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    Arbuckle puts community on TV in the Bristol area

    ByMonelo Gabriel

    Mar 23, 2023

    BRISTOL — About 20 years ago, Mary Arbuckle, a Lincoln resident and longtime filmmaker, was hired to help create a public access television station for the Bristol area. In the years since, Arbuckle has used her camera to capture countless public gatherings and local events for that station, now known as Northeast Addison Television, or NEAT.

    5-Town Friends of the Arts now plans to recognize Arbuckle for her work in community television and her other contributions to the arts in the Bristol area.

    “(Arbuckle) has done an amazing job putting together videos and short films many times of events that have happened. We felt that was important,” said Rick Ceballos, 5-Town Friends of the Arts board member. “She too, through NEAT TV, has documented so many events over the years.”

    5-Town Friends of the Arts, or 5TFA, is a nonprofit organization committed to providing opportunities for residents of Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven, and Starksboro to participate in and appreciate the region’s arts and cultural heritage.

    Each year, the annual 5TFA Celebration invites residents to come together, meet the organization’s board, and celebrate a community member for their contributions to the arts in the 5 Towns area.

    This year’s celebration will be the first the organization has held since the start of the pandemic in 2020. The event is scheduled for April 2 at 2 p.m. in Holley Hall. That’s where 5TFA will honor Arbuckle’s contributions.

    “I hope the art community comes together after the COVID break,” Ceballos said. “It will be good for people to see that 5-Town Friends is still viable and going strong.”

    The April celebration will also give the 5TFA the opportunity to recognize Arbuckle, whom the organization hoped to recognize at its annual celebration in 2020.

    The board chose Arbuckle as this year’s winner in part because of how she has captured various cultural events across Bristol over the years, Ceballos said.

    “We are always looking for someone who has contributed a lot, but has done so over a long period of time,” he explained.


    Arbuckle first moved to Bristol in the 1970s, shortly after graduating from Boston University with a degree in philosophy and religion. He began building a cabin for her in the woods and quickly grew to like the Green Mountain estate.

    Shortly after changing his address, Arbuckle received a gift that would change his life in another way.

    “Someone gave me a camera, and that was it. It absolutely clicked, and I am forever grateful,” she said. “I just fell in love with the movies and the images.”

    Through his explorations with the camera and different forms of photography, Arbuckle discovered his passion for documentary filmmaking. She returned to Boston to study her craft at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and subsequently worked in Boston and New York as a camera operator and editor, as well as producing and exhibiting her own work at festivals and museums across the country.

    Eventually, he found his way back to Vermont and began sharing the art of filmmaking with community members of all ages through artist residencies and media workshops. Arbuckle also started a documentary program at the now-closed Burlington College during her time teaching in the school’s film department.

    “It has been very interesting to teach and share with people, whether they are children, adults or adolescents, this joy of making films. It’s a great joy,” Arbuckle said. “(Making movies) is a beautiful way to connect with people.”

    Ceballos said Arbuckle’s work teaching others about film is another reason the 5TFA decided to honor her at this year’s annual celebration.

    “She has passed on her knowledge and her experience to many young people who have been able to go on and make their own movies,” he said.


    In 2002, Arbuckle found a way to combine his passion for movies with his love of the 5-City area. Around this time, he heard that a group of parents and teachers in Bristol were looking to start a public access television station.

    “It was kind of an additional opportunity to explore media in this way in my community and make it useful and meaningful to people,” Arbuckle recalled.

    Arbuckle applied for the job and was hired to help create the station. In the early days of starting NEAT, Arbuckle drew on the experience of Dick Thodal at Middlebury Community Television, a local legend in community television, and met with members of various Bristol boards to discuss recording their meetings.

    Arbuckle said that some of those initial conversations centered on making sure members of the selection panel and others were comfortable with filming.

    “When I started filming, it was very important to be very respectful,” she said. “I was just talking to them and saying I’d like to do this, how do you feel about that?”

    Today, NEAT covers public meetings and local events in the Bristol area, which are broadcast on Comcast Cable channel 1080 and streamed live online at cleanbristol.com.

    As longtime chief executive of NEAT, Arbuckle has seen the media center move from a dark room in the Mount Abraham Union High School library to its current location on Bristol’s High Street. Additionally, Arbuckle has faced major technological changes in the past two decades, as cameras have shrunk in size and VHS tapes have become obsolete.

    While much has changed within the media landscape, Arbuckle’s mission at NEAT remains the same. From filming selectboard meetings to the Ripton Community Coffee House concert series, Arbuckle said he has always sought to capture the real thing in real time across the Bristol area.

    “Part of it is filming practical aspects that are really critical, meaning civic governance and all the meetings, but it’s also filming all the wonderful things that happen in this community,” he said. “Those kinds of things are really fantastic.”

    While Arbuckle hopes to provide the 5-City community with meaningful media through her work at NEAT, she feels that her time with the television station has also been rewarding for her.

    “He’s using what I know as a filmmaker and with documentaries and my subject is my community,” he said of the work. “It’s wonderful, I feel very lucky.”


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