Performers in an upcoming music and cultural event won’t pass each other between their sets. Instead, they will come together — virtually — from several locations in southern Vermont to celebrate the region’s artistic diversity while also addressing the social challenges gripping the country.
The event, Arts Unite Windham, is an initiative of the Putney, Vt.-based nonprofit, Next Stage Arts Project. Performances will be held Sunday via Internet livestream and will feature performers from seven arts organizations in Windham County, showcasing a wide range of styles.
The net proceeds from Arts Unite Windham will be split between two nonprofits committed to racial justice, the Root Social Justice Center in Brattleboro and the county’s chapter of the NAACP, according to Keith Marks, executive director of Next Stage Arts.
In addition to Next Stage Arts, performers will represent the Brattleboro Music Center, the Latchis Theater, the New England Center for Circus Arts, the New England Youth Theatre, the Sandglass Theater and the Vermont Jazz Center.
“It’s tough being an arts organization, in general, let alone through COVID,” Marks said. “I’m hoping that as as we move into the future, these connections and these ideas of collaboration play out in a deeper way [and] that there’s more integration [in] the arts community.”
Marks came up with the idea for Arts Unite Windham during conversations this spring with representatives from many of the participating organizations.
When Next State Arts began designing the program in late May, amid nationwide protests for racial justice, organizers focused specifically on elevating marginalized people in the arts community. Many of the performances were composed or will be performed by members of racial minorities.
“This was right in the wake of George Floyd, and I think everybody agreed that [we] wanted to speak to the moment,” Marks said. “While southern Vermont is overwhelmingly white, it is the responsibility of those who have a voice to make sure that minorities ... have access to a voice.”
Arts Unite Windham performers will include an all-Black quartet led by jazz and blues singer Samirah Evans, a regular performer at the Vermont Jazz Center; and an indie rock band, Moxie, from Brattleboro.
Besides its focus on supporting community arts and social justice, the event will also be logistically groundbreaking for Next Stage Arts, given the scale and style of its production.
Brattleboro Community Television (BCTV) will stream Arts Unite Windham on its YouTube channel using multiple cameras to show the performers in their different locations, due to safety concerns around in-person performances.
Marks praised the breadth of artistic styles in such a small region, which he hopes to bring together using his experience as an arts producer. Marks founded and led a nonprofit that highlighted unconventional musicians in Florida before joining Next Stage Arts in February.
“It’s taken a lot of faith and a lot of communication and a lot of trust for these organizations to put their name on the line for the new guy in town [and] this new idea,” he said.
Marks will serve as one of the event’s emcees along with several other local arts organizers, public officials and Steffen Gillom, president of the NAACP’s Windham County chapter.