MONTPELIER, VT— The Vermont Art Council is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2021 Vermont Arts Awards recognizing outstanding individual and organizational contributions to the arts. Awards honor educators, artists, performers, advocates, administrators, volunteers, and scholars.
Vermonters will be recognized for their contributions in five categories.
Former Poet Laureate of Vermont Sydney Lea of Newbury will receive the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the highest honor presented to an artist by the state of Vermont. In selecting Lea for this award, Gov. Phil Scott said, “From publishing multiple books to founding the prestigious New England Review magazine, there is no doubt your work has touched people around the world. I also want to recognize your support of education institutions in Vermont. Your contributions to Vermont’s artistic history are admirable.”
In addition to the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the other awardees are as follows:
Pamela Polston of Burlington will receive the Walter Cerf Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts for her sustained contribution to the arts and its impact on Vermont’s cultural life.
Steffen Parker of Williston will receive the Ellen McCulloch-Lovell Award in Arts Education for his long-time dedication to mentoring Vermont’s young musicians through classroom instruction and through directing high school music festivals across New England.
Mara Williams of Brattleboro will receive the Margaret L. (Peggy) Kannenstine Award for Arts Advocacy for her significant impact on the artistic and strategic vision of the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center and for furthering the arts throughout Vermont.
Lydia Clemmons of Charlotte will receive the Arthur Williams Award for Meritorious Service to the Arts for stewardship of the historic Clemmons Family Farm and for nurturing African and African diaspora culture across Vermont, building upon the creative vision and legacy of her parents, Jackson and Lydia Clemmons.
“Art and culture have the power to provoke, inspire, and sustain us,” said Arts Council Executive Director Karen Mittelman. “We are delighted to honor five individuals who have made exceptional contributions to our state’s cultural life.”
More about the awardees follows:
Sydney Lea of Newbury, Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts
Lea is a poet, novelist, essayist, editor and professor who has published nearly two dozen books, including 13 collections of poetry, one of which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and many other periodicals, as well as in more than 50 anthologies. He has been awarded Rockefeller, Guggenheim, and Fulbright fellowships. He also founded one of the country’s premier literary magazines, New England Review. He has taught at Dartmouth, Yale, Wesleyan, Vermont, and Middlebury Colleges, as well as Switzerland’s Franklin College and Budapest’s Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE). Lea was Vermont Poet Laureate from 2011-2015.
Pamela Polston of Burlington, Walter Cerf Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts
For more than 30 years, Polston has been writing, assigning and editing arts stories, as well as mentoring the next generation of culture writers and editors. The Nebraska native moved to Burlington to attend a graduate program in psychology at the University of Vermont. Eventually she left academia to sing in Vermont band The Decentz, and later lived in Paris, France. After returning to Burlington, Polston gravitated to journalism. In 1995, she co-founded Seven Days, Vermont’s nationally recognized alt-weekly newspaper. Polston has won numerous awards for her arts features and criticism. In 2015, she was inducted into the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame.
Steffen Parker of Williston, Ellen McCulloch-Lovell Award in Arts Education
For more than 25 years, Steffen Parker has directed the Vermont All State Music Festival, which draws more than 400 participating students annually. He has also been the festival director for the New England Music Festival (NFHS) and continues to advocate for music education on several national committees including serving as the NFHS High School Today Publication committee’s Performing Arts representative. Parker teaches music and media arts at Rice Memorial High School and directs the school’s band and jazz ensemble. His steadfast work organizing festivals and putting the best interest of students first has made the festivals a consistently outstanding and inspiring experience for the state's top music students.
Mara Williams of Brattleboro, Peggy Kannenstine Award for Arts Advocacy
Williams recently retired as Chief Curator of the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) after 32 years. She has curated over 200 contemporary art exhibitions at BMAC and has presented the first-ever Vermont exhibitions of dozens of nationally and internationally renowned artists. She has also worked as an independent curator and consultant, developing major exhibitions around Vermont. As a board member, committee member, advisor and donor, Williams has been instrumental in the growth and success of numerous Vermont arts organizations. She is frequently a guest speaker about art around the state, and in 2013 she was appointed by Sen. Patrick Leahy to represent Vermont on the US Senate Curatorial Advisory Board.
Lydia Clemmons of Charlotte, Arthur Williams Award for Meritorious Service to the Arts
Clemmons has a 35-year career in community development in the US and Africa. Internationally recognized for her innovative work integrating arts, culture and strategic communication into effective public health, education, and agriculture programs, Clemmons now serves as co-founder and President of Clemmons Family Farm. An award-winning nonprofit, Clemmons Family Farm’s mission centers on empowering Vermont’s artists and culture-bearers of the African diaspora, building supportive multicultural communities, and stewarding the 148-acre historic Clemmons farm—one of 0.4% of farms in the US that remain Black-owned. Clemmons holds a PhD in medical anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania, an MPH from the University of Michigan, and a BA from Stanford University.
The Arts Council is unable to host its annual reception and ceremony due to the pandemic. The 2021 awardees will be honored with a short video tribute later this year.
About the Vermont Arts Council
The Vermont Arts Council envisions a Vermont where all people have access to the arts and creativity in their lives, education, and communities. Engagement with the arts transforms individuals, connects us more deeply to each other, energizes the economy, and sustains the vibrant cultural landscape that makes Vermont a great place to live. Since 1965, the Council has been the state's primary provider of funding, advocacy, and information for the arts in Vermont. Learn more at vermontartscouncil.org