Why We Give to the Arts

#GivingTuesday kicks off our 2018 Season of Giving fundraiser, “Why We Give to the Arts!” Our fundraising goal is $2018 and it will run until the end of the year.

The arts bring communities together, enable us to take risks, and give people a voice. The Greater Hartford Region is rich with arts and culture. From classes at your local arts center to visiting a museum, from theatrical performances to rehabilitative dance and movement, the arts give us a way to celebrate our present, honor the past, and dream of the future.

We celebrated #GivingTuesday by partnering up with Pietro’s Pizza on #garlicknotsforgood, where we invited the public into The Art Room at 100 Pearl to share why they give to the arts. In exchange, they got to grab a slice of pizza and some garlic knots! Here are just a few reasons why members of our community give to the arts:

Because we learn by teaching and teach when we learn.

To help Hartford grow into a vibrant scene

Because the arts made me who I am today

Creativity nourishes the individual soul and the spirit of our society

To showcase the multi-dimensional art presence so many overlook in Hartford

Because the arts have the power to bring communities together

Why Do You Give?

Our Facebook Fundraiser is up and running on our page! If you don’t have a Facebook or would rather give through our website, you may do so here.



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Little Theatre of Manchester’s “Kiss Me, Kate” Combines Contemporary and the Classical

Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Sam and Bella Spewack

Little Theatre of Manchester
Dates: November 2 – 18, 2018
Times: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM / Sundays at 2 PM
Ticket Prices: $30 for VIP / $25 for General Seating (Student & Senior Discounts Available)

Kiss Me Kate is an ambitious show, using the play within a play device in a clever and witty way. In this case, the play is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. While this idea is innovative and works well, it also makes for a more elaborate production, what with the large cast, the many costumes from two different periods, and the way Porter’s songs serve both to move the contemporary story along and also to also enhance the Shakespearean scenes.

Pat Sloan, LTM’s Head Costume Designer, has had her challenges in bringing both decades to life. Kiss Me, Kate is set in the 1940s, while the Shakespearean scenes are circa 15th century. She and her team have been working diligently for months—cutting, sewing, collecting, and making costumes (many from scratch) for a cast of 30. The actors have several costume changes for a total of approximately 350 pieces. Pat also must consider historical accuracy, and if movement is required for the scene, the fabric must allow for dance.

Sloan and her team are sticklers for detail. For example, each costume is lined in cotton (to absorb sweat). Attention to each element is paramount, from the embossed roses on Bianca’s Renaissance wedding coat and dress to the two thugs in classic pinstripe suits and spats in the always wonderful number, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”

Kiss Me, Kate is an explosion of color and physical activity, highlighted by a magnificent two-story set, and those fabulous costumes. And with that incomparable Cole Porter touch of wit and gorgeous melody that distinguishes his very best work, it’s a show that lives up to its legendary reputation.

LTM.’s production, by the way, precedes the upcoming and eagerly awaited Broadway revival with Kelli O’Hara, expected in early 2019.

Dwayne Harris is the Executive Director of Little Theatre of Manchester, and he can be reached at dharris@cheneyhall.org.

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Where Are They Now Part IV: Art League of New Britain

One of the strengths of the Arts Catalyst program is that it meets people where they are at. All of the participants in the first cohort two years ago had different needs. They all went through the same consulting workshop, developed an innovation goal plan, and worked with Business Volunteers for the Arts. If you’ve been keeping up, you’ll see they’ve all benefited from their participation. The fourth and final post in our Where Are They Now series shines the spotlight on Art League of New Britain (ALNB), the oldest organization in Cohort 1, and also the second oldest art league in the country!

From the ALNB Salon event, “At Home Abroad: American Women Artists in Late Nineteenth Century Italy”

During the preliminary consultation, each organization analyzed their Strengths, Challenges, Opportunities, and Threats. Board members Christie Ward and Jim Brunelle served as representatives for ALNB, and like other organizations in the cohort, found that their strengths and challenges sometimes overlap. ALNB, founded approximately 90 years ago, is housed in a picturesque carriage house, first owned by local industrialist George Post. However, they struggle with usable space for growth. Ward and Brunelle ultimately settled on the goal to expand ALNB’s offerings by creating special workshops and lectures appealing to a broader and more diverse audience. “Jim and I had a great time during the innovation goal process. As a board, we had often talked about new ideas, but we had never engaged in such a detailed level of imagining and planning,” elaborated Ward.

