Art Is What We Do: Living in the Upper Valley
An answer to an oft-asked question
When I first moved to the Upper Valley I was afraid that I would be forced to hike and ski, and I had neither the ankles nor the disposition to do either. Since I couldn't find the town of South Royalton, my soon-to-be home, on a map, I could not imagine what there would be to do during non-work hours other than to embrace the great outdoors in the (mostly) endless winter. My friend Amy, pondering the common perception of small town life in New England, offered this as a possible non-athletic and ankle-friendly alternative: "Maybe there will be a nice, interesting parson to talk to." Not knowing any better, I drove here, hoping.
I have now lived here for over 30 years. I have had conversations with newcomers to the area, and with passersby motoring from one urban center to another who have stopped in Hanover or Lebanon or White River Junction for lunch. The conversation begins with a single question posed to me, often with a premature sense of incredulity: "What is there to do here?" Accent on the "do," as if to indicate that "doing" must be a rare activity indeed in the Upper Valley.
One answer to the question is this: we do the arts. Of all kinds--visual, auditory, and performing--in all of our towns, in many venues--galleries, museums, libraries, movie theaters and opera houses--every night and some afternoons. In a recent casual conversation with Hood Museum Director John Stomberg (himself a newcomer) about Upper Valley life, we agreed that in his words "on any given evening, if you're staying home, you're missing something." To which I could only add, "or maybe even three things."
As I write this, I am contemplating an evening which will begin with a class on Shakespeare, sponsored by the adult learning program OSHER@Dartmouth and one of our local professional theaters, Northern Stage, in White River Junction VT. The class is in the Stage's $9 million dollar new arts venue that with community support went up in a year's time. The course is similar to another recently offered, a behind the scenes look at the professional company, Opera North, in Lebanon NH. Opera North just wrapped its summer season with a musical and two fully staged operas.
Bandaloop performers swing dance on the face of the Black Family Visual Arts Center.
I will have to leave class early to get to Hanover NH to see Bandaloop, a vertical dance company that will literally fly through the air outdoors in the Maffei Plaza next to the Black Family Visual Arts Center. Good thing it's a short performance, because the opening of the Hood Downtown features its inaugural exhibition of contemporary art by the internationally known Laetitia Soulier at 7 p.m. She will be offering one in a series of artist's talks at the gallery the following afternoon. This evening, my husband and I anticipate a parking problem; the Telluride at Dartmouth film festival will be opening on the same night. Maybe I can get a ticket to one of the other five films that will be showing next week. The only disappointment is that I will not have the time to drop in at the Long River Studio, 9 miles to the north in Lyme NH, for its artist's reception and new exhibition.
Part of the Soulier exhibition at the opening reception at the new Hood Downtown.
Had I not been working yesterday morning, I would have seen a free cello and piano concert at DHMC, our local hospital, whose arts program director, Marianne Barthel, manages its permanent art collection and temporary exhibitions of 15 to 20 artists each year. Not to worry, the cello and piano concert will be repeated as part of Dartmouth Music Department's Vaughn Series of live concerts on Sunday afternoons in the jewel box of an auditorium, the Faulkner Recital Hall.
Does it sound like I am gilding the lily to say that I have tickets next week to Motherstruck, at the Hopkins Center in Hanover NH, an avant-garde feminist one-woman performance? I need to decline an invitation to see a new animated film there next weekend because I have a previous commitment--a staged reading of a new play by a new theater company at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction (special ticket price for OSHER members). Could check out the Tuckerbox's expanded Turkish restaurant, the new pie shop, and community market in the rehabbed Newberry building while there. Pardon, this breaking news just in: the local Hood Museum has acquired the lifetime works of James Nachtwey, Time magazine photographer and international photojournalist. He's in residence at Dartmouth. Stomberg's vision of the new Hood, when it reopens, includes a center for the study of documentary photography.
This is but a small corner of the art-filled offerings, only part of what we do here. And many of the aforementioned events are free. I am thrilled, challenged, occasionally puzzled, and for just this evening, exhausted. For those of you who have friends from away who ask what goes on in our semi-permafrosted community besides ice skating (not that there's anything wrong with that, but again, the ankles), please feel free to send them a link to this post.
My old fears have come to naught. I have not had to hike or ski to have a fully satisfying life in the Upper Valley. Art abounds. And as luck would have it, over the years, I have even met not one, but two, interesting parsons.
Postscript: We ended the night by strolling from the Hood Downtown to the hinterlands beyond because yes, the parking was that bad. There was a rock band playing on the town green to welcome the Dartmouth students. Just as I joked to my husband that we should pause to see what kind of music younger people listen to, the band identified itself as being from Toronto, and maybe because it sensed two sixty-somethings in the crowd, announced it would now play a song by a Canadian composer, Leonard Cohen, called Bird On A Wire.
(Photographs by Keith Irwin)
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