Real conversations with Rutland’s movers and shakers
Part five of a 10-part series
COVER STORY | By JOANNA TEBBS YOUNG
A handful of tweens run noisily past the window and gather on the stone porch of this 120-year-old mansion as they take a snack break from their digital arts summer camp held at the Chaffee Art Center on South Main Street.
Upstairs there is evidence of other camps: paint-splotched aprons, neatly organized art supplies, and children’s drawings on the walls. And in every other room, on every open wall there are paintings and photographs. From oil to acrylic to pastel to photography; from pears, to birds, to children, to landscapes, the gallery is awash with creativity of the current E.M.M.A. (East Mountain Mentoring Artists) exhibit.
In her corner room office, Executive Director Margaret (Meg) Creed Barros shoots off an email as she sits among the evidence of an organization that is far from resting on its laurels. Papers, artwork, poster boards and other creative ephemera fill the room. Outside the window, the Chaffee’s newest art installation, a Ferris wheel-like piece called “Fishwheel” by Castleton State College art faculty member Oliver Schemm, can be seen gently turning in Main Street Park, where it would later be surrounded by tents and stalls and strolling visitors to the 53rd annual August Art in the Park, one of two festivals that are Chaffee’s biggest fundraising events of the year.
“Art in the Park is the perfect marriage of our mission, which in three words equals: Exhibition, Education, Collaboration,” Barros says. “I am always trying to ensure that events we are involved in encompass all three.”
Focusing upon this vision, she believes, is how the Chaffee is strengthening itself after what she described as some difficult board decisions prior to her joining the organization. She was hired by the board of the Rutland Area Art Association to oversee the Chaffee Art Center less than two years ago. “The first year was about the Chaffee repairing itself as an organization and establishing a second location to allow for repairs of the Art Center Chaffee,” she says in reference to the new Chaffee Downtown Gallery on Merchants Row. “This second year is about education and fundraising.”
Barros, a Rutland native, and a five-generation Vermonter on both sides of her family, has recently discovered her ties to the Chaffee go back further than her own two-year run as executive director. While an intern was working on a history project recently, they stumbled upon a photo of the 1961 opening of the Chaffee Gallery, formerly the home of Rutland businessman George Thrall Chaffee. The mayor giving the speech that day was Jack Daley, Barros’ uncle. And coming across a portrait of one Chaffee prominent benefactor, Barros discovered the subject of the painting was her first boss.
An artist herself, Barros entered the art world at 8 years old with a winning poster submission, went on to attend art classes offered by Rutland Recreation Department and then ran summer classes for them as a college student. As a high school student at Mount St. Joseph Academy she served as art editor of her class yearbook, and as a college student studied art and trained in art therapy, completing her senior internship at Children’s Hospital in Boston. Later, while working in the Rutland Middle and High schools, she oversaw yearbook and other annual publications and taught students digital arts and photography.
This creative spirit and ability, combined with her past work in communications for VELCO and outreach work for BROC, led Chaffee’s board to believe she would be perfectly suited to encourage growth for the Chaffee as they looked toward positive change and expansion.
“Art is very subjective,” Barros says. “Chaffee’s goal is to over the course of a year’s cycle of exhibits, sculptures in the park, art now on display, thanks to area businesses, in over nine new external gallery locations and our two Art in the Park festivals, to offer something that offers meaning to everyone.”
Barros is intensely proud of what the Chaffee has created, describing the exhibits that change several times throughout the year as “free art enrichment” for all ages, and that between the two locations is available an impressive 300 days a year.
However, Barros cautions, “we cannot sustain this model without more revenue.” Working with what she describes as a small budget and no endowment to serve as a safety net, her focus is, by necessity, financial.
“One hundred at $1,000 and 1,000 at $100,” she says, referring to her very specific membership goal. “If we could raise our $1,000-level donors from the current 40, and our family and individual $100 memberships from 200 to 1,000, we would be able to do what we want and need to do for our community.”
“This level of consistent annual community support combined with exhibit and art in the park sponsors and advertisers and revenues from the festivals themselves would provide a solid foundation for us to grow stronger,” Barros continues.
Running the Chaffee with only two part-time staff members, Barros can’t stress enough the vital value of the 2,200 volunteer hours donated by Chaffee board members, members, college and high school interns and other community members, as well as donors, and Art in the Park sponsors, exhibitors and advertisers.
In addition to the Chaffee’s presence at Winterfest, Friday Night Live and the farmers market, Barros and the board have other plans, plans that need money and staff members.
One such plan is the STEAM program, an after-school club that will have a test pilot sometime this fall. Building from S.T.E.M. — Science, Technology, Engineering, Math — STEAM will include Arts and Language Arts, and also add another “M”: Music. Seeing this program as another important part of the Exhibition, Education, Collaboration mission, Barros is looking to hire guest “expert” teachers to cater to grades 2 to 6 (or possibly 8) with students participating in various enrichment programs between 3 and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Other long-range plans include purchasing the historic barn behind the art center where, Barros says, the space could be used for “creating art and expression of all the arts.” Another goal is for the Chaffee locations to become known as venues. “We have live music at many of our openings and it is a huge component of the success of our Art in the Park festivals. The last two years, we have added elements like belly dancing to the festivals and even a live mini-demonstration by a theater group,” Barros says. “We are very excited to provide a venue for all the arts, as overall success in all the arts only strengthens our mission and our community.”
Referring to the Chaffee Downtown gallery and Paramount’s offerings as well as the various restaurants, stores and organizations enhancing downtown Rutland, Barros says, “Collectively, we are trying to have a positive impact on members of our local community and tourists to our area.”
“We want people to associate Rutland with a quality life experience, whether walking on our streets, biking on our trails, listening to music at a band concert in the park, buying local foods at our year-round farmers markets, or viewing a mural outside or an exhibit inside one of our galleries. The collective experience is what lasts; it is what makes someone want to come back and repeat it.”
But Barros stresses again: This cannot be done without the help of the community. “We are working to enhance the relationship of art and culture in our community and these goals can only be achieved through the continual funding of our mission by the generosity of the community members who make use of what we do and donors who believe in the power of our mission.”