Where We Started
The old mill at the end of Sage Street in North Bennington had been home to several industries since the late 1800s including the EZ Waist Cuff & Collar Factory. It also manufactured buttons, mirrors, wooden toy carts and furniture. From 1993 to 2015 it was home to Vermont Arts Exchange, which became a 501 C3 non-profit arts and community development organization in 1994.
Co-founded by Matthew Perry and Patricia Pedreira, VAE began the transformation of a run-down old factory into a creative oasis and an energetic force that contributes to the commercial, social and cultural life of the village and beyond. In 1997 VAE cleaned up the neighboring waterway, Paran Creek and made artwork from the junk collected. The “Paran Creek Project” brought together various community groups, schools, college and businesses and put VAE on the map across the state as a get down, dirty and “git it done” arts organization. Soon we were in Woodstock, Montpelier and Rhode Island cleaning rivers and engaging community through creating.
In 1998 VAE responded to the need for affordable living and working space for artists by creating the Vermont Arts Housing and Preservation Partnership Project (VAHPPP). Partnering with Housing Vermont, VAHPPP secured five historic buildings in the community and created fifteen units of affordable housing for low-to-moderate-income families, and studio space for artists. Two of the historic buildings in downtown Bennington, Stark Hose and Bradford Hook & Ladder were old firehouses. Community gallery and studio space was created in the truck bays.
In 2003, The Preservation Trust of Vermont awarded VAE the Biennial Preservation Award. Since 1982, The Preservation Trust of Vermont has recognized outstanding contributions in the field of historic preservation. Awards are presented to the individuals and organizations that have made special contributions in preserving Vermont’s historic architecture. The Preservation Trust of Vermont stated, “Combining entrepreneurial skills, a believer’s zeal, and the creativity of the arts, VAE helps define what historic preservation in 2003 is all about.”
What We Do
VAE’s studio-based programs have included papermaking, printmaking, ceramics, sculpture, drawing, painting, writing, music and dance. VAE has a focus on working in the environment, using the outdoors as our studio, viewing nature as our medium as well as repurposing and recycling material from businesses and the home to use creatively. We offer after-school sessions and vacation art camps for children as well as evening classes for teens and adults. You would not be surprised to see us at a local fair, farmer’s market or parade, especially the North Bennington Halloween Parade. Our VAE Art Bus is our “Mission in Motion” traveling art studio that bring the arts to the people. VAE’s exhibition and performance sites are now satellite venues that cater to the specific type of exhibition or performance. Gallery spaces within a mile include The Left Bank, The Village School of North Bennington, The North Bennington Train Depot and Kevin’s Restaurant. We call this “Artreach” an initiative to get art out in public spaces more than traditional galleries. VAE also continues to work with Bennington Museum and downtown Bennington galleries and businesses. Supporting the work of local and regional artists as well as student artists is an important element to VAE. The popular cabaret style Basement Music Series (BMS) came to life in 2004. It brings local, national and international musicians to the stage in an intimate listening room. Known more as a cold weather series the BMS presents folk, rock, indie, jazz, blues, alternative and acts that blend all the above. In 2008, the New York Times called the Basement Music Series “A Park Slope Bistro in the Green Mountains”. In 2016 the Basement Music Series kicked off in its new location at 504 Main Street in downtown Bennington. Through a partnership with the Masonic Hall, a transformation began to create a performing arts venue within the historic building.
Where We Do It
In 2010, Matthew Perry took over the role of Executive Director at VAE and five years later relocated the VAE studios from the Sage Street Mill up the road to 48 Main Street. The new, more visible location makes it possible for VAE to do more and create the “campus model” of arts programming in a rural village. 48 Main St. is tucked behind the North Bennington Post Office and is next to an active railroad line. The property is home to the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show, which began in 1997, and the site of the old Simmons boiler factory and milk house. You can’t avoid history in this town. 2015 marked the year of VAE’s big move and also the search for a home to the new ceramic studio. Also in 2015, the Basement Music Series found a new home at 504 Main Street in downtown Bennington at the Masonic Hall.
Although headquartered in Bennington County with a majority of the work taking place here, VAE’s creative net has extended throughout the U.S. and abroad. An artist’s residency through New England Foundation on the Arts Cultural Exchange Program took artist, co-founder & Director, Matthew Perry to Doncaster, England for a 3-month residency. As a guest of the Vermont Arts Council in 2014, Perry travelled to the Americans for the Arts Conference in Nashville, Tennessee and presented on Art Engagement in Rural Communities at a national Community Arts Agencies conference on the same trip. In 2010 through the Orton Foundation, Perry was the artist in residence in Starksboro, Vermont. The “Art & Soul Project” took Perry and the VAE Art Bus on the road throughout the year armed with a creative perspective in bringing about community participation and town planning. “Our work is about engaging communities through the arts so we can literally take our creative process on the road anywhere” states Perry.
Who We Are
Matthew Perry, Co-Founder & Executive Director
After graduating from Swain School of Design in 1982 with a BFA in Graphic Design, Matthew established his own graphic design and illustration studio in Weston, Vermont. His work has appeared in several regional and national publications. In 1989, Matthew created the cartoon strip “Cyrus & Ida”, which appeared weekly for 20 years in the Vermont News Guide and Manchester Journal. His paintings and sculptures are inspired by his surroundings whether in Vermont or through his travels in Europe, Brazil and Central America where he also has exhibited in group and solo shows.