“We were hoping for a professional who could bring a fresh perspective to the table, and we were not disappointed.”

After creating their innovation goal plan, Ward and Brunelle started working with marketing specialist Stephanie Glasgow of Women’s Health USA. “The BVA pairing was especially exciting for us. We were hoping for a professional who could bring a fresh perspective to the table, and we were not disappointed,” Ward said of Glasgow. “We also felt the process of guided self-reflection would be very valuable to our organization, and it was.” Brunelle added, “our BVA took appropriate time (in a busy schedule) to meet with board members to survey and assess survey responses to membership’s needs.”

From ALNB’s Connecticut Women Writers Panel

One of the major projects Glasgow helped with was a proposal template for ALNB’s Salon Series, a year-long schedule of events focused on thematically connecting visual art exhibits to a lively discussion of relevant current events and/or a live performance. The event template included a project abstract, organizational description and history, program review, event description, project timeline, budget template. Last year, ALNB held five Salon Series events with themes including Utopian/Dystopian literature, “Fake News,” American Women Artists in the 19th Century, Connecticut Women Writers Panel, and Un Año después de Maria, an exhibition and musical event held in conjunction with programming at the New Britain Museum of American Art in commemoration of the first anniversary of the Hurricane Maria disaster in Puerto Rico. “Without Stephanie’s encouragement, we might not have made the leap into this kind of new programming, which has attracted people who have never before visited ALNB,” commented Ward. “We plan to use remaining [Arts Catalyst] funds to offer additional Salon events in 2019.

Since participating in the Arts Catalyst program, ALNB has been able to expand their membership as well as actively promoting their programming. After surviving a flood in their gallery a couple weeks ago that could have seriously damaged an entire exhibition, they’re looking at capital improvements as well. “We are looking forward to improving our building by renovating the stables and expanding our gallery space,” reads a statement from the Board of Directors. “We also hope to hold more art exhibits and more Salon events. We would like to offer more classes and to seek out more opportunities for community engagement.”


Our second cohort of small arts & culture organizations are currently in the midst of the Arts Catalyst program, and we’re looking forward to seeing the results!


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Hartford Symphony Orchestra Shifts Paradigm of Symphonic Music with “Intermix”

HSO Music Director, Carolyn Kuan

Thursdays are the new Fridays- haven’t you heard? HSO: Intermix is breaking the mold of orchestral music, offering a casual setting, cocktails, and a chance to be up close as Hartford Symphony Orchestra musicians perform innovative pieces by the world’s most sought-after composers. This season, we’re traveling around Greater Hartford to bring music to new audiences- and that starts with exciting venues.

On Thursday, November 8, we’re bringing HSO: Intermix to Upward Hartford, one of the most versatile locations in the area, with Appalachian Avalanche. Located at 20 Church Street on the Mezzanine Floor, Upward Hartford is revolutionizing the use of office space for young professionals in the downtown area. In an unexpected collaboration, they are teaming up with the Hartford Symphony to be a part of redefining the orchestral music experience. This relaxed event offers audience members a chance to experience classical and contemporary compositions while also sampling complimentary cocktails from Brockman’s Gin and mingling with friends. Where else can you enjoy a drink while also looking over the shoulder of a world-class percussionist? HSO: Intermix is truly working to shift the paradigm of live symphonic music.

Intermix at Onyx Moonshine

Adding to the flair of the unique venue, Appalachian Avalanche will also feature a refreshing programming combination. Missy Mazzoli, identified by The New York Times as, “one of the most consistently inventive, surprising composers now working in New York,” composed Still Life with Avalanche in 2008. Described by Mazzoli as a “pile of melodies collapsing in a chaotic free fall,” this piece highlights the juxtaposition between the calm and frenzy that are evident in day-to-day life. Contrast continues thematically throughout the program, with Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite providing a classical twist to the otherwise contemporary programing. Accompanying this American classical staple will be a large-scale video display of the original choreography by Martha Graham.

