In August 2021, we launched the Back in Business Grant Program, made possible by support from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. Back in Business grants support the safe reopening of the arts sector for arts organization employees, artists, and the public. Funding was able to be used on expenses related to reopening organizations, increasing audience capacity to pre-pandemic levels, and for individual artists to restart art workshops and other artistic engagements with the public. This included personal protective equipment, safety supplies, staff training, and building upgrades that are directly related to safely reopening.
We are proud to work with the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, building upon a recent partnership with the City of Hartford where we distributed over $50,000 worth of PPE to organizations in October 2020 and May 2021 to help them reopen and safely engage audiences. For the Back in Business grants, the most common expenses that were requested by grantees included:
Tents to move events outside
Air purifiers and filters
Adjustments to air filtration to meet Actors Equity union requirements
Touchless soap and paper towel dispensers
We are excited to announce the artists and organizations who received this round of funding:
Anne.Gogh ActUp Theater Jasmine Jones Artists Collective Katherine Kennedy Ballet Hartford Soyeon Kim CT Virtuosi Orchestra Sandro Ladu HartBeat Ensemble Sarada Nori Farmington Valley Chorale Lindsey Sniffen Hartford Artisans Weaving Center David Waterman Layavinyasa Newington Children’s Theater Playhouse on Park TheaterWorks
Madyson Frame (a.k.a. Bizzie R) isn’t just an artist, photographer, educator, or curator; rather, she is all of those at once, and more. In addition to creating her own work, her passion is for creating safe spaces for others to shine – primarily BIPOC artists – and collaborate with one another.
Her drive to create safe spaces and access to the arts comes from growing up in Windsor and Hartford, and experiencing the respective wealth of resources, or lack thereof, for young artists and learners like herself. In a trend that is not remotely unique to the capital region, many suburban schools have more resources, resulting in being able to provide more access to the arts. A number of these students then have the necessary tools they need to follow their creative passion in college, if not as a career. In Hartford (and many cities like it), public schools have varied access to the arts while many private schools give students more opportunities to pursue their creative interests. This resource gap is “clear as day” to Bizzie, as a lot of students don’t know about initiatives like Hartford Public Library’s YouMedia center, which offers free, year-round programming for young creatives interested in everything from video game design to filmmaking.
“Bringing attention to Black and Brown artists is so important, especially in CT. There’s such a big opportunity gap…I’ve had to experience it myself.”
As a child, she remembers the countless hours she and her friends would spend at the local recreation center after school. Many kids in her school lived within walking distance of this incredible community resource and played basketball, pool, and other games. As soon as her family moved to Hartford, the gap became apparent; a lot of kids go straight home after school. As the former Development Specialist with Compass Youth Collaborative, she again saw first-hand the needs of students across the city: they need the arts. She would bring a camera into a class of 25 kids who would immediately descend upon it with unbridled curiosity. A lot of her students’ first language wasn’t English. Others didn’t know how to read, yet what united them was their excitement over her camera, and the creative potential of being both behind and in front of the lens.
If it’s not clear already, Bizzie believes in access to the arts. “There’s a societal thing about ‘if you’re not good at science and math, you’re not going anywhere’.” If students have more access to things that they had already been passionate about since grade school, they might have the portfolio and experience they need to pursue their interests in college.
In December 2019, Bizzie created The Photobooth, an event adapted from previous collaborations. A personal highlight of what would become a series of almost monthly events would be an 80s-90s hip-hop themed Photobooth for Black History Month in 2020. She hired three photographers out of pocket and had them bring their own set design according to the theme. For example, one designer brought milk crates and planks of wood decked with graffiti to emulate “boogie-down Bronx.” Bizzie wants The Photobooth to be like walking into a living museum; watching art being made in real time. Of course, the events sound cool on the aesthetic level, and one could stop there and have a great time. However, The Photobooth was intentionally created as a safe space for artists and models to collaborate. In the first way, the photographers are already paid; guests pay only $10 in admission whereas they might need to pay a single photographer at least $200 per hour. While that is a fair wage, the event levels the playing field for models and other creatives who might not have the time nor the money for a standalone photoshoot. The event provides a safer space to make this exchange not only in terms of COVID-19, but also for models to feel safe with photographers who Bizzie has vetted beforehand, rather than seeking them out on their own. Because the event focuses on photography, networking, and vibing, everyone walks out with so much more than photos; there are new connections made, and each event is a catalyst for art.
