Hartford– A Great American (and Artistic) City


PARK(ing) Day 2013. Photo by Roger Castonguay.

Baseball.  Apple pie.  What do you think makes a great American city?  Would you consider adding arts and culture to the criteria?  Barbara Sexton Smith, now-former CEO of the Fund for the Arts in Louisville, Kentucky, certainly believes the arts create a great American City.  She believes that “a great American city is safe, healthy, educated, and vibrant,” and we can get there through the arts.

Barbara wrote about her vision for the city of Louisville in an op-ed earlier this year.  The picture she painted was of community ten years from now that was immersed in the arts.  Concrete facades became murals.  Public art became a major tourist attraction that everyone must see when they visited.  Students produced and performed in their own public concerts, which attracted whole families and neighborhoods to local parks.  Even education curriculums incorporated art into other subjects– “music is a part of math, poetry is a part of science, drama is a part of social studies, visual art is a part of literature, and dance and sports play on equal footing in the gymnasium.”  Crime was also down because there were more people on the streets at arts and culture-related events downtown.  Those who have committed crimes were learning empathy and good decision-making through arts programs.  The business sector also saw positive results of the artistic immersion as they recruited and retained high-quality, innovative, problem-solving employees who actively sought to work in the city.

Doesn’t this city sound appealing?  Who wouldn’t want to live, work, and play there!  Now, I’m going to drop a bombshell.

Hartford has it.

Yes, Hartford has these components!  Is there work to be done?  Certainly!  But the arts, heritage, and cultural communities have put Hartford on the path of great American cities.  Through many different organizations, our students are presenting their artistic skills through written word, visual art, music, dance, and theater.  Bushnell Park is filled every Monday night in July and into August for Jazz in the Park, and that’s merely one example of art in the park.  The events calendar is filled with events hosted by various arts organizations throughout the region– not just downtown– inviting people to experience, appreciate, and perhaps even create art.  Our neighborhoods celebrate their diversity and their history through cultural and heritage events– just look at the events the Arts Council supports!

I may be new to the city of Hartford, but I see that this area has forward momentum.  We just need to continue moving forward with that momentum, rather than slowing down or getting passive.  We must continue to expand the arts’ influence on the region to make it a vibrant area where people want to work and raise a family and go out to enjoy the area’s offerings.  Hartford and the metro region is that next great American city.  It’s thanks to the arts, heritage, and cultural community that we as a city, and as a region, are able to attain that title.