Between a mix of musical styles and artistic mediums, an exciting location, hand-crafted cocktails, and a group of your friends; there’s no shortage of reasons to spend your Thursday night with the Hartford Symphony as they present HSO: Intermix’s Appalachian Avalanche!

Intermix at Real Art Ways

Tickets for the event are only $25, $20 for HSO subscribers, and student tickets are available for just $15 with a valid ID. Tickets can be purchased at the door, online at www.hartfordsymphony.org, or by phone at (860) 987-5900.

Amanda Savio is the Marketing and Public Relations Manager at Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Contact her at asavio@hartfordsymphony.org.

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Where Are They Now, Part 3: Southington Community Cultural Arts

There is a lot to be said about being at the right place at the right time, and that’s exactly where artist Mary DeCroce was in 2016. DeCroce, now Executive Director of Southington Community Cultural Arts (SoCCA), along with a core group of fellow artists and colleagues had just ended a $1.2 million capital campaign to open Southington’s first community arts center. They heard about the Arts Catalyst program, and immediately saw the potential in how the new center, staff, volunteers, and already growing student population could benefit.

Before 2016, the art center was more nebulous: There were 10 people total, including assistants, who met every Saturday morning at the local branch of The Arc, an advocacy and human services organization. They started the program with a grant from the Barnes Trust through the Main Street Community Foundation. As soon as they opened in the historic Gura Building at 93 Main St, their student number tripled in size. Now entering their third year, SoCCA is made up of four rented studio spaces, a gallery, retail shop, an administrative office, weaving room, pottery studio, and several classrooms.

“I recognized that Southington, with 43,000 people, did not have a place for the arts. There were just a couple places to exhibit, there wasn’t adequate teaching space,” recalled DeCroce of the local arts and culture landscape. “I was pleading as an artist, ‘let’s have a space’” She used every platform she could to advocate for an arts center. As a winner of the Unsung Hero award at the YMCA, she was invited to give a 10-minute speech and remembers emphasizing, “we have to make room for the arts here, we have to have this in our town.” The speech was short and sweet, but it was also passionate. It was in the following Spring, when the Town Council was voting to demolish the Gura Building, that Town Council member Dawn Miceli reached out to DeCroce, expressing her support for the cause.

“Helping provide a home for the arts in our community has truly been the most rewarding initiative that I’ve been involved with during my tenure on the Southington Town Council. But beyond our beautiful physical space, SoCCA has just been a wonderful impetus for bringing an awareness of both the visual and performing arts – and their inherent benefits – to our citizens,” said Miceli, who currently serves as a trustee emeritus on the SoCCA board.

The arts center wouldn’t be where it is today without the Arts Catalyst program, according to DeCroce. In preparation for the innovation goal workshop, she brought in a few board members to help take SoCCA to the next level. “We needed to know how to run an arts center. How do we make this a working arts center when none of us had done anything like this in our life?” The innovation goal workshop, where they had the opportunity to learn from other cohort leaders’ experience running their respective arts center, was just the beginning.

DeCroce and the board then worked with a Business Volunteer for the Arts, who also happened to be a native of Southington. Wendy Ronitz-Baker, Principal Coach at Practical Results Coaching, worked with DeCroce on “every single facet” of starting a business as an arts center. Together, they laid out what would become the responsibilities as Executive Director: Public Relations, Program Oversight, Grant Administration, Board Liaison, Human Resources Management, Event Coordination, Building Maintenance, and Cash Management. There are even more duties that fall under her watch for now, until they hire an Assistant Director. Ronitz-Baker helped immensely with details and logistics which helped DeCroce focus on strategy and big picture, which is where they’re headed next. Ronitz-Baker recently led the SoCCA board retreat, enabling her to see the fruits of her labor and how far the organization has come.

