In the middle of a quiet valley in eastern central Vermont, the red dairy barn that is the heart of the Artistree compound in South Pomfret stands out boldly against the backdrop of the dense Green Mountain forest behind it. Walking through the front doors, the atmosphere inside is equally dynamic and lively. The walls of the children’s playroom on the first floor are covered with a colorful jungle diorama complete with strikingly exotic animals, lovingly painted by Artistree’s founder, Kathleen Dolan.
Kathleen is an artist and musician who has dedicated her life to childcare, counseling, and the arts. She originally moved to Vermont from Boston, where she worked as an independent daycare consultant. In her Boston days, she would travel the city with her keyboard, playing songs and acting out vivid and dramatic plays for children at daycare centers. When she moved to Vermont, she changed her approach, because she wanted to operate out of a centralized location where children from surrounding areas could come to discover the joy of art and music in a nurturing environment. She then established Purple Crayon Productions, a nonprofit arts program for young children that laid the framework for the thriving community arts center that Artistree has become today.
For four years, Kathleen ran Purple Crayon by herself with minimal outside help. Growth was gradual, but things changed when she began to expand the focus past exclusively working with young children. During the course of Purple Crayon’s fifth year, she hired additional staff, who helped her with grassroots promotion. They collaborated with local alternative schools and community organizations on focused arts programs. As Purple Crayon expanded its core services to include programs for teenagers and adults, it rebranded itself to better suit wider age ranges. Thus, Artistree was born. True to its name, Artistree quickly grew far beyond its beginning stages as a slender and hopeful nascent sapling into a fully formed and fruitful local community arts center, where creative collaboration is used as both a keystone for community building— and as therapy for self-actualization.
Artistree offers classes and workshops for students of all ages in visual art, ceramics, acrobatics, dance, music, literature, digital arts, culinary arts, and musical theatre. They organize a similar assortment of summer camp programs for ages 5–12, and “creative wellness” classes that include yoga, tai chi, reiki, and creative writing. They have an in-house staff that teaches a variety of classes, but many of the courses at Artistree are taught by creatively inclined locals. By giving Vermonters an opportunity to give back to their community by teaching their artistic craft, Artistree has forged valuable and long-lasting partnerships with local artists.
When walking through an arts classroom in the Artistree barn, there is a feeling of engagement. Students are engrossed in their craft, murmuring excitedly at the tables while working on various artistic projects. On the top floor of the barn, there is an open and spacious loft-style
room, which houses the music department. The ambience is invitingly spare and elegant, with a grand piano that stands in the middle of a wooden floor and a group of impeccable guitars hanging on the back wall. The loft space is used for music classes and a performance venue, which hosts everything from live concerts from both local and touring musicians, to local open mic nights. Musicians of all skill levels are given a chance to shine at Artistree, where a philosophy of judgment-free learning and collaboration has created an atmosphere conducive to self-discovery.
A farmhouse building adjacent to the barn houses an art gallery showcasing the work of both local artists and Artistree students. The gallery hosts themed events such as “Studio Fever” in which the walls of the gallery are covered in canvas, and Artistree students and local community residents are invited to come in and freely paint the gallery walls. Other events in the space pay tribute to local traditions, including the “Unbound” book art–themed gallery show, which is tied in with the Bookstock book festival in the neighboring town of Woodstock.
Across the road from the farmhouse sits a charming and intimate venue known as the Grange Theatre. Speaking on the Grange Theatre, Kathleen paints a picture of a dynamic and distinctive theatre program. Artistree works with numerous actors and directors throughout the region to bring world-class entertainment to the facility in the summer months and during the off-season to stage locally produced shows for the community.
“We have a very professional high-end series of musicals that run August through the beginning of October. Actors audition in New York City and they get points in the union program to come up and perform. After that, we go back to local programming. We did our own production this past year of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. And we have some concerts that we host including the Vermont Symphony Orchestra,” explains Kathleen.
The evolution of Artistree during the years is a direct result of the connection between Artistree and the greater central Vermont community, as well as philanthropic contributions of key supporters. Just as Artistree’s growth has been fueled by the involvement of the local population, the regional creative scene has grown stronger through the services that Artistree provides.
In the same way a tree can only grow to reach its full potential if it is rooted in solid ground, this local arts center is only as strong as the community it serves. By providing a platform for regional residents to come together and learn from one another, Artistree has been able to branch out, generating creative opportunities for Vermonters of all ages and bringing them together through the power of imaginative expression.
When you sow seeds of creativity in Vermont communities, they can grow into
something beautiful, organic, and authentic. The result is a place like Artistree, which is poised to inspire and change the lives of countless Vermonters for generations to come.
2095 Pomfret Road
South Pomfret, VT 05067