The Photobooth isn’t just an event or brand for Bizzie – it’s her business. As of publishing this article, Bizzie R. has recently transitioned to being a full-time artist, after serving as the Executive Assistant for Working Families Party Councilman Josh Michtom since the beginning of last year. Bizzie has gotten some practice reciting her elevator pitch, which she succinctly recounted: The Photobooth is an “art curation company whose premise is to bring opportunities and resources to BIPOC artists.” Not only that, but it also holds space and provides connections. She’s seen immediate outcomes; models and photographers meet at her event and go on to collaborate again afterwards – these are lasting connections. She wants to build The Photobooth into a brick-and-mortar similar to The Y…but for creatives. She already has a floor plan with multiple floors, including a community space with a kitchen, photography studios, dance studios and more; all of it heavily geared towards Black and Brown artists.
The grass isn’t always greener; sometimes, it’s more meaningful to create amazing things where you are.
Many of the artists featured on this blog have either moved to the Greater Hartford area as a transplant or returned after some time away. In this way, Taneisha Duggan’s story is no different. After graduating from the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, Duggan went on to pursue Acting at SUNY Purchase and ended up pivoting to American Girl, where she worked in events and marketing for a decade. She used this opportunity to launch her career as a full-time artist, eventually attaining her Actors’ Equity card at TheaterWorks, where she currently serves as Artistic Producer. It was partly through her experience as a National Arts Strategies Creative Community Fellow where she discovered the importance of home and using local artists and resources to activate spaces on her home turf.
“I believe in you, tell me what you want to do.”
According to Duggan, producing is harnessing and investing in creative energy as much as it is putting together the countless logistical pieces of a puzzle. The first step in creating something amazing right here in Greater Hartford is saying “I believe in you, tell me what you want me to do.” At the same time, she compares her job to running the show at Grand Central Station: “If I’m doing it well, the trains run on time with no delays, no weird snafus…everyone’s having a good time.” Producing is both a visionary and technical effort, not one or the other. Over time, Duggan has noticed a shift in thinking, particularly more recently, in how theatres are seeking talent. Not only is there a deeper interest in engaging artists on a hyperlocal level, but there is also a need to directly connect artists and creatives to funders and donors, and she is curious about how to make those connections. For Duggan, theatre is all about gathering people together around a story, having the same experience at the same time, whether it be on stage and in the audience or through screens. The story, in this case, is emphasizing the importance of quality work by artists in our own backyard.
The past year has been rife with challenges for the artist community – from closed doors to lost revenue, artists and organizations from all over have had to adapt in ways they may have never found imaginable before this point. Duggan and company are proud to have led the way in creating at-home theatre experiences for their audience. Within just a couple months of closing their doors, TheaterWorks announced an entirely virtual 2020-2021 season, including full productions, scripted readings, live conversations, and a podcast. They still hired and brought talent to Hartford as they would for a live production, but they did so under strict safety protocols, establishing “actor pods” to limit interaction outside of work. Behind the scenes, they provided actors with “studio in a box,” a full production toolkit including a computer, mobile phone, backdrops, lighting, and how-to videos to sync up actors from the comfort of their own homes.
As we are asking questions about the future of theatre in Hartford and beyond, Duggan is unpacking individualistic ideologies; how “legacy trumps all.” Conversations about climate, race, and other front-of-mind societal issues will never change with an individual-forward mindset. This will be at the center of TheaterWorks’ upcoming production of “Walden” in August, their first in-person show since the pandemic shut-down. “Walden” is being developed as an immersive project, with audiences wearing headsets, ambulating around the scene construction; an entire property built on the grounds of Riverfront Recapture reserved specifically for this show. The play is set in a near future where humans are starting to colonize Mars. The protagonist Earthbound couple lives off-the-grid; one partner is an “Earth activist” trying to save the planet and keep it relevant. “Walden” puts forth the question, “how do you want to live?” Ticket sales open to the public on June 19.