So, where is SoCCA now? They have a massive underground pottery studio that holds six classes a week (with a waiting list). They run their signature All-Access program with 70 weekly class visits for students with disabilities. They host exhibits, performances, and other events. Now, DeCroce’s goal is keeping SoCCA vibrant. “We are now recognized in this short amount of time as a resource,” she said. By connecting with the Department of Developmental Services, their students come as far as Thomaston, Torrington, Waterbury, and Watertown. DeCroce beamed as she gave an example of SoCCA’s impact. “There’s a wonderful energy of creativity. [Our students] are so supportive of each other; they are so fun to work with.”

“The dream of having a space for the arts for all abilities and ages is now a reality and we are working hard to keep it successful and vibrant.”

SoCCA’s impact has been felt on many levels – the personal, communal, and municipal. “As an elected official, I am also grateful for the economic stimulus that the arts have had in our community. SoCCA has been a destination location for Southington and is now critically weaved into the fabric of our town – similar in nature to the Southington Drive-In, Mount Southington and so many other community gems,” said Miceli. In addition to keeping the center vibrant, DeCroce is shifting her focus to sustainability. They’ve been participating in a series of capacity-building workshops at the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain, where she found out the center has been doing quite well considering its age. “We have grown rapidly in our first 2 years and are using every resource we have to keep the momentum of becoming one of the premier art centers in Connecticut. The dream of having a space for the arts for all abilities and ages is now a reality and we are working hard to keep it successful and vibrant.”

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Where Are They Now, Part 2: Windsor Art Center

How do you transform a volunteer-run community arts center founded in the Great Recession into a destination for visual and performing arts? That question is what the Windsor Art Center has been grappling with since its 2007 beginnings. The Windsor Art Center is the second of four organizations that completed the first cohort of the Arts Catalyst program in 2017, and it took very little time to reap the benefits.

Image: Mike Taylor

Their small but mighty marketing committee, including founding board member Holly Pelton, and current Vice President Neill Sachdev, entered the program with two main goals: Increase membership and increase revenue. Being all too aware that those goals are inherently connected, they knew that they needed a marketing plan in place to turn these goals into action. After their eye-opening experience at the innovation goal workshop, where they met with other program participants to take part in a S.C.O.T (Strengths, Challenges, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and brainstorm actionable goals, they were assigned a Business Volunteer for the Arts who helped them develop this marketing plan. Business Volunteer for the Arts is a national skills-based management consulting program that pairs business professionals with non-profit arts organizations to help with high-level projects. They quickly realized that this plan would become a pivotal moment in the development of the organization. The creation of the marketing plan led them to institute the center’s first Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

Image: Mike Taylor

“I’m confident, because of this grant, we’re going to make a difference that will be felt in the art center for at least a decade.”

“The thought was if anyone, from a volunteer to a board member, has the ability to add [information to] a centralized location where we can now understand who’s attending events, what they’re attending, what they’re spending money on, and keeping track of when their membership expires in a better way, we have the ability to remind them and share events they might be interested in,” said Sachdev. “It’s a completely new nucleus for the organization…I’m confident, because of this grant, we’re going to make a difference that will be felt in the art center for at least a decade.”

According to Pelton and Sachdev, the organization’s first decade saw endless events – exhibit openings, artist talks, lectures, and film nights – and they wanted to do even more, but fitting everything in while still making sure their volunteers had a healthy work/life balance was proving to be difficult. Ray Lamoureux, Marketing & Sponsorship Director for Taubman Properties, worked with the Windsor Art Center on sorting everything out. “There was a lot of good energy…but Ray did was help us take a step back, organize our thoughts, and put them in a way that made the most sense for what our organization was and where it was going,” added Sachdev. “Having a lot of great ideas is one thing, but being able to distill those ideas, being able to understand what you’re capable of doing and in what timeline – that’s what Ray helped us do.”

Image: Mike Taylor

It was working with Ray that began a significant chain of events. Sachdev commented on the fact that they are now instituting Quickbooks and the new CRM. “The ripple effect that will happen by having a more optimized website and a more efficient strategy with keeping track of members and funds, will enable us to grow both things.” Pelton added, “the fact that we were able to start the database is going to be the underlying fabric that will allow us to do these marketing ventures to continue to build awareness, as well as start to bring in more funding.” Since the art center is completely volunteer-run, Pelton and Sachdev believe, that with the right training, the volunteers will be able to use the database with ease, therefore freeing up time for leadership and Board committees to step away from the nitty-gritty and make more strategic moves. “It really will empower volunteers to feel like they’re making a bigger difference in the art center.”

