2023 Year-in-Review

Image reads 2023 year in review

Society of Vermont Artists and Craftsmen (SOVAC) has run Fletcher Farm School for the Arts & Crafts since its inception in 1948. We are the oldest residential art and traditional craft education center in Vermont, The state of Vermont also recognizes SOVAC as one of three Vermont State Craft Centers – chosen for its unique model of delivering extraordinary arts education.

We are very fortunate that Fletcher Farm Foundation allows us to be on campus rent-free and virtually maintenance-free. We love serving as the historic property’s guardians. SOVAC would not exist if it were not for the generosity of the Fletcher Farm Foundation. The 50% discount for residents of Ludlow, Proctorsville, and Cavendish, which the Foundation provides, is a vital service to our community, especially for young artists. 

Fletcher Farm School Workshops

Tuition was increased marginally in order to offer instructors a minimal pay increase.

Inflation and supply chain issues have increased material fees, increasing student workshop prices since materials fees are passed directly on to students. 

SCHEDULED WORKSHOPS. From April through October, we offered 78 workshops:  13 for young artists, and 65 for adults, each running between one and five days – with an average class length is 2.6 days, and most class durations being 2 days.

DELIVERED WORKSHOPS. 57.7% of all workshops were canceled in 2023; many due to flooding followed by low enrollment. Traditionally Fall, Winter, and Spring workshops are not well attended. In 2023 we offered 13 and only 6 were delivered. 

Our average annual tuition revenue is usually $45,000-$50,000. In 2023, tuition revenue was $29,543 before refunds. In the end, even some of the very popular courses were canceled. We incurred $4,905 in refunds (including reissued gift certificates) and are carrying $355 in credits. Traditionally, we rely heavily on this income to pay our annual operating expenses.

Only five adult residents took advantage of the 50% Ludlow/Cavendish Resident Discount Program offered by the Fletcher Farm Foundation. This is our lowest attendance ever. Three adult residents canceled due to flooding and rescheduling conflicts.

We served 163 students – 52 youth (31.9%) and 111 adults (68.1%)

33 teaching artists were scheduled for a variety of workshops. 15 teaching artists delivered workshops in these disciplines:

  • silver fabricated
  • jewelry
  • creative metalworking
  • quilting
  • rug hooking
  • weaving
  • slab and wheel-throwing pottery
  • drawing
  • printmaking
  • watercolor
  • stained glass

18 teaching artists canceled due to personal issues or were canceled due to low enrollment or flood-related issues. These are the disciplines and reasons:


Low Enrollment

  • Shaker Woodwork (2 classes)
  • Fine Arts Theorem Painting
  • Quilting (Table Runner)
  • Quilting (2 classes)  (Intermediate and Advanced)
  • Basketry (7 classes) (Beaded, First Nation Basketry (4 classes), Pottery Bowl Weaving, Youth Basketry)
  • Book Making (3 classes)
  • Drawing (2 classes) (Beginner, and Intermediate Techniques)
  • Fabric Printing (4 classes)
  • Glass Work (4 classes) (Fused and Mosaic)
  • Holiday Decor
  • Metalwork
  • Outdoor Painted Decor (3 classes) (Barn Quilts, Garden Stakes)
  • Fine Arts Watercolor Painting
  • PhotographyQuilting (2 classes) (Intermediate/Advanced)
  • Shaker Art (2 classes) (Early American Decor Pin Cushion, Snow Shoes)
  • Jewelry Silver Fabrication
  • Tapestry (4 classes) (Felted, Mixed Media)
  • Woodwork (4 classes) (Chip Carving 3x, Spoon Carving)
  • Writing (Nonfiction Memoir)
  • Youth/Parent Weaving Furniture
  • Youth Sculpture

This year we contracted with The Vermont Journal for 30 printed, four-inch, full-color, display advertisements and online sidebar ads featuring upcoming workshops and both festivals. 

We were late in publishing our summer schedule due to a lack of personnel, which may have contributed to low enrollment.