Duggan thinks similarly about the city and society at large – how are we leaving this place? Do we have the capacity to think big? She cites “Dirty 30” as one of her favorite projects; a celebration of TheaterWorks’ 30th anniversary in 2016 where the theater collaborated with activation thinktank Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner and artists like Hong Hong and Arien Wilkerson (artists both known for their work in the Hartford area who now live in Houston and Philadelphia, respectively). She envisions a citywide projection mapping, lighting up downtown facades with massive public art.
TheaterWorks’ founder Steve Campo thought of Hartford as the “center of the universe.” Duggan is interested in how the city could use that framework to envision our future. With all the innovation that TheaterWorks and other arts organizations have incorporated into their practice, there is no reason why we can’t bring the world to us in 2021 and beyond.
– Dan Deutsch, Marketing & Communications Manager GHAC
There is no doubt that the experiences we have growing up inform how we see the world and move through space, even beyond our formative years into adulthood.
Jasmin Agosto, a Boston-born, queer Puerto Rican artist and scholar, knows quite a lot about possessing multiple identities and living them fully. Agosto and her family experienced a culture shock of sorts, moving from Boston to West Hartford at a young age. With one parent at the Hartford Seminary and another at Maria Sanchez Elementary School, Agosto and her brother became accustomed to inhabiting multiple spaces. They looked around and saw a community vastly different from that of which they grew up with but found their homes away from home in places like their predominantly Spanish-speaking church.
“In high school, I was fearless.”
Agosto quickly dove into the local scene at a young age. While studying at the Greater Hartford Academy for the Arts, she was hired as a summer creative writing instructor at Milner School, and she found another home in the community of the North End; they took her in and gave her even more youth education and engagement opportunities. She discovered that she had many resources at her disposal: audiences, a space (a benefit of having a parent employee), and raw talent. By the age of 15, she was putting on “collectivist events;” all-ages potluck open mics in Hartford. In her senior year of high school, she attended the first annual Trinity International Hip-Hop Festival and was ignited. As an undergrad at Trinity, she gained even more boots-on-the-ground experience as an event organizer: budgeting, booking artists, promotion, and more. After getting a crash course in nonprofits as the executive assistant at Sankofa Kuumba, Agosto took a temporary step back from Hartford as she entered graduate studies at NYU Gallatin School for Individualized Study. It was here that she discovered curating and organizing are completely different experiences when funded, and you have a team of staff and colleagues collaborating together. However, graduate school was a predominantly white space, and she found herself craving Hartford, her home. it is from these often-binary experiences that she has adopted a unique worldview.
An epiphanic moment came through her involvement with Be A Boss, a collaboration of women of color led by Trudi Lebron, exploring the question “how do we want to live our own lives?” Agosto’s answer: Sageseeker Productions. This was a culmination of years of curating, organizing, and community-building, synthesizing with her vision of cooperative economics. Perhaps the most well-known event to come out of this company has been La Sala Femme, an evening of performances featuring Black femmes, womxn of color, non-binary and queer artists of color. Agosto has been intentional over the years to incorporate a spiritual aspect to her events; La Sala Femme emphasizes the significance of rituals that connect with those who are no longer with us. These libations along with the performances specifically celebrate the lives of Black and Brown womxn and queer folks of color, and part of what Agosto wants participants to take away is that these folks’ stories live through us as we live through them.
Agosto discovered her voice, identity and purpose through a myriad of vastly different experiences and continues to do so today. She has developed a wealth of knowledge and skill sets to not just bring to different environments, but also to mentor future artists and creatives. Since graduating from Trinity, Agosto has stayed on as a Hip-Hop Festival community partner through Sageseeker Productions, helping student organizers develop their own identities as producers. Her worldview as a code-switcher has enabled her to occupy multiple spaces. As curator, she sees herself as an amplifier for marginalized voices and aims to use her identities as leverage to not only strengthen connections through collaboration, but also between these creative communities and those of funders and institutions. Having been on both sides — school and church, nonprofits and businesses, community and institutions, and in a way, life and death – Agosto is a medium of sorts, helping to bridge gaps. When asked about the world we’re living in now, the new in-between of gathering in the real world and behind screens, she echoed much of what’s been said: “we’re going to be able to be in physical space but it’s going to take time.”