In 1990, Matthew found himself living and leading art classes in North Bennington with the Bennington School (youth at risk) and elders in the community. He was then asked to give a private art class to a friend’s child (something he had never done). Inspired by the work of this intergenerational group, soon began the idea of the Vermont Arts Exchange (VAE). In 1994 all of the work eventually formed into the non profit which he co-founded. Matthew also takes part in numerous school and community art residencies throughout the Northeast and in England working with Head Start children to youth at-risk, the elderly with dementia, veterans and developmentally delayed adults.
As VAE’s Executive Director, Matthew oversees the year-round arts education programs, exhibitions and performances such as the Basement Music Series. He has facilitated several mentoring and training programs for artists and presented at many conferences on community arts as well as integrating arts into health care settings and schools. His work through VAE has been recognized with awards locally and national.
Matthew lives about a mile away in an old 1790 farmhouse on a dirt road with his incredible wife Diane and four very active, creative boys.
Rachel Payne, Office & Program Manager
Rachel Payne, VAE’s Office and Program Manager since September of 2014, grew up in Bennington, moved away for a few years, and was happy to return and raise her family. Rachel has her Masters in Intercultural Management and has spent a few summers at the Middlebury Language School, improving her Spanish and being introduced to Russian. Rachel enjoys endurance sports and loves supporting her husband, Tim, and her three children, Noah, Maggie and Finn in their athletic adventures.
Heather Bullock, Special Projects Coordinator
Transplanted from Seattle-the “city of my soul”, Heather and her family have found the “village of my soul” in North Bennington and the greater Bennington area. She is delighted to be working with so many talented folks at the VAE and strengthening the community’s connection to the art world. When not assisting with the important work at The VAE, Heather is busy enjoying life with her husband and two daughters, volunteering, skiing and renovating the family’s old bungalow.
Tish Russell, Business Manager
Tish Russell is our Business Manager. Originally from Michigan, with two Masters degrees, from Hofstra University in NY, she is a former School Business Administrator living in Hebron, NY with her horse, 2 dogs and 2 cats. She loves to dance, garden, read and be outdoors, especially riding on the back of a Yamaha Road Star.
VAE Board of Directors
Robert Howe, President
David Monks, Treasurer
Advisor to the Board
VAE Artists & Instructors
Due to the nature of our programming and scheduling, a number of teaching artists are coming and going at any given time. Following are current bios of teaching artists at the time of this writing.
Rhonda Ratray received her BFA from Alfred University School of Art and Design, and her MFA from The School Of The Museum Of Fine Arts, Boston and Tufts University. With a background in printmaking, painting, sculpture and design, Rhonda’s teaching experience is equally varied. She has taught at the the MFA Boston, The School of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, The Maud Morgan Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA, The Essex Art Center, Lawrence, MA and The Brookline Art Center. Rhonda has exhibited her work in many universities and galleries including Montserrat College of Art, Emmanuel College, The Adikman Gallery at Tufts University, Medford, MA, Carol and Sons, Boston, MA and The Peabody Historical Society, Peabody, MA. In 2016 Rhonda founded, Ink in the Blood, a fine art print shop specializing in screenprint, relief and letterpress, located at Taraden, in North Bennington, VT. Rhonda grew up in the Bennington area and also paints under the name Aimee LaPorte.
Gabrielle J. Rynes teaches visual arts with various populations and abilities. Currently she leads students from the Vermont School for Girls each week in a plethora of medium teaching skills with power tools and simply bringing an idea or thought to full form. She has her Masters in Education from Mass. College of Liberal Arts and a B.A. in Visual Art from the University of Maryland. Gabrielle lives in Shaftsbury with her son and many chickens.
Kristen Blaker M.Ed has taught art to people of all ages over the past ten years, ranging from preschool art to adults in community art classes. At VAE her focus is with the Vermont School for Girls and children from the Village school of North Bennington. She graduated from Skidmore College in 2001 with a degree in psychology and a minor in art. Afterwards, she attained her art education licensure along with her Masters Degree in Education from Colorado State University. Kristen is passionate about fostering creativity and encouraging expression in people of all ages. In her personal artwork, Kristen combines sculptural ceramics with found object art. She also explores mixed media to create altered book arts and paintings. She has exhibited her artwork in Colorado, New Mexico, New York, and Vermont.
How You Can Help: Your Time, Money, Material, Skills
Some of VAE funding comes through grants and fees but we rely greatly upon your monetary donations. If you would like to support the work of VAE, donations are gladly accepted to help cover the real costs of our programs. We also accept gifts of stock and grants from individuals, foundations, businesses and corporations. Hit the PAY PAL BUTTON on our home Page today if you’d like to help!
SEND A KID TO CAMP
Each year many children cannot attend our Vacation Art Camps or cover the whole cost, due to income restrictions in their family. If you’d like to send a child to one of our full day week long camps, please consider buying a “Campership” . For more information, please contact Matthew Perry, Director at VAE.
VAE also welcomes donations in the form of supplies, equipment or furniture. Please contact Matthew Perry, if you’d like to donate something you think we’d find useful. Your gift(s) are tax-deductible.
If you can share some of your time, we’re always looking for volunteers in a number of ways. Share your skills with the VAE family today!