Inspiration on Albany Avenue

Can you guess which Hartford-based cultural organization was invited to perform for Michelle Obama at the White House last year by the National Endowment for the Arts? Was cited by Harvard University’s Project Co-Arts as one of six exemplary community art centers in the nation? Was visited by President Clinton in 1999 as he addressed the community about economic development and highlighted the organization as a glowing example of urban development at its best?

The Artists Collective has deservedly received each of these distinctions, among many other achievements during its 30+ year history. Located on upper Albany Avenue, the Collective has been an anchor in the North End community, providing after-school and summer multi-disciplinary arts programming to youth from the immediate neighborhood while attracting students from outside state lines.

Dance class at Artists Collective

As part of an upcoming public art project planned for Hartford’s Albany Avenue library branch (more on that later), I’ve recently brought a handful of artists to tour the Artists Collective as they learn more about the community and culture of the neighborhood. The building is full of positive energy, with wee little girls in black leotards prancing off to dance class and pre-teen boys “popping and locking” with incredible precision. On one visit, an elderly woman was practicing for her upcoming piano recital. At the same time, twin girls (who were thought to be developmentally delayed when born) were showing off their new brown belts in their martial arts class.

Carmen Lundy at The Artists Collective
Carmen Lundy performs at Artists Collective.
Artist Collective founder Dollie McLean, center, brings students to meet with First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House.

The Artists Collective is truly an inspiring organization, providing an outlet for underserved youth from the North End and empowering them through the arts. Presidential administrations and our nation’s most revered University has recognized the good work the organization does, but it seems our own community has yet to catch on. And while it pains me to admit it, I’ve neglected to take advantage of the amazing performances the Artists Collective offers.

It’s true; in my 5+ years living in Greater Hartford, I’ve never attended a concert there. But I have the chance to make amends this month. The Jackie McLean International Arts Festival takes place May 16th through May 19th with a mix of visual art exhibitions, film screenings and jazz concerts. If, like me, you have yet to attend a concert, mark your calendar for Saturday, May 19th when NEA Jazz Master and percussionist Candido Camero will perform in the Artist Collective’s magical building.

The Jackie McLean International Arts Festival schedule can be found at