I have a special relationship with the Flynn – my first post-graduate employer and the subject of this week’s cover story.
When I first walked into the art deco lobby of the Burlington building in 1983, a small group of people were hard at work transforming the former vaudeville cinema into a premier performing arts center.
I had two bosses there who didn’t always get along. General manager Tony Micocci was in charge of bookings – negotiating rentals and possibly arranging a season of shows that Flynn could call his own. Executive Director Andrea Rogers had to find the money to make this and everything else happen, including a painstaking renovation of the historic property.
I was a full-time paid intern with great responsibilities in the fledgling Membership, Education and Marketing departments. I learned a lot about the company and found myriad ways to help myself in hopes of turning the one-year position into a permanent position.
As a teenager, I planned to become a professional ballet dancer. Instead, I found myself working on the other side of the curtain so that others had the opportunity to dance – and, just as importantly, so that the public could see them.
My favorite part of the job was writing the press releases describing the acts featured by Flynn. The goal was to generate favorable media coverage, preferably before a show, to boost ticket sales.
But there weren’t many local arts journalists to feature in the 1980s. And those who listened didn’t necessarily respond with meaningful coverage.
Eventually, I decided to become an arts journalist myself. After writing dance reviews and a few articles for the now defunct Vermont alternative weekly avant-garde pressI somehow convinced the daily Burlington Free Press to hire me. The newspaper had just launched its “Week-end” column, so the timing was perfect.
I left from work at the Flynn for covering it – and all the other arts organizations in town too. As incestuous as it sounds, the arrangement worked; my familiarity with the scene helped me see stories the homework editors might have missed.
One was glaring: The Flynn, Burlington City Arts and company were revitalizing downtown Burlington – you could see the economic impact on Church Street every night there was a show. Eager to get in on the act, citizens of rural Vermont began organizing to restore opera houses in places like Randolph, Vergennes, Barre, and Rutland.
It turned out that I was much more comfortable in journalism than in marketing. During my tenure and for a few years after, the Freeps devoted significant resources to local arts and culture – a subject the paper had historically ignored or trivialized.
Not all stories were brilliant. I wrote about the turf battle between the University of Vermont’s Lane series and the Flynn, for example, much to Rogers’ horror. I firmly believed that the newspaper’s readers – and donors to both organizations – deserved to be aware of the behind-the-scenes forces that shaped what ended up on stage.
At best, journalists reveal what the powerful would prefer to keep hidden and, in doing so, hold them accountable. This applies to elected officials, of course, but also to the stewards of our hospitals, universities and arts organizations. Community assets, big and small, should be scrutinized by the local media – as agents of the public – and given the opportunity to explain themselves to the people they serve.
This approach is not always welcomed in Vermont, a small state that prefers boosterism to journalism. People who want to dodge tough questions conveniently ignore the second meaning of “critical” coverage – that is, “essential”.
Vermonters have a right to know what is happening in the local institutions they love, support and depend on. This is what motivated the creation of Seven days, with a strong cultural bias, 27 years ago. And that’s the reason for this week’s cover story on the Flynn.
Vermont’s leading performing arts facility was dealing with a severe – and largely undisclosed – leadership crisis when it fell into obscurity in March 2020. This exacerbated the financial and personnel challenges of the pandemic, resulting in almost non-stop internal drama at 153 Main Street for the past two and a half years. years.
Despite discreet sources and non-disclosure agreements, Seven days culture co-editor Dan Bolles finally got the story.