River Arts is a community arts organization based in Morrisville, Vermont, which formed in 1999 as the result of a community planning forum that set creating an intergenerational community arts center as a top priority. At that time, there were no arts programs available to most residents of Lamoille County. Since 2000, we have offered classes, workshops, exhibits, concerts, and other special events to the residents of Lamoille County for free or at affordable costs. Our mission is to enrich the community through the arts. From the start, River Arts has been committed to making the arts accessible for everyone no matter what their ability, age, or financial means. We are determined to ensure that cost will not prevent program participation, an operating principle that sets us apart from many similar organizations. We strive to keep our programs free to the neediest populations—low-income children and elders. For others, we work to keep the tuition and fees affordable and to always have financial assistance available.
“Arts for Everyone” is part of the River Arts logo because it is our basic operating value and our commitment to our community. We strive for affordability and actively reach out to engage people who are unlikely to ever consider themselves artists or consumers of art, whether they are elders who have never picked up a paintbrush or been to a orchestral concert, teens disengaged from academic expectations or sports-focused culture, or our next-door neighbors. We believe that participation in the arts, particularly hands-on, do-it-yourself arts, can change lives. This is especially true in a non-competitive environment that encourages creative risk taking with the support of strong relationships with skilled artist teachers.
Collaboration with other organizations enables us to make the most of community resources and reach the greatest number of people, especially underserved populations. We partner with over fifty schools, social service agencies, and state and local organizations to reach underserved populations, reduce program duplication, leverage funding, and maximize our use of resources.
River Arts is based in a recently renovated historic building in Morrisville, the county’s center for commerce, health care, services, government offices and various industries. The River Arts Center is a place where community members of all ages, backgrounds, talents, and means explore their creativity and engage with each other. Last year we engaged over 3000 people in our programs and the building had over 13,000 visits. Our programs include:
Youth Programs have traditionally been our most successful programs. The mission of our youth program is “youth empowerment through the arts.” Children’s classes, taught by artist-mentors, provide a safe and supportive environment. We provide arts programs for children ages 3-5 at five Head Start locations, offer summer arts camps for children ages 3-13, run school vacation art camps, arrange private guitar lessons, offer drop-in tumbling and art classes for infants, toddlers, and pre-school aged children and their parents, take low-income families on field trips to the theater, and arrange our Catch a Rising Star recital opportunity for children taking private lessons. We also work with local schools to screen, hire, and place art teachers in their after-school programs and to provide them with artists-in-residence.
The Elder Arts Program brings together low-income elders for a wide variety of arts activities, including hands-on classes in 2 different locations. These classes offer elders opportunities for self-expression and telling their own stories. Over the years these classes have created supportive groups for people who are often isolated by their lack of transportation and resources. We also take elders on field trips to places they would not otherwise have access to, such as the Shelburne Museum or the Flynn Theater.
Adult Program In 2009, we hired an Adult Program Coordinator to jumpstart our adult class offerings. As a result, we have seen more participation than ever from adults of all ages. In 2011, programs included: Acrylic painting, T’ai Chi, watercolor, writing, polymer clay, filmmaking, and more. Class offerings will continue to include a variety of visual media, dance forms, and fiber arts, among others. Drop-in classes continue to be very popular for those who are unable to commit to (or afford) a multi-week class but still want to experience and participate in the arts.
Community Events Research has shown that people who are engaged in their communities are healthier and happier. We also believe that active engagement in creative activity enriches lives and builds confidence. River Arts nourishes people of all ages and strengthens the health of our community. Our affordability mission also means that we only offer events for affordable prices and never turn anybody away from the door due to inability to pay. We often offer a sliding scale for door fees.