By Janelle Faignant
Three years ago a barren building once known as Building K of the Brandon Training School was given a second chance at life. The abandoned building at 333 Jones Drive is now a thriving arts locale, Compass Music and Arts Center, revived by Edna and Stephen Sutton, and transformed into a portal for all things arts.
It started with Brandon Music. The Suttons have been running the inviting space known for its intimate live concerts and warm ambiance for years. Many of the world-renowned musicians who have performed there continue to return and recommend it to other musicians.
But really it started even before that. Edna and Stephen Sutton had been visiting their small ski house in Rochester, Vermont since 1996. Their passion for the arts and affinity for Vermont merged in 2005 when an opportunity presented itself to acquire the former gallery of folk artist Warren Kimble. Known today as Brandon Music, in 2012 the venue was voted Editor’s Choice Best of New England by Yankee magazine.
“The Compass Music and Arts Center has become an extension of Brandon Music like two parts of the same idea,” Edna Sutton said.
Edna, who is lovely to talk with not just for her beautiful English accent, but for the way she views life and articulates her vision, is a true supporter of the arts. After working for many years in education, she’s seen the impact it has on people.
“In my life in England as an educator I [could] switch kids on because of the arts,” she said. “It fosters the potential in an individual. And the other thing I love about it is, it allows you to be an individual. Everyone’s response to art is unique.”
What they’re able to offer at Brandon Music are intimate concerts across a whole range of music, and at Compass what they’re doing in a bigger way is to really promote every aspect of the arts.
“I think [art is] about the reason for living,” Edna said. “What’s your motivation for life. What gives you a sense of beauty, a sense of passion. What gives you excitement and depth. It’s what enables you in one way to be the person you are, but the other side of it for me is it’s such an enabler. It’s not a leveler, but it allows everybody to engage.”
Compass Music and Art Center comprises 52,000 square feet of exhibits, performances, programs and workshops celebrating music and the creative arts. It includes a 250-seat performance hall for live music, dance performances, art exhibits, and community functions, as well as a children’s room with crafts and art camps, and artist studios to offer artists an inspiring space to create and showcase their work.
“We try and embrace everything, things that will bring people into our building.” Edna said. “We’re finding different routes to keep the arts vibrant and affordable – that’s the other thing – so that people don’t feel overwhelmed.”
As Managing Partner Edna works very closely with their exhibits director on the kinds of exhibits they want to do, with a goal to have a new exhibit every two months.
“I’ve had conversations with people and they say, I’ve never been in an art gallery before how do you buy art? And I just say like you buy your food at Hannafords,” she says. “Because it’s not elitist.”
Compass is currently home to “What EMMA Loves” – an exhibit of favorite pieces from the ten local artists of East Mountain Mentoring Artists. It closes November 1, and changes to “The Art of Giving,” celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“I’m a great believer in conversations with people,” Edna said. “I’m learning continuously from what I’m seeing, who I’m talking with. And I think we’re all on the journey together and you can’t help but learn from and with people.”
“We care about our community. And when you know how enriching the arts are in people’s lives, that’s what drives you. I can’t do what these people do, but boy, can I appreciate it.”
Compass Music and Arts Center
333 Jones Drive in Brandon
62 Country Club Road in Brandon