Vermont Studio Center receives $200,000 from Vermont Arts Council

Vermont Studio Center

Vermont Studio Center

After weathering the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic’s early phase, the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson has received a $200,000 grant from the Vermont Arts Council as it welcomes back writers and artists, signaling a reemergence.

The organization’s CEO, Kathy Black, extended her gratitude to Johnson’s local legislative delegation, including Rep. Kate Donnally, Rep. Dan Noyes and Sen. Rich Westman, for helping to secure the funding, which relies on public and private donors to maintain operations.

For Black, the return of in-person residencies is an opportunity for the center to invite world-class artists back to Vermont.

“They find Vermont so beautiful and inspiring. There are people who come from very hot places in the summer and are thrilled to be someplace so beautiful and green,” she said. “There are people who come who’ve never seen snow. We feel like we’re ambassadors for Vermont at the same time.”

Though it remains one of New England’s most well recognized and competitive studio residencies, the studio center has drawn down its program to accommodate the space people now expect. Where the center welcomed over 50 artists and writers each month prior to the pandemic, this year it expects to host 27 each month, or 430 individuals over the year, with the eventual goal of working back up to 40 residencies a month.

Changes within the residency program mean changes for the broader community of Johnson, which the center has called home since 1984. The center owns 22 buildings throughout town, including several prominent buildings on the village’s Main Street.

Along with welcoming back artists and writers, a new program called Studios at VSC will open for applications in February. The program invites Lamoille County artists and residents to apply for fully funded studio space at the center to expand their artistic practices.

Along with Northern Vermont University, which is the only member of the state college system outside of the University of Vermont to offer a fine arts bachelors and master program, the Vermont Studio Center is an integral part of an arts economy that defines Johnson.

Ebenezer Books, for example, hosts a section dedicated to past and current writers in residence with the program, and the Studio Store across the street is even more intimately connected to the center.

The Studio Store’s owners, former Johnson Selectboard member and current beautification committee chair Kyle Nuse with her husband and acrylic painter Michael Mahnke, also received a grant from the Vermont Arts Council for $15,000 to cover pandemic-related losses.
The store began within the studio center itself, according to Nuse, before it eventually moved to its original owner’s house, and it now occupies a space next to the town green on Main Street.

For years before and after Nuse and Mahnke purchased the business in 2014, the store counted on the hundreds of fine arts professionals who came to Johnson each year as its main clientele. However, the pandemic turned off the faucet of these professionals, the store’s primary revenue source. The two pivoted, getting creative and offering supplies to locals looking to pick up a hobby in those early pandemic days of endless homebound free time, reconfiguring inventory to also cater to casual beginners as well as professionals. They started curating exhibits showcasing local artists — strictly women-identifying artists — as another way to get people in the door.

“I feel like we were able to really start catering to the local community a lot more, which was really great, and they’ve stuck with us this whole time, which has been fantastic,” Nuse said. “But it was still very hard financially, and we had to start putting a lot of personal money into the store to continue to keep it afloat. When we got this grant, it was just such a relief.”

Another potential wrinkle for Nuse and Mahnke is the building that houses their store was put on the market last year.
“Hopefully, whoever purchases the building will also want us to occupy the downstairs space,” Nuse said.