Image: Mike Taylor

In addition to planning more and varied events, the art center has been actively engaging in their local community. They had not had many space rentals, but since receiving funding as part of the Arts Catalyst program, they have been able to offer the space for free to any nonprofit organization in Windsor. In addition, they’ve been collaborating with other organizations to put on events. “We just recently had a trivia night with the Windsor Library Association, and worked with a couple local businesses to get food and beer…everyone had a wonderful time, and now we’ve developed a relationship with another organization in town,” Sachdev recalls. “I think synergy between civic organizations is absolutely key right now.”

Image: Mike Taylor

The Windsor Art Center may only be starting its second decade, but it is at the center of local (and some national) history. Within just a few minutes radius you can visit several historical landmarks, parks, and restaurants. Given that this former freight house sits right next to the local Amtrak stop, the Windsor Art Center is well on its way to becoming a true destination.

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“Bernstein, Barber, and Brahms:” An Evening of Music History

Thursday, October 18, 7:30 p.m.
Mortensen Hall, Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, Hartford

The Hartford Chorale opens its 2018-2019 season with a concert that promises to be an evening of rich music-making in a multi-faceted celebration of three genius composers, in the observance of some significant anniversaries, and as a recognition of several important historic observances. Called Bernstein, Barber, and Brahms, the musical fare includes a tribute to Leonard Bernstein at the 100th anniversary of his birth and within four days of the observance of his death in 1990. One of the greatest composers, pianists, and conductors, of the 20th century, Bernstein wrote his dynamic Mass: A Theater Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers for the opening of the Kennedy Center in 1971.  The Chorale’s concert opens with a brief, unaccompanied excerpt, “Almighty Father,” which not only pays homage to Bernstein but serves as a choral invocation in anticipation of what lies ahead.

An American composer of equal renown is Samuel Barber, who, at the age of twenty-five, composed a string quartet whose second movement became, by the end of World War II, the most frequently performed concert work by an American composer throughout the world.  His “Adagio for Strings” is an elegy of profound solemnity, filled with raw emotion from start to finish. It seems that the intention of the piece is to make us cry! Performed often at times of national and international commemorations and memorials, the piece was also heard in the films Platoon, Elephant Man, and Lorenzo’s Oil.  Philanthropist George Soros once observed, “I cannot explain, but when I hear this music it reminds me there is a God.”

The Bernstein and Barber pieces set up mightily and perfectly the monumental German Requiem by Johannes Brahms, included in our concert not only for its unparalleled power as a stunning symphonic choral work but because it was first performed 150 years ago, representing another of the celebrations this concert heralds. The words of this requiem, unlike those of the more traditional Latin Masses, were selected by Brahms himself from his well-worn Lutheran Bible and are words of comfort, cheer, and jubilation. Famed conductor Robert Shaw observed, “Is there a piece in our repertoire which is so enlivening to sing? Rarely do music and text meet on the same high level, but in Brahms they do.”

On stage with the Chorale on October 18 are The Manchester High School Roundtable Singers and Alumni as they celebrate their 80th anniversary. Directed by Edward Tyler, the Singers are a highly regarded and distinguished high-school choral ensemble. Their collaboration with us is a fine example of the Chorale’s well-known engagements in education and outreach.

As always, the Chorale is honored to have on stage with us the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, one our most beloved performance partners. We are particularly thrilled to make use of Mortensen Hall’s magnificent Austin organ. Its powerful roar and gentle purr will provide the crowning touch to Brahms’ stunning masterpiece.

We know that this celebration of Bernstein, Barber, and Brahms will bring enrichment, excitement, inspiration, and joy to all.

Richard Coffey is Music Director of Hartford Chorale.

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Ballet Theatre Company Celebrates 20th Anniversary

In a city like Hartford, we’re lucky to have a wide variety of arts and cultural organizations that are diverse in many ways including age. It is because of this that it is such a privilege to share in celebration when one of these organizations reaches a milestone. Please join us in congratulating Ballet Theatre Company on their 20th Anniversary! Artistic Director Stephanie Dattellas came to Ballet Theatre Company last summer straight from Syracuse, where she had helped expand Syracuse City Ballet’s repertoire and mission as their Ballet Mistress and Company Manager.

