The Vermont Arts Exchange’s Art Bus, decorated for the occasion, heads through the Four Corners intersection in Bennington as part of the Pride caravan in 2020. Bennington Banner file photo. 

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Vermont Arts Exchange’s (VAE) Basement Music Series, we reflect with gratitude on two decades of unwavering commitment to bring music to Bennington by Matthew Perry and the VAE. The impact they’ve had on Bennington’s cultural landscape is immense–and the best part is that it’s ongoing.

Marking its 20th anniversary concert on March 9th, 2024

20th Anniversary Concert Poster – Photo Provided.

The Basement Music Series (BMS) will celebrate this milestone in the intimate space of the Bennington Theater. 20th BMS Anniversary and Reunion show with Howard Fishman plus from NYC, Mazz Swift-violin, Jerrick Matthews-trombone, Mark McLean-drums, and Jim Whitney-bass. The event will also feature special guests and visual art throughout the night. For additional information and tickets, please visit www.benningtontheater.org

Poster designs by David Barnum of Bad Dog Creative Group

For two decades, the VAE, under the guidance of co-founder Matthew Perry, has been a beacon of musical diversity and artistic expression in Bennington, Vermont. From its inaugural show in 2004 to the upcoming season in 2024, the series has become a crucial component of Bennington’s cultural identity.  

With a repertoire of over 200 shows spanning many genres, the Basement Concert Series has served as a vital platform for both local talents and renowned artists, solidifying its status as a cornerstone of Vermont’s arts scene. Join us in celebrating this outstanding series that has transformed Bennington into a destination for music and art enthusiasts alike.

Where it all started

Grammy-nominated Cuban pianist Omar Sosa on Basement stage in 2005. Photo by David Garten.

In 1990, artist Matthew Perry began teaching art at the Vermont Veterans Home, the (then) Bennington School (for youth at risk), and several retirement homes. He subsequently conducted a private art class for a friend’s child in his studio on Sage Street in North Bennington. This initiative expanded to include two children and eventually evolved into an afterschool art class.

In 1994, a non-profit 501-C was formed and called the Vermont Arts Exchange which all arts programming fell under. The old mill in North Bennington became the hub of the operation. 

In 1997, VAE initiated the “Paran Creek Project,” a community-driven effort involving the cleanup of the nearby waterway and transforming collected debris into artwork. The success of the Paran Creek Project propelled VAE into regional prominence, sparking similar initiatives in Woodstock, Montpelier, and Rhode Island.

Recognizing the need for affordable living and working spaces for artists in 1998, VAE collaborated with Housing Vermont to launch the Vermont Arts Housing and Preservation Partnership Project (VAHPPP). This initiative secured five historic buildings, offering fifteen units of affordable housing for low-to-moderate-income families and studio space for artists.

In 2003, the Preservation Trust of Vermont honored VAE with the Biennial Preservation Award, recognizing its outstanding contributions to historic preservation. The Trust commended VAE for combining entrepreneurial skills, a believer’s zeal, and the creativity of the arts to redefine historic preservation, reinforcing VAE’s role as a trailblazer in preserving Vermont’s historic architecture.

In the winter of 2004, VAE transformed a downstairs basement studio in an old brick mill into a vibrant cabaret-club. The Basement Music Series, initially conceived as a monthly event, quickly gained traction, drawing bands from diverse locations. The New York Times hailed BMS in 2008 as “A Park Slope Bistro in the Green Mountains.” Perry notes, “The BMS could not happen without the dedicated volunteers that have helped and many continue, all these years. I may be the ‘face’ but there’s a lot of time and talent behind the scenes from these people which deserves credit”.

In 2010, Matthew Perry assumed the role of Executive Director at VAE, ushering in a new era of leadership. Five years later, VAE’s studios relocated to 48 Main Street, a more visible, practical and economical location contributing to the “campus model” of arts programming in the rural village. VAE’s studio-based programs cover a wide spectrum of artistic disciplines, using nature as both medium and inspiration.

