Last month, the Vermont Arts Council granted $5,500 to the Vermont Youth Orchestra in Colchester. (Courtesy photo)

The Colchester-based Vermont Youth Orchestra Association received a $5,500 Arts Partnership Grant from the Vermont Arts Council last month.

The award was one of 71 grants, totaling just over $438,400, awarded by the council to artistic institutions and endeavors around the state. 

Fifteen grants were awarded to artists and organizations in Chittenden County. Eleven of those will support Burlington artists and organizations like the Vermont Independent Film Festival and the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. 

The remaining four Chittenden County grants were divvied between Huntington, Shelburne, Essex Jct. and the VYOA in Colchester. 

“What’s so great about this grant is that the arts council is acknowledging the work we’re doing,” VYOA executive director Rosina Cannizzaro said. “That’s a wonderful acknowledgement at the state level.”

The VYOA relies on grants like this one to cover the cost of its three orchestras, two choral groups, a summer symphony camp and other programs. Grants, along with corporate sponsorships, private donations and, to a far lesser extent, ticket sales, comprise just over half of the VYOA’s $600,000 annual operating budget, Cannizzaro said. 

The other half comes from tuition fees: Top-tier musicians in the Vermont Youth Orchestra, the VYOA’s flagship ensemble, pay $1,850 a year for the privilege, according to the VYOA website. 

Grants help ease that burden. For students who can’t afford those tuition fees, awards like the Arts Partnership Grant allow the VYOA to offer substantial financial-aid packages and scholarships.

“No one is ever turned away if they cannot manage the tuition,” Cannizzaro said. 

The council grant provides only a tiny fraction of the VYOA’s overall fundraising needs, but Cannizzaro said its impact extends far beyond the dollar amount. 

“It’s a three year grant. So we’re locked in, I don’t have to apply for another three years, which is really a big deal,” she said. “Because most of the nonprofits that were awarded are small-staffed like us.”

That means Cannizzaro and her staff can spend less time on paperwork and more focusing on the VYOA’s mission: providing talented young musicians with the space and mentorship they need to develop their craft.

“The work that we do here at the VYOA is about making music at the very highest levels that we can, as individuals and as a musical family, a musical community,” said Benjamin Klemme, the VYOA’s new director of music.

Klemme, a distinguished conductor from Iowa, signed on with the VYOA in March. He still hasn’t unpacked from his July 4 move from Iowa to Charlotte.  

“There’s still piles of boxes everywhere in my house,” he said.

This performance season, which began in August and will continue through May, will be Klemme’s first with the VYOA. But he and Cannizzaro have already laid out an ambitious schedule of programming for the coming years. They’re planning a number of outreach and community-engagement programs and are in the early stages of planning a trip for the VYO to play at a concert hall in Europe.

“The international tours are for providing opportunities for the VYO to perform abroad and to share the music making that we do right here in Vermont in other communities,” Klemme said, “but also to have those extraordinary, cultural experiences away from home and to experience the world through their music making.”

Getting their students outside of the orchestra’s home-base – the Elley-Long Music Center in Fort Ethan Allen – and into the surrounding communities, is a major goal for the VYOA this season, Klemme said.

“When we program and when we dream about the performance opportunities that we provide our students, we ask ourselves how can we collaborate with other arts organizations in this community,” he said.

“Support from the VAC like this makes it possible to go to our partners outside of the Elley-Long Music Center and say, ‘Let’s work on this project together. Let’s dream of a way to bring our students into contact with each other so they can explore and collaborate.’”

Cannizzaro agreed: “That’s what the granting process really does,” she added. “It gives you the opportunity to start those conversations.”