For such a quaint town, Stowe offers something unusual in Vermont’s vibrant art scene: an art center that mounts world-class exhibits in order to inspire community and civic engagement. Located above the library on Pond Street downtown, The Current (formerly the Helen Day Art Center) displays art by international stars such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Carrie Mae Weems. Their work is always paired with that of emerging Vermont artists. This unconventional coupling creates rich conversations about urgent topics. In June 2020, The Current garnered national recognition. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts awarded the center an $80,000 grant, acknowledging their support of promising local artists and unique juxtaposition with renowned ones.
Rachel Moore, The Current’s executive director and director of exhibitions, has helped shape the art center’s vision since she began curating there in 2011. Past shows have tackled issues ranging from mass migration to the #MeToo movement to the intersection between racial identity and social justice. Her hope is to enrich people’s understanding of each other through visual art.
For example, a 2014 show exploring art as activism united artists from wartorn countries including Israel, Palestine, Iran, and Egypt. The work gave viewers visceral insight into life amidst political and social civil unrest, beyond what you’d get from reading the paper or watching the news. “Because it was so personal and filtered through a human experience, it had an opportunity to really change hearts and minds,” Moore says.
Art for Everyone
Beyond these eye-opening exhibitions, The Current is also an integral part of the heart of the Stowe community. From the Makerspace (a hands-on room where people can create art inspired by the featured work) to the cozy Art Lounge with free coffee and Wifi, it’s a gathering place for locals and visitors alike.
Coming This Summer
Check out The Current’s exhibition “Meleko Mokgosi: Scripto-Visual” (June 17 - November 13). Mokgosi, a Botswana-born Yale University art professor, investigates how representation through both text and image relates to power—that is, who gets to be seen and heard. He incorporates writing by marginalized African American or African authors in his large-scale paintings, making their voices central.
You can tune into a virtual conversation between Moore and Mokgosi or attend an in-person interview by MoMA curator Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, on August 14.
Meanwhile, local artist Crystal Stokes’ stunning high-contrast black-and-white portraits will populate The Current’s Art Lounge through August.
It offers extensive public programming, including artists’ talks and panel discussions, kids’ summer camps, and classes for all ages in textile art, jewelry making, performing arts, woodworking, and more.
New this year is a ceramics studio comprising two kilns, 10 pottery wheels, and a clay hand-building area. A flat-glass studio allows students to cut, heat and fuse flat sheets of glass for stained glass and mosaics.
The Current also brings in local school children, many of whom have never been to a museum or gallery. The center coordinates curriculum plans with area art teachers, gives tours to students, and organizes artist talks.
The Current was founded in 1981 as the Helen Day Art Center in the former high school, an 1863 Greek Revival building. Stowe resident Helen Day Montanari, who died in 1955, left $40,000 to the town to create a library and art center. By the time Stowe High School vacated its whitecolumned home in 1973, the town still had no art center, and the public library was looking for a larger space.
When the select board proposed razing the old high school to create a parking lot, locals formed a historic preservation society, activated Montanari’s bequest, and raised additional funds to renovate the building. The library moved into the first floor and the art center the second.
Around 2012, Helen Day’s board began discussing a new name. It had come to light that Montanari and her partner operated a lodging facility in Stowe advertised as “restricted”—at the time, a common way of signaling that it was closed to Jews and people of color. Given the center’s contemporary aim of engaging as much of the community as possible, a change seemed in order.
“The new name reflects [the center’s] movement and energy,” says board chair Diane Arnold. “Through its exhibitions and education, it’s really alive and in the now— it’s current.”
A Current into the Future
Moving forward, The Current hopes to increase community participation. Moore is planning exhibitions that will not only inspire viewers with new perspectives on hot-button issues, such as climate change and systemic racism, but prompt them to take action—whether by writing to a legislator, joining a local planning committee, or volunteering with an environmental group.
“It has always been important [that our shows] balance materiality and beautiful craft with heavy content—conceptual work that talks about social, political, or environmental justice,” Moore said. “We’re taking that a step further and serving as a platform and catalyst for using contemporary art to generate change.”