In 2016, the series found a new home at 504 Main Street, collaborating with the Masonic Hall to create a dedicated performing arts venue within the historic building.

The move to Little City Cider Company in 2023 was celebrated as the comeback of Nightlife in Bennington Vermont by Vermont Country Magazine.

Spotlight on Matthew Perry

Matthew Perry runs the renowned Vermont Arts Exchange on Main Street, which has nurtured countless numbers of young artists in North Bennington, including those that he and his wife, Diane, have raised. From left to right are Justin, a musician; Max, a visual artist; and Jack, a culinary artist. Photo by Jay and Sophie Paris.

At the core of the Basement Music Series stands Matthew Perry, co-founder, and executive director of the VAE. Perry has dedicated three decades to nurturing art and creativity in Bennington. Through the VAE, he has facilitated mentoring and training programs for artists, presented at conferences on community arts, and integrated arts into healthcare settings and schools. He has established the Basement Music Series as a cultural landmark in Southwestern Vermont. In 2023 he received a Vermont state award for Meritorious Service to the Arts from the Vermont Arts Council.

Graduating from the Swain School of Design in 1982 with a BFA in Graphic Design, Matthew Perry founded his graphic design and illustration studio in Weston, Vermont. His artistic endeavors went beyond graphic design, including the creation of the cartoon strip “Cyrus & Ida,” which ran for two decades. Perry’s paintings and sculptures draw inspiration from his surroundings, whether in Vermont or during his travels in Europe, Brazil, and Central America, where he exhibited in group and solo shows.

Matthew Perry helps a young artist during a sculpture camp at the Bennington Museum in 2018. Bennington Banner file photo.

Guided by Matthew Perry, the VAE has enriched the community not only through live music but also through education, afterschool programs, art exhibits, regional art, and creative partnerships. The organization’s commitment to fostering creativity and providing accessible artistic experiences has impacted multiple generations and visitors, contributing significantly to the overall cultural development of Bennington.

Matthew Perry helps Benjamin Antin, 7, with a project during Camp Danger at the Vermont Arts Exchange in North Bennington. Bennington Banner file photo.

The combined efforts of the VAE and Matthew Perry have played a crucial role in elevating the artistic scene throughout the region. Their influence goes beyond the Basement Music Series, extending into various aspects of community life. From nurturing emerging talents to fostering collaborations with regional artists, Perry and the VAE have left a lasting legacy, and the entire community proudly considers him one of their own.

Looking ahead

Session Americana at Bennington’s Little City Cider Company on Jan. 28, 2023. Photo provided by Mark Schiffner

In 2024, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Basement Music Series, we also pay homage to the 30th Anniversary of the Vermont Arts Exchange and the continuing efforts of Matthew Perry. The transformation from the EZ Waist Cuff & Collar Factory and now the McGovern Hall, to a hub of creativity reflects the passion for art and community in Bennington, Vermont.

For additional information about Vermont Arts Exchange and upcoming events, please visit www.vtartxchange.org.