How many readers grew up with boundless energy? Whether it’s playing in a park, taking after school music lessons or cooking with a parent, creativity is instilled within us at an early age.
This is how Diana Aldrete remembers growing up. She was never bored; much of her time was spent drawing, cooking, writing, singing, and more. As a professor of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College, Aldrete has gradually incorporated creativity into her practice – not just in lesson planning, but in pedagogy as well. Hispanic Studies might not be the first class you’d expect to make space for artistic creativity. However, Aldrete asks her students about their personal creative pursuits, and it surprises them that she wants to know their interests outside of the classroom. Going above and beyond in this way has helped her form stronger connections with her students, and some of these conversations have led them to pursue their creativity even further.
“Being attentive…that’s what artists do.”
In one instance, Aldrete was teaching a course on Immigration, and let the students choose whether to write a traditional research paper or create something unconventional to pair with their research. For example, a student majoring in neuroscience chose to paint. After putting it up for sale, they donated all of the proceeds to help immigrant families in need. In an effort to maintain this connection with her students in the pandemic, Aldrete led a virtual art session where she learned that one of her students was going to pursue art therapy for a career. Arts and academia have a mutually beneficial relationship. In an interview for Hartford Public Library’s “Big Read,” asked how academia has helped her in the arts, Aldrete cited the skill of time management: When you’re young, it is much easier to devote energy to a creative flow when inspiration hits; as an adult, it becomes more and more important to structure one’s creative flow to break up the day.
Aldrete has been based in Hartford for most of the last 15 years, and one of her favorite aspects of the local arts scene is the geographic and thematic proximity of our region’s various arts institutions and cultural offerings. The reader may remember us promoting a multi-week virtual art workshop Aldrete ran with LGA Blog alum Rebecca Maloney last summer. Guess where they met? La Sala Femme, a curated evening of performances featuring Black femmes, womxn of color, non-binary and queer artists of color, produced by Hartford’s own Jasmin Agosto and her company, SageSeeker Productions. Aldrete and Maloney were sitting next to one another and struck up conversation. As things tend to happen in our local arts scene, this conversation between kindred spirits led to the aforementioned collaboration and a lasting friendship.
As both an artist and educator, Aldrete has felt the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in multiple ways. If you had a chance to view Zulynette’s “A Little Bit of Death,” you may have seen Aldrete’s segment “Return to Self,” a combination of bilingual singing and storytelling, accompanying herself on electric guitar. She hadn’t seen her artistic pursuits as much more than a hobby, but the pandemic served as a catalyst for her to think of art as part of her identity. The same catalyst coincided with a massive change at Trinity College, where the student community has been advocating for more faculty of color, both on the current roster and that of the future. Aldrete knew she could address this change in her curriculum, too. She has since started incorporating art history into her classes on Latin American femicide, connecting students to lesser known but significant contemporary figures, beyond Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. As someone who received a full scholarship to art school and almost went to culinary school before delving into the world of academia, Aldrete serves as a shining example of how the arts and education work in tandem with one another.
– Dan Deutsch, Marketing & Communications Manager GHAC
For 50 years, we’ve used the power of the arts to improve lives and transform communities. Artists and arts organizations across disciplines have been able to create, collaborate, and make an impact on thousands of people through our granting programs and community events.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused us to shift our focus to emergency funding and arts sector rehabilitation, something we couldn’t have done without the help of our corporate and community partners, generous donors, and most importantly: you.
The Arts Council has recently embarked on a new Strategic Planning process, with the help of Leading Culture Solutions. We are kicking off the planning process with a survey to gather input on how we can best serve the community in the near future and beyond. The results of this survey will be used to help shape our direction forward in terms of what, who, and how we fund the arts and partner in the community.
