The Clemmons family has a vision for their farm in Charlotte, and a recent grant award from ArtPlace America is bringing them closer to achieving their goals. The Clemmons Family Farm is one of 23 organizations – out of almost 1,000 applicants – to win a $350,000 National Creative Placemaking Fund grant.
The funds will create a project called “A Sense of Place,” the purpose of which is to bring events that center around African and African-American history and culture to the farm, as well as improve and enhance physical aspects of the farm such as the barn and walking trails. Work on the project will take place between January 2018 and June 2020.
According to the nonprofit Project for Public Spaces, placemaking is a planning strategy, philosophy and process that aims to “shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value. More than just promoting better urban design, Placemaking facilitates creative patterns of use, paying particular attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution,” according to the group’s description.
Dr. Jackson and Lydia Clemmons have owned and operated the 148-acre farm on Greenbush Road in Charlotte since 1967. It is one of 19 farms of Vermont’s 2,000 farms owned by African-Americans.
Their daughter – also named Lydia – is the executive director of the “A Sense of Place” project. Working with various area organizations, including Burlington City Arts, which is the fiscal agent that will receive and manage the money in conjunction with the Clemmons family, the younger Lydia said they are excited to implement programs that they have been planning for years.
“We want to prioritize rich multicultural experiences and quality interactions among artists and visitors on the farm,” she said. “Our arts and culture programs will be tailored to the same kind of small-group gatherings the family has hosted on the farm since the 1960s.”
In addition to working with BCA, the Clemmons family is cooperating with local organizations to achieve their vision. Building Heritage will do preservation work and make upgrades to one of the farm’s historic barns; Champlain College is helping to develop African-American literature, spoken word, media, and communication programs; INSPIRIT, A Dance Company, will bring African-American dance, choreography, theater and community engagement programs to the farm; and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps which will help design and create walking trails that incorporate African-American history, literature and art.
Rosalynne Whitaker-Heck is the director of communications for “A Sense of Place” and the associate dean for administration in the Division of Communication and Creative Media at Champlain College. She, along with a team of interns, will be coordinating the community outreach and communications for the project throughout its progress.
She said the project is currently in the planning phase. The grant application described a vision that will be implemented now that the grant was awarded.
The farm, though, has hosted a variety of programs already, so the family is familiar with organizing events.
“The Clemmons farm has been host to several activities over the past few months,” Whitaker-Heck said, “and the response from community has been so strong that it paved the way for a track record for applying for the grant in the first place.”
Timing for creating the new cultural center remains to be determined, Whitaker-Heck said. She noted that though all involved are eager to get started, factors such as weather and the seasons and construction schedules will determine when and how programs, such as INSPIRIT dance, begin.
The elder Lydia has a vision in her mind’s eye: “This is an unbelievable dream come true. This grant will facilitate the fulfillment of our dream,” she said.
The family hopes that the project will support and encourage conversations throughout the community that focus on history, heritage, and identity, and support multicultural initiatives throughout Vermont and New England.