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Phayvanh’s Choice Awards 2023
My short list for the Vermont Arts Council’s People’s Choice Awards
I was not going to write this—the same way that I don’t often write restaurant reviews—it’s subjective, completely curated to my tastes, and in a small town like Vermont, it’s bound to exclude some who may have resulting hurt feelings. But this is my newsletter and you’re reading it because you want my opinions.
The Vermont Arts Council’s annual creation grants are highly competitive awards. Having been on a prior selection committee for my field (literature, many years ago), I do have sympathy for those who do not make the cut. It’s not simply about quality. The money is finite. For this reason, I do appreciate that the Council has offered a People’s Choice Award option this year, so that entries that did not make the juried selection may still qualify for an award, should Vermonters deem it worthy.
I’m not a fan of “people’s choice awards” in general because they end up being popularity contests, and those with the best ground game end up skewing the results in their favor. It is by no means equitable. But I’m going to give the Council some credit here for taking a risk on us.
The rules are simple: Only Vermont residents ages 18+ qualify to vote, and they may only cast ONE VOTE by midnight September 17th. The prize bag is worth up to $5,000.
There are 87** projects contending for this coveted prize. I hope my short list below will help you in this very important decision. I have no investments in the outcomes, and have not communicated with either the artists or the Council in making this list. My one major factor in my choices was whether I wanted to see / experience the resulting project or not. These six are ones I am eagerly awaiting. They are listed in the order presented on the website (alphabetically). *
Erin Bundock (Project 15)
I’m not a fantasy reader by any measure, but I love stories that develop characters that are empowered to tell their own tales. Deeply rooted in folklore, this coming of age story sounds like an affirmation of the legacies we each carry forward. The artwork is evocative and I can’t wait to finish this book in one sitting.
Cleopatra Redbird Griffin (Project 32)
Do we need yet another tarot deck in our lives? Not really. Do we really need this one? Absolutely. This is a perfect candidate for this award, as the project is already underway and has stalled due to lack of funds. Tarot designs are personal, reflecting an ethos that the creator and reader share. I love that tarot use is a gateway to artistic interpretation. And like magic wands, you can never have too many tarot decks.
Katherine Leung (Project 45)
An outgrowth of Katy’s Canto Cutie series of chaps, this book will be an exploration of current conversations of gender identity within the global Cantonese diaspora, and I am here for it. As a poet whose work was included in a very narrow collection curated from a certain population, I cannot say enough how much it meant to me to be part of the whole. The pieces in their own right stand alone, but together the collection tells a deeper story. I’m eager to support Katy’s editorial bent and am excited to see what she brings us.
Nick Mayer (Project 51)
Having grown up in Vermont, it took me a long time to appreciate the natural wonders of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. It wasn’t until I understood its geologic prehistory that I became fascinated with it. Likewise, I’m looking forward to seeing how these painted pairs work together to tell the story of Earth’s above and below. The proposal is only for four paintings, though I could swim in a book of them.
Keryn Nightingale (Project 59)
I’m hot to buy tickets to see this weird, intimate tale of longing, lies, and the stories we tell ourselves. I love that the artist does what I do: process life through the frames of folktales and long ago lore. Baba Yaga, Vasalisa, and other characters from Russian lore have dotted the scenery of my childhood too, and I’d love to see how another person lives with them.
Hom Pradhan (Project 68)
I’m super interested in refugee stories, being a refugee myself. What’s interesting to me in refugee art is the bleeding of home country and host country, how they influence the memory and experience of the other and how that telling might change over time. I’ve had 40+ years to think on it. I’ve viewed the show at the Vermont Folklife Center. I’ve seen where he’s coming from. I’m super interested in where he’s going.
That’s the short list. I hope you can find something here you like and most importantly that you vote! Participation is key if we want the Council to continue offering a public funding option. While a one-vote option is certainly not ideal, it does help to shave a little off the ivory tower of exclusivity that often accompanies such awards.
Feel free to comment below if you have other options you want us to know about.
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*Note 1: as soon as I hit publish on this post and tried to vote myself, I got an error on the voting form. I’m told from the VAC staff that they are working on it. UPDATE: Voting form is now working.
**Note 2: There were originally 81 candidates when I posted this, but I have since reviewed all 87 and stand by my original selection.
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