Young Artist Program

38 Young Artist Scholarships were awarded this year from Ludlow, Cavendish, Mt Holly, Chester, and Andover school districts, in addition to homeschoolers.

All applicants received scholarships that covered half of the tuition cost. No child was turned away. Some workshops were oversubscribed with waiting lists.

Scholarships were funded by raffle ticket sales from the previous year.

15 youth residents of Ludlow, Proctorsville, and Cavendish received full scholarships by applying the 50% resident discount program provided by the Fletcher Farm Foundation.

Three youth residents canceled due to flooding and rescheduling conflicts.

The 2023 raffle was held with two prizes. Thanks to Lyane Herschel and Joyce Fuller, who generously donated raffle items to support Young Artist Scholarships. However, the raffle program only raised 25% of what we typically raise due to the lack of selling opportunities.  

Layne Herschel donated an Amy Oxford pattern made with 100% hand-dyed New Zealand wool

Joyce Fuller donated a reproduction Hitchcock chair with a necktie woven seat. 

Gift and Craft Shop

The shop opened from mid-June through the end of August. 

Our original intention was to partner with Expeditionary School at Black River (ESBR) for the students to run the shop, which did not work due to many changes during the spring and summer at ESBR.

We were able to recruit enough volunteers to clerk in the shop to cover weekend retail hours. On weekdays, customers could call the office, and a staff member would open the shop. Halle Humler and Carolyn Harris were rockstars opening the shop most weekends. 

Nine vendors participated in the Shop. This is down from previous years. It has become increasingly difficult to find vendors to participate. 

The goods sold in the gift and craft shop are no longer representative of the work created in Fletcher Farm School for the Arts & Crafts workshops. 

This year the fee for participating was waived for members and instructors, and the turnout was still low.

The Gift and Craft Shop business was slow, and revenues were low, outside of the 2 days of the Art & Craft Festival days in which 5 volunteers attended to long lines throughout the day. Popular stock items sold out in July, and it was difficult to refill stock before the August Festival.

Art and Craft Festival

We held two successful events on July 1 and Aug 12. These dates bookended the flood allowing artists the opportunity to share and sell their creations with locals and people visiting the area. The timing was perfect, and the festivals allowed everyone some relief from the flood problems. 

Exhibitor participation and the number of visitors attending were up from recent years. The sellers left each event happy with the success of the day. 

Food was provided by Goodman’s American Pie and The Lazy Cow Ice Cream

Live music entertained the vendors and visitors while they enjoyed the shopping and food.

Print and online advertisements were placed for each festival that had a broader reach than The Vermont Journal.

Despite the sense of successful events, the revenue collected covers the expenses for the event with only a small profit. This makes it difficult to continue to put on such a labor-intensive event. Many exhibitors who did not return this year, mentioned that their sales were not sufficient to justify the booth fee. $50 seems to be the threshold price point for our audience, and these were vendors with higher price points.

Fabric and Craft Supply Sales

A big thank you to all of our wonderful supporters who donated craft supplies they no longer needed. 

Donations were sold on a handful of weekends and added $4,000 to our bottom line. 

A special thanks to the Kennedy family for organizing and staffing the sale days.

Maintenance and Cleaning

Cleaning costs have increased significantly since COVID. We used to rely on volunteers for much of the cleaning on campus. Our volunteer base is aging and not as willing to volunteer for this difficult task. That puts additional pressure on our already overextended staff. 

The Fletcher Farm Foundation provides all other general maintenance services throughout the campus.

The Foundation made much-needed upgrades to the lighting in several classrooms this past season.

Missing windows and doors in need of repair have allowed nature’s animals to move into some of our spaces, making additional cleaning necessary and further increasing costs. Fletcher Farm Foundation is aware of these issues and is taking appropriate action to make the repairs.

SOVAC Volunteer and Board of Directors

We rely heavily on hard-working volunteers to run the organization, including our Board of Directors. Thanks to all who so generously provided their services in 2023. 

Our volunteer base is aging and shrinking. 

