Ludlow's Fletcher Farm School for the Arts and Crafts will close for 2024 following tough summer
The Fletcher Farm School for the Arts and Crafts, which has been offering classes in the Ludlow region for 76 years, will not open next year as the organization tries to find new board members and some much-needed funding.
The Society of Vermont Artists and Craftsmen is the nonprofit that runs the school, and board chair Susan Balch said the flooding in Ludlow this summer forced the board to make the very tough choice of closing down while the organization tries to figure out a way forward.
“We pretty much rely on tuition as our primary source of revenue,” Balch said. “We don’t have a big donor base. We don’t do a lot of grant writing. So it’s obvious to us that the model has to change.”
Officially, the school will remain closed during 2024 as the board tries to find some new funding and new board members.
They hope to open in 2025, though Balch admits it will take a lot of work to get the organization back on its feet.
The Fletcher Farm School for the Arts and Crafts opened in 1947, and at one point they offered more than 200 classes and workshops, along with summer camps for children and arts and crafts festivals.
Balch said the school is now down to offering about 60 classes, and she says they have been facing a number of other challenges.
The pandemic was tough, she said, but Vermont’s aging population also has been putting a strain on the school, as there have been fewer board members and volunteers to help out, as well as fewer young people seemingly interested in taking classes in the arts and crafts.
And while their facility was not affected by the summer floods, she said the devastation to the town of Ludlow just up the road took a big bite out their bank account, which was already pretty depleted.
“We had a tough summer, along with the flood and just other circumstances here,” she said. “We’re low on staff. You know, we need new board members. It’s financial as well as personnel.”
In a letter Balch wrote to supporters, she said the school needs $200,000 to sustain itself, which includes what she said is an immediate need of $20,000 to hire a consultant to come up with a plan for the future.
Balch is also resigning as chair, because of what she said was, “the amount of effort that it takes to juggle so many responsibilities.”
Under Vermont nonprofit law, Balch wrote in her letter, the school will have to close down if it doesn’t find a new chair before Jan. 15.
She said the organization is hoping someone steps up as interim chair until elections are held at the end of May.
Vermont Arts Council executive director Susan Evans McClure said arts organizations across the state are facing turnover and challenges finding board members.
In a small rural state like Vermont, Evans McClure said most organizations are run by volunteer boards, and with the demographic changes Vermont is facing, she said arts organizations need to find new ways to remain vital and financially healthy.
“What we’re finding is that there is a need in the arts and culture sector for the training of boards and thinking about new models of board service that fit the reality of the world we’re living in,” she said. “I think there is a real challenge for the pressures that people are under, especially folks with young kids, or people who in the sandwich generation of taking care of young kids and aging parents. So we’ve been thinking about that and thinking about how we can offer board service training, or rethinking the board model that works in a post-COVID world."
“We’re going to still ... have wars, and we’re going to still have floods, and we’re going to still have awful stuff in the world, and now we’re not going to have Fletcher Farm. And that can’t be good.”Lisa Steckler, Fletcher Farm School student and volunteer
Lisa Steckler lives in Rutland Town, and has been taking classes at the Fletcher School for about four years.
She said the inclusive and low-key learning environment she’s found there allowed her to explore different crafts that she had not previously considered much.
She even made the decision recently to move her professional work to part time to spend more time creating and selling stained glass work.
“There’s a whole lot of energy that is very, very positive created by a school that is this crucial to a community, and when that leaves there’s not going to be something that replaces it,” Steckler said. “We’re going to, still going to have wars, and we’re going to still have floods, and we’re going to still have awful stuff in the world, and now we’re not going to have Fletcher Farm. And that can’t be good.”
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