Featured performances from the last 2 decades

Poster designs by David Barnum of Bad Dog Creative Group
  • 2004 An Evening of Jazz with Evita Cobo, Tessa Souter, Jamie Baum Septet
  • 2005 An Evening of Blues, The Prescriptions, Omar Sosa, Howard Fishman Quartet, Ana Vinagre and a night of Fado
  • 2006 Morley, BrazzTree, Ameranouche, The Prescription, Mathias Lupri, Omar Sosa, Syd Straw + Plankton
  • 2007 Luminescent Orchestri, Howard Fishman Quartet, Omar Sosa, Electric Junkyard Gamelan, ALASH
  • 2008 Paul Carlon Octet, Ameranouche, Debbie Deane, Luminescent Orchestri, Toshi Reagon, Tarbox Ramblers
  • 2009 BrazzTree, Chris Bergson, Pyeng Threadgill, Ethan Lipton and his Orchestra, Wofford + Mellinger, Howard Fishman, Evening of Blues, Romashka, Grupos Los Santos, Alex Torres and the Latin Kings, Haale, The Prescription
  • 2010 BrazzTree, Toshi Reagon, The Prescription, Sara Lewis, Peter Mulvey, Howard Fishman, ALASH, Ethan Lipton and his Orchestra, Luminescent Orchestri
  • 2011 Evening of Jazz, David Maxwell, Bob Stannard, Chris Bergson, Darlingside, Eilen Jewel, Fishtank Ensemble, Goldtown, H I N, Meg Hutchinson, The Prescription, Howard Fishman, RSVQ, Cambridge County Line
  • 2012 Blues Sanctuary, Caravan of, Peter Mulvey, Chris Pureka, Dafe Brudajo, Darlingside, Eilen Jewel, Fishtank Ensemble, Miss Tess and the Talkbacks, Starline Rythmn Boys, The Prescriptions
  • 2013 Sacred Shakers, Choro da Manha, Hill Hollow Band, Billsville, ALASH, Caroline Smith, Caroline Rose, Leo Yucht Quartet, Glenn Miller, Chris Bergson, Kingsley Flood, Funk in the Trunk, Bella’s Bartok, Del Water Gap, Honey Honey, Miss Tess and the Talkbacks, David Wax Museum, Mike + Ruthy, Daisy Castro, Joy Kills Sorrow, Gypsy Layne, The Prescription, Blues Sanctuary, Vagabound Opera, Lake Street Dive
  • 2014 Jeffrey Broussard and the Creole Cowboys, Morning Breadth, Gypsy Layne, Caravan of Thieves, Evening of Blues, Leah Carroll Quintet, Howard Fishman, The Prescription, Heather Maloney, Billsville, Parsonfield, PHOX, Goldtown, The Defibulators, Session Americana, Howard Fishman, Basement Tapes Project, The Lost
  • 2015 Ellis Paul, Dustbowl Revival, Cash Registers, Gypsy Layne, Session Americana, The Citizens, Ethan Lipton and his Orchestra, Alex Torres Quartet, The Prescription (last show of 126, in Basement)
  • 2016 Mowgli Gianetti Sextet, Show Ponies, Mike + Ruthy, Wild Reeds, Will & Carling, Cooper Mason, The Citizens, Will Mosheim, Session Americana, Chris Bergson, Peter Mulvey, Cash Registers, Tessa Souter, Gypsy Layne, Snaz, Jeffrey Broussard and the Creole Cowboys, Bella’s Bartok
  • 2017 Kat Wright and the Indomitable Soul Band, Ghost of Paul Revere, Gypsy Layne, The Prescription, Sam Clement and many friends, Billy Wylder, Cash Registers, The Tracys, Blair Crimmons and the Hookers, Hannah Gill, M’Balia with Thom Loubet
  • 2018 Alchemystics, Eastbound Jesus, Gypsy Layne, Zydegroove, Aubrey Logan, Sean Rowe, Session Americana, Nektones, The Mammals, Cash Registers, Leo Yucht Quartet, Saints & Liars
  • 2019 Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers, Chris Bergson & Ellis Hooks, Daby Toure’, Sage City Six Jazz Band, Honeysuckle, Surplus Daughters, Kat Edmonson, Bella’s Bartok, The Prescription, Howard Fishman & Russell Farhang
  • 2020 Alex Torres and his Orchestra, Gypsy Layne, Eastbound Jesus 2023, Session Americana, The Prescription, Saints & Liars, Jazz Connection Quartet, Beard + Glasses, Seeders, Specker & Wheeler, Eastbound Jesus, Alex Torres and his Latin Orchestra, Freddi Shehadi, Sugar Mountain, Soggy Po Boys, Jenna Nichols + Jefferson Hamer 2024