Sara Coffey: Vermont Performance Lab

by Vermont Life Magazine, Autumn 2014

THE ARTS SPOTLIGHT - In the early part of the last decade, New York city was beginning to look different to Sara Coffey, a performing arts professional, and her husband, David Snyder, a musician and recording engineer, as they were starting their young family. The 9/11 tragedy, then the chaotic power blackout of 2003; the treadmill of exorbitant day care costs - Coffey was harboring her own private doubts, she recalls, "then one night Dave woke me up at 5 a.m. and said that he thought we sould leave the city."

The couple had met at Marlboro College and believed southern Vermont could be the right place to both raise a family and pursue their artistic inclinations. In 2006, Coffey launched Vermont Performance Lab - a new kind of performance incubator that would take contemporary dance out to anyone willing to collaborate. 

Concerned about dwindling audiences for her artistic genre, and convinced that she could "link art-making with community-building," Coffey has worked from her base in Guilford to engage with nearby towns in southeastern Vermont. Amont the lab's community-tied works is "Action Conversations: Bellows Falls," a collaboration that brought five teenagers from Youth Services of Windham County together with adult volunteers and two artists-in-residence, a UCLA choreogapher and an independent filmmaker. 

Coffey has established the credibility of the lab - it was one of only 20 recipients nationally of a recent Dance/USA grant for audience engagement practicies; the National Endowment for the Arts is among many funding sources, public and private - and lab-related performances have taken the stage at Marlboro College, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and The Kitchen in Manhattan. 

"Vermont is a great laboratory," Coffey says. "Living and working in a small community is a great strength and asset for this kind of work. I can have access to people, and there is also a great willingness to collaborate, share expertise, be curious and welcome artists."