Your voice matters and we hope you will consider sharing your opinion. All data collected will be anonymous and confidential. Please complete this survey by March 2nd.
Corey Pane has certainly left a mark on the city of Hartford, and a signature one at that.
His mural work can be seen on buildings across downtown and beyond, far beyond city lines. Just in the past couple of years, Pane has traveled Boston, Chicago, and the United Kingdom for work. He’s created art for local bands such as West End Blend and Among the Acres, and a Juice Wrld album cover that’s been seen and loved by millions. Our region has its fair share of talented visual artists, and Pane is certainly helping put Hartford on the map.
A graduate of the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford, Pane had his beginning in the capital city, and those roots helped him establish strong connections which he continues to build upon today. Working with kids is his favorite way to collaborate; giving youth different opportunities and outlets to change their viewpoint is a significant part of his community work. He was inspired by this youthful energy when approached to paint the side of Webster Bank on Main Street in Bristol. According to Pane, they gave him complete artistic freedom, which resulted in a bright and youthful mural, looking towards the future.
He’s always been interested in murals and public art, but many of his first commissions came from a connection with the NFL. One of his friends asked him to paint cleats for his inaugural season, and it blew up from there. To this day, he’s been painting cleats for athletes of all kinds. He’s tried a multitude of mediums and materials throughout his career, for the purpose of building a repertoire, even if it’s something he doesn’t like. Whether he’s working on a pair of cleats or a multi-story building, he treats it all like a blank canvas. He may not know the material of this canvas in advance, but he applies the same basic skills of composition and technique that he learned in school.
If you’ve never seen him working, that may have something to do with the speed at which he works; Pane is sought after for his quick turnaround, which he attributes to his passion for the work. This may be why he’s able to work on so many different projects with differing scales at once. As mentioned above, music-related artwork represents a large portion of Pane’s commissions. He is a musician himself, so one can imagine that this connection plays a large role in his work. Whenever he takes on a musical client, he listens to their music as preparation, and internalizes their lyrics to use as inspiration for the artwork – whether it be artwork for a single, entire album, or show poster – no matter the genre. Pane views this work as a conversation between himself and his clients. A number of these conversations have resulted in synchronicity; the artist’s musical vision matching up with how he would have visually interpreted the work had there been no prior communication. At other times, his clients may not have a full idea coming into this conversation, and his work may inspire change for their overall vision.
While many of us are waiting until what this year brings, Pane is already planning some large mural work for a multi-story building in Hartford – location TBA. “That’s the kind of scale I’m most excited about.”
(All photography and artwork courtesy of Corey Pane)
– Dan Deutsch, Marketing & Communications Manager GHAC
Artists, educators, facilitators, entrepreneurs, communicators, administrators, change-makers – we’re in this together.
We’re doing all that we can to gather support for the capital region’s arts and culture sector and continue to be a resource for artists and organizations. We will be regularly updating this page with links for artists, organizations, and families looking for resources. For grantees with approved projects and funding that experience delays or cancellations due to COVID-19, please contact the Greater Hartford Arts Council directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is an ongoing list of resources for artists and national information regarding preparation and prevention.
A question for former choir kids: Were you ever singled out for being “overactive” in class? It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, to hear that singer-songwriter, bandleader and composer Erica T. Bryan was known to dance throughout her own choir class in grade school. Yet instead of channeling her boundless creative energy into marching band or other creative pursuits at the time, she took it on as a lifelong passion. She promptly said goodbye to her choir days after being called out and took to studying jazz with educators such as Jeff Fuller in high school and Noah Baerman at Wesleyan’s Center for Creative Youth. She found her way into other genres that allowed her to groove while singing, which has become a signature part of her performance.
“Funk and jazz are different conversations in the same room.”
Bryan met bassist Tom Sullivan as they joined Hartford’s own West End Blend – back then, it was a roaming collective of 14 undergraduate musicians at The Hartt School of Music, with Bryan taking the lead vocalist/emcee role in emulation of her idol, Chaka Khan. As the band’s audiences and opportunities got bigger, the group slimmed down to a core of eight with a growing national repertoire of venues. It took a while for the idea of representing Hartford on a national scale to sink in. When conversing with audiences, they would get the reaction “Hartford? Really?” Yes, Hartford, really! The culture shock was mutual. It was on tour that Bryan learned the invaluable lesson of knowing your audience.
