Rep. John Killacky and Eiko Otake: “Elegies”

State Rep. John Killacky of South Burlington with choreographer Eiko Otake from New York. They cooperated on “elegies,” a video project at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe.

As Vermont’s Legislature meets only January through May, I look forward to returning to work full-time on political matters.

My off-season has been busy with constituent meetings, committee hearings, fiscal briefings, conferences and community events. I also taught a class at Champlain College this fall.

Artistically, I curated an exhibition of Vermont photographer Dona Ann McAdams that opened in Brattleboro in June and traveled to Rutland. Next month, it will be seen in St. Johnsbury, with future stops in Stowe, Burlington and New York.

As well, I completed a short video project, “elegies,” featured in an exhibition, “Love Letters,” opening Jan. 16 at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe.

Curating a 45-year retrospective of Dona Ann McAdams’s photography (donaannmcadams.com) was a yearlong process of researching her archives, augmented with ongoing conversations with the artist and curators from the hosting institutions. The exhibition grew ever richer with input from others.

My video work, too, is collaborative. Choreographer Eiko Otake from New York and I wanted to create elegies to our dead mothers. We invited Brian Stevenson, production manager at Vermont PBS, to join us (vimeo.com/375048275). The three of us worked together on script development, lighting, sound, camera shots and editing — a seamless process that improved the finished work.

I mention these projects because I believe my artistic practice parallels legislative actions.

Moving bills from drafting to committee deliberations onto floor votes in both the House and Senate is also an iterative collaborative process informed by myriad voices — stakeholders, advocates, community members and other legislators, in addition to the governor. Bills constantly evolve and change. Compromise may be the best that can be achieved, given conflicting input, needs and resources.

Priority issues identified by South Burlington residents in a recent legislative survey include minimum wage, paid family leave, and climate change — all requiring innovative solutions.

We should see a moderate path forward on raising the minimum wage. Initially proposed was raising the base wage to $15 per hour over five years; more likely we will see a two- or three-year window with smaller increases.

The paid family and medical leave insurance program also has been scaled back considerably after an impasse last session. Federal employees now qualify for 12 weeks of paid leave. Last month, the governor offered 8,500 state employees six weeks of paid leave. This is significantly less than current legislative proposals. Hopefully, the artistry of politics will play out with a resolution benefiting all Vermonters.

Legislators and the administration are working together to combat our climate crisis. The governor presented a draft memorandum of understanding for Vermont to join 11 neighboring states and the District of Columbia in a regional compact capping carbon pollution from transportation, charging fossil fuel companies fees, and returning that money to participating states.

Choreographing a path forward on this multistate framework will truly require inventive alliances. This is not a carbon tax, but a cap and invest program, the proceeds used to invest in equitable, efficient, affordable and cleaner transportation options as well as workforce development in a revamped Green Economy. Comments and testimony are to be taken on the draft, with a decision expected this spring.

In politics, as in art, vexing problems are best tackled from multiple perspectives with stakeholders involved. Resiliency and adaptability are also essential for best outcomes in life, art and politics. I look forward to calling upon the artist within during this legislative session.

Helen Day Art Center’s “Love Letters” exhibition featuring my video — along with works by Louise Bourgeois, Molly Davies, Jim Dine, Tracey Emin and others — opens Jan. 16 and runs through April 18. Opening reception is Thursday, Jan. 16, 5-7 p.m.


Rep. John Killacky, a Democrat, represents South Burlington in the Vermont House. This piece first appeared in South Burlington’s The Other Paper.

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