“I am a strong believer that dance has the incredible power to unify one another, ignite hope, spark passion and encourage one to achieve a lofty goal.”

Since its founding in 1999, Ballet Theatre Company has staged over 75 ballet productions, trained nearly 1000 dancers and has served over 10,000 students in the Greater Hartford region who otherwise would not have had the opportunity. In addition to the tried-and-true Nutcracker and performances around the region including the Noah Webster House, New Britain Museum of American Art, and Aetna, Ballet Theatre Company will be holding “20 Masterclasses for 20 Years” in honor of their anniversary. These masters of dance join Ballet Theatre Company from American Ballet Theatre, Broadway, and other companies from around the country. In addition, Dattellas initiated a pilot program with the Miracle League of Greater Connecticut centered around adaptive dance with students ages 4-21, culminating in a performance after 8 weeks of sessions. “I am a strong believer that dance has the incredible power to unify one another, ignite hope, spark passion and encourage one to achieve a lofty goal,” Dattellas said of the program, which currently enrolls 44 students. “Through this program, children of all abilities will have the chance to discover their unique voice, and expand their creative boundaries. I cannot wait to watch each of their journeys through this incredible program!”

As part of her first season, Dattellas worked with several other local dance companies on a benefit performance to raise money for the families affected by last October’s mass shooting in Las Vegas. This year, the companies plan to raise money for childhood cancer research. “’Dancing for a Cause’ is a performance I am especially passionate about and excited to bring to BTC’s season annually. It gathers several diverse, professional and local dance companies in one space, for one night, utilizing their talents to benefit a charitable cause. I am so grateful that these other dance companies are so willing to donate their talents supporting a cause of our community.” Dancing for a Cause is a performance Ballet Theatre Company will present annually, benefiting a new charitable cause year to year.

There is clearly a lot to look forward with Ballet Theatre Company, and you can find more information about their 20th season on their website at www.dancebtc.org.

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Doors Not Walls: Leaving, Arriving, Rediscovering (US)

Judy Dworin Performance Project’s latest dance theater production is the twenty-nine-year-old Ensemble’s first site-specific piece, but more than that, it is the first work conceived in response to the human impact of contemporary politics of division.

Image: Joseph Abad

(US) brings the artist’s eye to examine the current and past realities of the American immigrant experience. Incorporating dance, multimedia visuals, and a layered sound score, the performance boldly confronts the hot button issues of 2018: nationalism vs. patriotism; barriers vs. welcome; racism vs. inclusion; privilege vs. justice; and fear vs. sanctuary. It shies from none of them, yet is never consumed by them, moving steadily forward in the direction of hope.

Image: Andy Hart

Apart from the challenging core material, what makes (US) special is its setting in the Hartford Public Library’s Downtown branch, long a center for new arrivals to gather and fulfill their need for information, community, and assimilation. The piece uses the Library’s architecture to amplify its message: the uncertainty of Arrival in the main lobby: the separation of Walls in the Atrium; and the reverence of Sanctuary in the CCC Room, with the words, “A Place Like No Other” part of the existing architecture on the wall above the stage. Audiences can look forward to literally walking alongside the dancers, who use their bodies and sole props – a collection of vintage suitcases – to become the setting and narrative for the story they are telling. Music and spoken word, including the voices of Hartford-area immigrants fill out the scene, along with digital projections that “capture” the Library’s many computer screens like the news stories and opinion blogs that dominate our digital life.

Image: Joseph Abad

While the premiere date for (US) was set more than a year ago, the timing now coincides with highly charged public debate and a climate of partisanship unlike any we have seen in living memory. (US) could become a part of that – but it doesn’t. It acknowledges the wall, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and #AbolishICE without being defined by any of them. It hearkens to a better place – a connection to a better universal condition that we have glimpsed but not yet achieved. There is solemnity in its sorrow, rather than retribution, and temper in its joy that leaves plain that we have a long way to go to achieve a more perfect union.