Changes since last membership meeting in May of 2023:

  • Three long-time members resigned in September of 2023. Cynthia Noyes, Sue Chadwick, and Carolyn Scott.
  • Susan Damone Balch stepped down from her role as Board Chair on January 17, 2024. Susan is continuing in her role as Acting Executive Director, running the day-to-day operations.
  • Piper Strong was appointed by the Board to fill the Chairman position.
  • Board member, Pollyanna Sidell, stepped up to fill the vacated position of Finance Director and is willing to continue in her role as Development Director in 2024. 
  • Debi Orton, School Director and Acting Secretary, will not be seeking re-election in 2024. 
  • Our summer campus assistant, Ann Turner, was appointed as a Director-at-Large. Her help with cleaning, and organizing events has been very supportive, and she is looking forward to continuing in this role in 2024.
  • Kyle Kennedy, our Event Director has agreed to move into the role of Facilities Director in 2024, a position that is more indicative of his actual role.
  • Claudia Shropshire resigned as Secretary and was appointed as Director-at-Large. She would like to continue in this role in 2024.

Financial Report

Tuition no longer covers the cost of operation. 

Our Annual Fund Campaign at the end of each year no longer bridges the gap between tuition revenue and the operating budget needs. 

We have been on a tenuous financial footing for some time. Years before COVID and since the pandemic, we have faced financial difficulties due to insufficient enrollment.

Popular instructors are retiring or no longer traveling.

Our student population is aging as well as more known teaching artists. New teaching artists are not drawing attendees.

We are now relying on students from outside the area to vacation with us. A majority of our students are second homeowners. Okemo Valley Area accommodation discounts are not as available as they have been in the past and our rental rooms are showing their age and are not winterized, making them only available for summer occupancy. 

Missing financial documents from the unexpected and abrupt resignation of our long-standing financial director left us using bank statements and electronic transactions to recreate the revenue and expenses for all of 2023. 

Missing cash deposits and electronic wire fraud that went unresolved for a 20-month period. We resolved this by closing our bank account and establishing a new bank account. We also have instituted stronger cash management and financial policies. We are taking steps to mitigate the loss, which equates to roughly $10,000.

2023 Financial Reports

Available here.

Organization Viability

At the end of the 2023 season, at a SOVAC board meeting, directors dug deep and spoke about the viability of the organization. We asked ourselves is it time to fold? Thankfully, the Internet has many resources and blog posts to assist nonprofit organizations in answering that question. After researching several sites, we ask ourselves the following questions:

Is SOVAC financially stable?

ANSWER: NO. SOVAC has not been financially stable since 2008. In April of 2023, we finished paying off a $12,000 credit card loan taken out in 2017.

Is there competition?

ANSWER: YES. SOVAC faces four maker spaces in the immediate area (Claremont and West Lebanon, NH; and Rutland and Poultney, VT).  

Additionally, within a 1½-hour drive, there are well-endowed, government-supported, state-of-the-art facilities teaching arts and crafts education in Upstate New York and Western Massachusetts (and further north in Maine). Universities and colleges have expanded their continuing education courses allowing adults to obtain more formal arts and crafts education. Finally, there is the Internet, where there are free tutorials introducing every type of art form and low-cost video lessons.

Does SOVAC have the capacity?

ANSWER: NO. For many years, SOVAC leadership has been and still is composed of artists who are passionate about sharing the process of making art and preserving traditional crafts. The board of directors is not a team of experts in growing a business or pivoting when a business struggles. The board of directors is passionate about what Fletcher Farm School for the Arts & Crafts was like in its heyday. The struggle is real with the effort to get back to that time. 

Many students and teaching artists have aged out of our market, and the restricted income that seniors live on makes attending regular classes difficult.

There has been much discussion about staying on the farm in regard to the aging infrastructure, our limited ability to provide year-round programming, and the amount of oversight, regular cleaning, and maintenance that is required to be able to offer comfortable and desirable learning environments. Additionally, the infrastructure that we are working with is not adequate for the new technology that instructors and students want to incorporate into their learning.

Is SOVAC funding diversified?

