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Founded in 2011

Project Design Lab culminating event - Lindsay Pontius, teaching artist


>> Eric Booth and Paul Gambill establish the Orchestra Engagement Lab as a Vermont non-profit, to provide a learning and planning opportunity for orchestra leaders, composers and soloists to explore new ways to strengthen their orchestras’ engagement with their communities. 

Unknown logo


>> Orchestra leaders, composers and soloists from across the nation convene at Champlain College for annual week-long learning and planning intensives to design creative engagement projects that bring their orchestra and community together. The convenings are a national innovation to bring together teaching artists, composers and orchestra educators to create projects of unprecedented depth and community responsiveness.

>> The first in-school teaching artist residency projects are presented in Randolph and Montpelier. The projects feature culminating community events with music composed by students, and works co-commissioned by the orchestras that attended the week-long learning and planning intensives, such as the Detroit Symphony, Little Orchestra of New York, New Jersey Pops Orchestra, Sacramento Symphony, and San Antonio Youth Orchestra.


>>The Orchestra Engagement Lab evolves its programming to serve Vermont communities more deeply, officially changing its name to the Community Engagement Lab. The focus shifts programming to support Vermont educators and young people with projects that place creativity at the center of learning so all young people can develop the creative thinking skills they need to succeed in school, careers and life. 

>> With $340,000 in multi-year support from the Bay & Paul Foundations, Jane’s Trust, the Canaday Family Trust, and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vermont Creative Schools Initiative is created in partnership with Catamount Arts.


The Creative Schools Initiative has the potential for transformative impact on students, teachers and communities.

Rebecca Holcomb

Former Vermont Secretary of Education

>> Vermont Creative Schools Initiative debuts a week-long Teacher Institute, hosted by Saint Michael’s College. Eighteen educators from eight schools across Vermont convene to work side-by-side with teaching artists and national leaders in creativity, teaching artistry, and project-based learning to design arts-integrated curriculum projects with public culminating events.


Dame Evelyn Glennie serves as Artist-in-Residence at the Teacher Institute, working side by side with Vermont teachers and teaching artists.


>> Dame Evelyn Glennie returns to perform with students for their Creative Schools Initiative culminating events, which explore essential questions developed by teacher teams and teaching artists at the Teacher Institute, including:

How Do I Respond To What The Earth Is Saying?

Where Does Me End And We Begin?

How Do I Know When I Belong?

Evelyn Glennie standing in a field with a drum with the words "The Heart of Sound, Evelyn Glennie, Artist-in-Residence"


>>  The first Creative Learning Forum is presented over two days at the Woodstock Inn. Eighty-five educators, teaching artists and community organizations convene to advance the understanding and practice of the ways in which schools can use creative engagement as a catalyst to advance personalized learning initiatives.

>>  The work of the Creative Learning Forum results in the creation and publication of the Creative Capacities Guide, a resource to help Vermont educators and community partners identify, develop and assess creative capacity in students—a guide now used across the U.S. and beyond.

>>  The Vermont Community Foundation awards a $30,000 two-year grant to evaluate the Creative Schools Initiative Teacher Institute and teaching artist residences. The two-year study affirms the many ways those programs have contributed a significant model to the field of education for effective teacher professional learning, and for strengthening student learning, engagement and achievement.

>>  The Vermont Community Learning Network coalition is formed to help schools and communities redesign learning to be community-focused and centered on developing students’ transferable skills, such as creative and critical thinking.

Cover for the Creative Capacity Guide


>> Building upon previous years of capacity building with Vermont teaching artists, CEL launches the first Teaching Artist Academy, which is attended by 24 teaching artists from across Vermont. The Academy provides hands-on experimentation and individual coaching with top leaders in the field to develop a set of tools and strengthened skills that will advance the scope and reach of teaching artists’ work in partnership with schools and communities. The goal is to develop the nation’s foremost statewide teaching artist network.

>> The Vermont Teaching Artist Collective is launched as a networking and professional development resource for teaching artists and artists that want to be working as teaching artists.

Logo for the VT Teaching Artist Collective


>> The Community Engagement Lab awards $50,000 in grants to five teaching artist teams to develop Thriving Communities Projects in Middlebury, Burlington and Brattleboro — creative placemaking projects that heighten their community’s awareness and engagement with a challenge related to climate change. 

>> The Lab’s Board of Directors and community partners convene for an overnight planning retreat, which results in a new mission statement to reflect the Lab’s evolving programming focus on school- and community-engaged creative projects that activate civic change:


The mission of the Community Engagement Lab is to bring people of all ages together in projects that activate their creativity to imagine and build more thriving communities.

>> The second Teaching Artist Academy is presented to help teaching artists develop the skills and boldness that can empower them as local leaders and community partnership developers on social-change projects.


>> Creative Schools Initiative teaching artist residencies are presented in twelve schools, serving 50 educators and 1,500 young people, and attended by over 2,000 audience members at public culminating events.

>> The Vermont Community Learning Network launches programming in three school districts, in partnership with nine statewide education service organizations, researchers and senior teaching artists.

Teaching artists work on a banner
Teaching Artist Academy
Youth artwork
Creative Schools Initiative project at Montpelier High School: How can exploring the past and imagining the future guide our present journey from apathy to empathy?


>> The Lab hosts a series of three online Arts Forums, convening over 250 artists and arts leaders from across the state to learn from each other and begin reimagining how the arts can support communities during and after the pandemic. 


>> The National Endowment for the Arts awards the Community Engagement Lab $55,000 to support the Creative Schools Initiative. This is the largest NEA award to an arts organization in Vermont this year, and in the top 4% of awards nationally in the NEA’s Arts Projects category.


>> In response to the challenges schools face during the pandemic, a Creative Project Think Tank with 30 educators and teaching artist is convened to create creative project templates that schools can use to present hybrid (virtual and in-person) teaching artist residencies during the pandemic.  


>> The Community Engagement Lab is awarded a competitive grant from the International Teaching Artist Collaborative to develop a Teaching Artists For Social Change Resource Center


>> The Creative Schools Initiative Teacher Institute is rebranded as the Project Design Lab, to recognize the inclusion of young people and community partners that now participate alongside educators in the Lab’s flagship planning and learning initiative.


>> The Tarrant Institute for Innovation Education at the University of Vermont is engaged as the Learning & Planning Coordinator for the Vermont Community Learning Network, increasing support to the schools and community partners as the Network enters its second year of programming.

M Perry drawing of CEL Arts Forum over Zoom.
Over 250 artists and arts leaders participoated in the online Arts Forums. Drawing: Matthew Perry.
A group of students stand outdoors holding up banners


>> The Community Engagement Lab is leading with school/community partnerships that leverage the power of our collective creativity to envision and build more thriving communities. 

Please join us. We welcome your involvement and support.

Close up of a student from a performance project. Their face is painted and lights are woven through their hair.
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