Clemmons Family Farm. Photo contributed.

With the receipt of a prestigious $350,000 grant from ArtPlace America’s National Placemaking Fund, the Clemmons Family Farm makes a huge leap forward toward the family’s goal of creating a multicultural center in Charlotte devoted to celebrating African American history, art and culture.

Funds for the project, titled “A Sense of Place,” will be used to host African and African-American artists from many disciplines at the historic Barn House, designed and built by Jackson Clemmons from two 200-year-old farm buildings, and to bring the architects of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. to Charlotte to work with local partners to design additional indoor and outdoor spaces for the arts.

One vision is for the creation of a walking trail around the 148-acre property that will allow visitors to experience the full scope and beauty of the farm. Through additional funding sources, the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, the Rokeby Museum and Champlain College will collaborate in creating the trail that will also highlight African-American history, literature and art.

The first grant-supported Sense of Place event of 2018 takes place on January 15 at the Echo Center as part of the City of Burlington’s Martin Luther King (MLK) Day celebration, which this year focuses on “immigration,” a theme that includes the Great Migration of nearly six million African-Americans from the rural South primarily to cities in the North, Midwest and West between 1916 and 1970. The ancestors of the Charlotte Clemmons family, headed by Jack and Lydia Clemmons who moved here in 1962, were part of that migration, and the Sense of Place display at the MLK event features the Clemmons family stories about why and how they migrated and, in the case of our Charlotte Clemmons family, how they ended up in rural Vermont.

The Sense of Place display at the MLK celebration offers interactive activities about the Great Migration, as well materials for kids to take home. Visitors can stop by a storytelling booth and relate their own stories about where their families are from originally and how they wound up in Vermont. According to Lydia Clemmons, daughter of Lydia and Jackson and executive director of the Sense of Place project, volunteers will record the storytelling, and families who sign a waiver may see their stories uploaded on the Sense of Place website, or on Facebook. You can also check these media sites for the specific hours of this half-day event at the Echo Center as well as for information about future events.

By February 2018 project leaders plan to have a regular monthly email newsletter that people can sign up for, and by March they expect to have a schedule of programs and events through the first half of the year.  Of course, Executive Director Lydia points out, “There are always pop-ups that take advantage of unplanned but too-good-to-turn-down opportunities that just arise. The Maasai event last January was an example: it came up very suddenly just by luck.”

For a review of some of last year’s highlights of arts and culture programs, check the Clemmons Family Farm’s 2017 report online.