As spring comes to an end in Baltimore, what better to do than try to make it last: head north to New England, where it’s just beginning! Each road trip has multiple purposes. In this case we are in college search mode, the New England portion. This is an amazing process that has required many guide books. Parents and their offspring scour the country in search of the perfect college fit. In this case, Bennington College, in Bennington, Vt.; families came from as far off as California. Consider the expense of airfare, lodging, food, and car rental. This is a major economic boost to a region, and we’re just looking! We’ve already been to Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine this summer.
One thing I look for, of course, is a strong arts program, preferably integrated into all academic programs. Many colleges will say all the right things, but do they follow through? Your student tour guide is a good gauge of this. As she walks backwards, pointing out all the buildings and sights on campus, you can ask her: did she really see the string quartet that just visited the 30 million dollar recital hall? Has she ever been to the gallery to see the latest exhibit? Oftentimes, not.
While in Bennington we got to visit the Vermont Arts Exchange. VAE was started about 14 years ago by my friend Matthew Perry and his wife, Patricia Pedreira, in an old shirt collar factory, on a shoe-string budget. The mission is to inspire school-age kids with after-school and summer art programs. Since its inception the program has expanded to adult art classes, a gallery exhibition schedule and the Basement Music Series, featuring jazz, blues, and world music. Recent acts featured the Howard Fishman Quartet and Corey Harris.
In the gallery this month is a great exhibit of Reza Pike’s fascinating yet eerie portraits of pedophiles and molesters. These well-painted portraits are images of some of the worst of the millions of humans we have incarcerated in this country. Stow them behind bars and a maze of security, but they’re still with us. Pike’s unflinching portraits deftly expose them for all their haunting strangeness; and sadness. More images here and here.
If Pike’s portraits will give you nightmares -- and they did -- in an adjoining gallery is an exhibit entitled Our Lives: a show of portraits by eight women. The medium is hooked rugs. Some of the subjects aren’t of interest, but the level of craft is strong and there is some very good work here. If you’re in the area this summer, check out the VAE.