Forums to spark discussion on Vermont future (7/2/09)

July 2, 2009

By Ben Portnoy

Observer correspondent

As part of Burlington’s International Waterfront Festival in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival at Lake Champlain, Williston resident Fran Stoddard of Vermont Public Television has helped organize daily “Forums on the Future,” which will focus on the changes Vermont can expect to see in the next 100 years.


    Courtesy photo
Fran Stoddard

Stoddard will host and moderate the free daily panel discussions from July 6 through July 11. The forums run from noon to 1:30 p.m. at Contois Auditorium in Burlington City Hall.

Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss hopes the Festival will “spark our imaginations and make new connections to people joined to us by common history and community.”

In that spirit, Festival producer Jay Craven decided to set up town meetings that look at how the past influences the future. Craven asked Stoddard in April to organize the event.

“I didn’t want to do something redundant, but rather look at the future and the process of how we look at the future in a fresh way,” Stoddard said.

To ensure lively discussions of Vermont’s future, Stoddard created an advisory group to help organize the forums. There are six forums, each consisting of a different discussion topic. The forums include “Creating and Utilizing Visions of the Future,” “Writers’ Visions of 2050,” “The Evolution of Sustainable Agriculture in Vermont,” “Artists Envisioning Our Future,” “How the Past Informs the Future” and “The Future of Diverse Communities in Vermont.”

Each forum will also have unique guest speakers from around Vermont.

“We are looking at how policymakers, artists, writers and business sector folks look at the future and what they are seeing now,” Stoddard said about the guest speakers. “It is the cross fertilization of these different perspectives that I am excited about and that I think have the potential of getting us out of stale ways of thinking.”

While constructing the forums, Stoddard has found that many Vermonters have a bleak outlook on the future.

“In this exercise, I have found many people to be afraid of the future and paralyzed to do anything about it; their vision is very dark,” Stoddard said.

Stoddard believes that Williston residents have the ability to aid in transforming how Vermonters envision the state’s future.

“Williston has struggled with all kinds of pressures, change and planning,” Stoddard said. “I believe our experience (as Williston residents) can enhance the dialogue and these talks can also offer anyone new ways of thinking about our future and how we shape it.”

Stoddard hopes the forums will not only change the way Vermonters think and feel about the future, but also give them a clear picture of what goals the state should strive for and act as a wakeup call.

“We cannot create the future we want without a clear vision of that future,” Stoddard said.

“We are trending away from many things we value now and that drift will continue if we refuse to see it, much less act on it.”

Stoddard has been a television and radio producer and host for more than 20 years. Since 2001, she has produced and hosted the Vermont Public Television program “Profile,” a weekly interview program with some of Vermont’s brightest talent from all sectors that airs Mondays at 7:30 p.m. Past guests on the show include Gov. Jim Douglas, Magic Hat Brewing Company CEO Alan Newman and Tom Messner, chief meteorologist for WPTZ-TV. Stoddard has hosted two other regular VPT programs, “Vermont Vital Signs” and “Points North,” along with several specials. She was also one of the hosts of Vermont Public Radio’s “Switchboard,” a call-in talk program that explored issues of interest to Vermonters.

She is an adjunct associate professor and ran the Communications Department at Champlain College for almost 10 years.

Forums on the Future

Forums on the Future is a free series that will take place daily, from noon to 1:30 p.m., at Contois Auditorium in Burlington City Hall.

July 6 – Creating and Utilizing Visions of the Future

July 7 – Writers’ Visions of 2050

July 8 – The Evolution of Sustainable Agriculture in Vermont

July 9 – Artists Envisioning Our Future

July 10 – How the Past Informs the Future

July 11 – The Future of Diverse Communities in Vermont

For more information on the “Daily Forums on the Future,” visit

Champlain considers Champlain

Forums on the Future is not the only series of talks taking place during this month’s festivities honoring the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s discovery of Lake Champlain. Champlain College is also holding a Quadricentennial Symposium in the days prior to Forums on the Future.

The college’s events will run July 2-5. The full symposium, which includes a fireworks cruise and a banquet, costs $200 per person. The Plenary Keynote speeches and other events, however, are free and open to the public.

Speeches will look at Champlain and the history of the lake. They are scheduled for 4 p.m. on July 2, 11 a.m. on July 3 and 2 p.m. on July 4.

For more information, visit