ANSWER: NO. In past years, up to 65% of funds have come from workshop revenue, and the rest was spread over the remaining programs, donations, and Fletcher Farm Foundation Subsidy. We recognize that we need to diversify our income. In 2023, 54% of our revenue came from programming, but 40% still came from workshops, and this is after refunds and credits $4,905 to students for canceled classes and $355 in credits toward a future workshop, good through 2026. 

Weather and attendance fluctuations drastically affect our funding, and we need to find a way to protect the organization from future events like this.  Since the large July flooding, there have already been two more flood-related events in our area.  Even if our campus is not impacted by flooding, the economic impact is felt due to the lack of visitors.

Does SOVAC fill a community need?

ANSWER: YES. The Young Artist Scholarship Program and youth programming is SOVAC’s largest contribution to residents of the Okemo Valley Region. The annual raffle of donated high-end items helps fund our summer scholarships. Young Artist Scholarship recipients receive 50% off the regular fee, and if they are full-time residents of Ludlow and Cavendish, they can use the Fletcher Farm Foundation subsidy to pay for the rest of the workshop.

Adult residents are not utilizing the facility at the rate they have in the past, and this has shown a declining trend over the last five years. Most of our students are the area’s second homeowners and stay in their vacation homes while attending our workshops. 

It’s not just students that we serve. Teaching artists rely on our workshops as part of their income. Our teaching artists, as part of their instructor contract, are offered a room and reimbursement for travel, in addition to a stipend. They come from all over New England and some as far as New Jersey and Michigan.

Is SOVAC still fulfilling its mission?

ANSWER: YES. Up to this point in time SOVAC is mission driven. However, due to our lack of personnel, we are finding it increasingly difficult to deliver the key programs that have consistently been our mainstay: workshops, festivals, and retail operations. 

The Pause

75 years is a long time for a nonprofit organization to exist without making significant changes to meet the needs of the constituents and the changing world around us. SOVAC has experienced many setbacks this past year. Some are common to many nonprofits across the country. However, we have some unique events that have created a larger struggle.  

Given the organization’s unsustainable situation, the Board of Directors considered closing but ultimately decided to pause programming in 2024 to focus on strategic planning and reimagining a vibrant, sustainable future.

Planning for the Future

As the Society of Vermont Artists and Craftsmen, we are an unknown entity. As Fletcher Farm School for the Arts & Crafts, we are well-loved by our students, teaching artists, and the Ludlow community. The state of Vermont places us on a pedestal as one of six organizations that represents the Creative Arts Initiative set forth by the legislature.

We are early in our strategic planning process. We are exploring internally with interested constituents joining us for meaningful discussions. We have created and shared the backstory, the competition, and the alternatives. We understand that the current business model is unsustainable and change is necessary.

A strategic initiative launched in June and is being led by board member, Pollyanna Sidell with help from members: David Ladd and Tracy McKee.

  • The goal is to create a sustainable organization, which means being able to:
  • Clearly define the community we serve with updated values, vision, and mission statements
  • Set short- and long-term goals that guide our decision-making in all aspects of the organization
  • Diversify funding sources
  • Weather unexpected circumstances (be resilient)
  • Hire permanent staff, including an executive director
  • Enlist an engaged and diverse board of directors
  • Build meaningful relationships with all of our constituents

Fortunately, as we have told our story to our constituents and the public, the support has been amazing!  We surpassed our goal of raising $20,000 to fund our strategic initiative. We are in the process of hiring an independent consultant to guide us through this process. We also received a generous anonymous contribution that will help with the cost of maintaining our campus and the grounds during the pause.

We have heard from numerous community members who have expressed an interest in getting involved during this time of transition for SOVAC and Fletcher Farm School. We are excited to introduce you to new candidates for the Board of Directors. 

We are grateful to all of you for your loyalty and dedication to SOVAC over the years. You have given generously of your time, your talents, and your treasure in affirmation of the values of art education and community responsibility shared by our founders. 

In the Summer of 2025, we envision a renewed campus bustling with students once more engaged in hands-on arts learning.