
“The great thing about a college town is the vibrancy of the students and faculty,” says Young. “Everything that goes on on the campus spills over into the town they live in.” Bennington College's participation is sometimes missed by the town, Young adds.
Perry also emphasized how important it is for the community to see college students interested in being involved with the town. And students can benefit from this connection as well. In fact, Perry thinks this is a critical part of a college education. “If you’re in the arts and you’re a creative person, networking, collaboration, partnerships, all that stuff is really important. In college you’re really working on honing your craft but all you have are your family and your friends and your neighbor, you gotta get to know them, what you can do, what are your resources in your community.”
The first step of this connection between Bennington College and the VAE’s new venue at the Masonic Hall will be on June 2nd when the VAE will host Bennington College’s senior concerts.