(US) premieres at Hartford Public Library on October 12-13, 2018. Tickets are $25, and are on sale now at www.judydworin.org. Judy Dworin Performance Project, Inc. is a Hartford-based arts non-profit  organization that uses dance, movement, and the performing and visual arts to work for social justice in schools, on stage, and in prisons.

Jennifer Eifrig is Grants & Communications Manager for Judy Dworin Performance Project, Inc. Contact her at jennifer@judydworin.org.

[featured image: Joseph Abad]

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Where Are They Now, Part 1: Farmington Valley Arts Center

Our promise is to use the arts to “improve lives and transform communities.” A few years ago, we created the Arts Catalyst program, which provides small arts and culture organizations resources that support growth and innovation. In the “Where Are They Now?” series, we’ll revisit each community arts center that completed the first Cohort of our Arts Catalyst program, where they worked with an organizational development consultant and a Business Volunteer for the Arts. The first post takes a look at how the Farmington Valley Arts Center found a way forward after the devastating recession in 2008 and what they’ve been able to do with the Arts Catalyst resources.

There’s nothing like a fresh start, and the Farmington Valley Arts Center has seen many changes since it started over 40 years ago. This former Ensign-Bickford fuse factory nestled in bucolic Avon is no stranger to transition. Started by a local clergyman in 1974, the Arts Center had been providing programs, classes, studio space, and a children’s summer camp until 2008 when the economy crashed. After closing for just one day, the Board of Directors had a chance to refocus. A new Board President was appointed to tackle the significant financial issues, and to put the FVAC back on the path to financial stability. Their “Rebuilding” phase included expanding their studio rentals, re-imagining their education program, relocating and refreshing their retail space, producing more exhibits, and adding  or revitalizing existing programs  such as an Artist-in-Residence  program, Art Parties and Art Hikes. They were also looking to take advantage of other funding opportunities, so they were excited to find out they had gotten in to the Arts Catalyst cohort in 2016.

As important as it is to start a project with this sort of breadth and depth with an open mind, it is completely normal to have some nerves and hesitancy, but Board member Linda Sorrell was ready to put all of the aforementioned ideas into action. “The innovation goal workshop really helped us crystallize things that we had been thinking about,” Sorrell said. “Going into the workshop, what became very apparent was that we had some really pretty good offerings and quite decent infrastructure in place. What we didn’t have was a way of marketing it.” Sorrell is referring to a strategic document that had been produced back in 2012, but a lot of the content had not been operationalized for various reasons. The innovation workshop guided Cohort 1 through an organizational analysis, vision development, and action planning exercises to help participants realize potential growth. Sorrell’s takeaway from the innovation goal workshop was the beginning of a marketing plan to operationalize their former strategic planning document.

“Working on innovation goals, it became clear that to do anything else, we had to get a particular message out there and start to address the audience, not only the audience we had at the moment, but to increase and diversify that audience pretty significantly.” Sorrell and the Board wished to grow the audience from a mostly homogenous group into different populations with varied interests. This is where the Business Volunteers for the Arts played a significant role. “[The] BVA partners were phenomenal…they understood social media in a way the FVAC board and volunteers did not…[they] put out surveys and collected a lot of data.” FVAC’s experience with the innovation goal workshop combined with findings generated by their BVA partners culminated in four distinct yet interwoven areas of potential growth: Visibility, Excitement, Community, and Sustainability.

Over the summer, the arts center hosted the first Funnybone Records showcase, an evening of music and poetry performed by artists associated with the West Hartford-based label of the same name. As part of their recently expanded clay program, they developed a series of “clay date nights” through Groupon that reached a new demographic and volume of people they hadn’t seen. “If we can get people back here once, we can get them a second and a third…we can start to understand what kinds of events will draw people in,” said Sorrell.

In conclusion, the Farmington Valley Arts Center participants had an overwhelmingly positive experience in the first Arts Catalyst cohort, and look forward to being able to produce more consistent offerings. Be on the lookout for our next “Where Are They Now” post, where we learn how the Windsor Art Center fared in their Cohort 1 experience!

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