After a few years of gigging and touring, Bryan also knew what she’d want as a bandleader; she had been feeling the desire to branch out to create a sound and a vibe that was more her own. In 2018, she recruited hip-hop drummer Dwayne Keith, jazz keyboardist Michael Carabello, and Sullivan (by then a frequent collaborator and significant other) to create The New Mosaic – a culmination of different styles influenced by each other, but creating a bigger picture. As a frontwoman, Bryan had never wanted to be a stereotype – a singer who doesn’t contribute more than their primary talent. She has used her strong background in music theory to maintain equal footing with her bandmates in all of her projects. In this process, her band isn’t simply interpreting Bryan’s lyrics and melodies – it is a true collaboration through and through.
All of her artistic projects are taking things carefully, as her two larger groups continue to maintain and build their audiences virtually. Last year, West End Blend was signed to Colorado-based talent agency Madison House. The New Mosaic has been steadily building a local and regional fan-base with their smaller, yet just-as-full neo-soul sound. Right now though, the groups are trying to make the best of this “weirdly indefinite” time. Even though she’s disappointed about the lack of gigs, Bryan is grateful for the opportunity to breathe, and is focusing on creating and publishing art on her own time.
(photography: Denis Semenyaka)
– Dan Deutsch, Marketing & Communications Manager GHAC
How do you find hope in challenging times? Alyssa Haley, owner of Born & Bred Studio in Hartford found a way to build it with her own hands.
Earlier this fall, Cheryl Antoncic of Bear’s Restaurant Group worked with the Jordan Porco Foundation to develop Linked 4 Life, a new initiative that aims to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and suicide prevention. Cheryl’s vision was to link together 11,000 carabiners as a public art installation as a symbol that we are all linked together, and it is OK to ask for help. The installation would also set a world record. However, Cheryl was looking for a local artist to put it together; that is where Haley came in.
Some of the best ideas start small, like a napkin drawing – and that is exactly what happened here. Haley knew that the sculpture’s foundation needed to be solid, yet lightweight to help with portability. Seeing as her whole family are crafters and/or tradespeople, she is no stranger to working with metal and other materials left as refuse. After her father connected her to Ironworkers Local 15, she started working with apprentices Sam Cook and Parker Maulucci on a 3D version of her drawing using donated scrap metal, which is a sculpture of “HOPE,” done in the style of Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” sculptures, seen in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Last week, the team finished sanding the 7’ x 7’ x 3’ frame, and had a chance to reflect on the work they had done. Ironworkers, construction workers, and other tradespeople don’t usually get to see much of the finished product, as they work on our infrastructure systems. Yet with a work of art, they marveled at the chance to create something that would make a different kind of impact.
The structure itself differs from its inspiration in a significant way; it is a frame rather than block letters. This symbol of hope is represented by the idea of community coming together around one idea, and that is breaking the silence and stigma surrounding mental health. Haley and the Linked 4 Life team is using art to bring us together, emphasizing that we are all struggling and that everyone’s individual experience is different. While collaboration is something that happens constantly both in front of our eyes and behind the scenes, there is a deeper need this year to come together for a larger purpose. Alyssa and her team were able to transform a napkin drawing into a record-breaking public art installation within a matter of weeks in a project that doesn’t just raise awareness for a cause, but also honors the often overlooked yet crucial work of essential workers.
On Saturday, October 10, Linked 4 Life will celebrate a temporary installation at Yard Goats Stadium before it is permanently placed elsewhere in downtown Hartford, and teams from around the state have been collaborating on selling the branded carabiners which Haley will assemble over the following weeks. Carabiners ($3 each) are being sold at all Bear’s Restaurant Group locations, as well as through online donations, and all proceeds go towards the Jordan Porco Foundation. As of writing, half of clips made have been sold. Visit linkedforlife.org learn more.
– Dan Deutsch, Marketing & Communications Manager GHAC