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Posts from the ‘On the Road’ Category

Grand Band Slam: The 1st Annual Connecticut Music Awards

ImageWhen I say “art,” what’s the first thing you think about? I know my mind instantly wanders to paintings like The Mona Lisa or other famous classics in places like the Tate Britain in London or The Louvre in Paris—and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, it’s important to remember to take the next step beyond that initial mental inclination and realize that art doesn’t exist solely in a gallery, or in a theater. In reality, art holds an immeasurable amount of forms and can be found in a myriad of different places, voices, pieces and people—even oftentimes Friday and Saturday nights in your favorite bars!

Yes, I’m talking about those singer/songwriters, bands and DJs you thump your heads or dance the night away to (poorly, in my case) as you go out for a night on the town. Although many nutmeggers head to New York or Boston to unearth new musical talents, Connecticut possesses an incredible and impressive local music scene that deserves greater recognition and appreciation.

ImageAnd that was the overall intention of the 1st Annual Connecticut Music Awards that took place last Wednesday (Sep 12) at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. Organized by Chip McCabe from the Hartford Advocate as part of this year’s Grand Band Slam, this Grammy-esque awards ceremony boasted 16 different awards categories featuring over 50 musical artists and bands from all around our state gathered for one purpose: love for Connecticut’s music.

Since the Arts Council was one of the sponsors of Grand Band Slam this year, I had the opportunity to man a booth before the Music Awards began to talk to different artists about their music and the Arts Council in general. Although each musician most certainly had his or her own unique fashion style (including the one band that dressed like The Village People), what truly fascinated me was how similarly they all seemed to feel and act. Despite being frosty cool on the outside, many musicians emanated a subtle nervous excitement, clearly anxious to find out if they were taking home the trophy.

ImageLost in observation, I was taken aback as the lights began to flicker at 7:30pm, signaling the start of the show. I took my seat and shortly thereafter Chip McCabe, the night’s host, popped onstage and was greeted by a thunderous applause by the musicians in the audience, clearly a sign of their respect and appreciation for his hard work for Connecticut’s music scene. As the awards began, I grew nervous that the lighthearted and fun atmosphere would turn cutthroat as victors and subsequent losers emerged. But my fears were quickly quashed as the applause for each nominee transitioned into cheers for the award’s winner without a groan or a boo anywhere in the room. That happening spoke wonders about our local bands—though not every artist went home with a trophy, each remained supportive of the other and, to a certain extent, the scene in general.

I think that kind of support and appreciation the bands hold for one another distinguishes Connecticut’s music scene and makes it something definitely worth being a part of.  If you want to give the scene a try for yourself, you can see each nominated band at various locations throughout the state this Thursday through Saturday (Sep 20-22). For venues, times and locations, visit ct.com. Because, in reality,

There’s art happening all around you if you step back and look for it.

Real Art Ways presents “‘Capitalism works for me!’ True/False Project”

Sometimes the most complex issues hide under the shroud of a simple statement. As an English major in my undergrad and grad days, I was instructed to interrogate the complexity of social issues, or, to tell you what really happened, to go crazy arguing points about topics that never have an answer. That’s probably why I had such a difficult time this past Friday wrapping my head around Steve Lambert’s interactive portable public art piece “’Capitalism works for me!’ True/False Project” presented by Real Art Ways.

But let me back up for a second. Last week, Sarah Brozna, Communications Coordinator at Real Art Ways, invited me to check out Lambert’s project in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square during lunch on Friday (May 11). “Capitalism works for me! True/False Project” presents passersby with the opportunity to vote on whether or not they agree with Capitalism, which it tallies on a digital scoreboard. Given its portability, the art piece can ask the question to individuals in tons of different locations; for example, before its stop in Blue Back Square, the project was placed at Manchester Community College to sample the students’ opinions. In an election year supercharged with economic issues highly publicized by the recession and the Occupy: Wall Street movement, now seems like a particularly poignant time to address the inquiry.

After a quick stroll through Blue Back Square (which is a nice way of putting that I got lost), I met up with Sarah and a few other staff members from Real Art Ways to tackle the complex topic of Capitalism hidden behind big letters and vibrant reds, whites and blues. Although places like Blue Back Square serve those thriving under the system, in the context of the art piece I couldn’t help but think of all the people unable to participate in the cute shops and restaurants of the location, or those who don’t bloom under Capitalism at all.

Existing in that gray area between good and bad, I tried hammering out my thoughts about Capitalism with Sarah and the other Real Art Ways staff members, who offered both helpful advice and more perplexities to the topic. Despite my nature to find a solution that recognizes both the positives and negatives of Capitalism, as I stepped up to the podium to declare a choice, the art piece presented no option for a middle ground—only two buttons: TRUE or FALSE. In a sense, the project forces you to agree or disagree with the project’s statement as it pertains directly to your life in spite of the national and international ramifications of Capitalism. Although I pressed one button in the end, neither option would have left me any more satisfied with my decision than the other.

And perhaps that’s the point of the project—to make people choose when both options don’t entirely feel right, thereby exposing and exploiting a flaw in the system as a whole. Or maybe it’s just to make people think about a topic they face consciously and unconsciously everyday. After all,

Sometimes the most complex issues hide under the shroud of a simple statement.

Much thanks to Sarah and the entire staff of Real Art Ways for inviting me to and helping bring this pensive project to our community. If you want to vote yourself, make some time to visit Creative Cocktail Hour at Real Art Ways this Thursday (May 17) at 6pm, where “Capitalism works for me! True False Project” will be set-up and ready to intrigue you as it did for me.

Dancing in the Street/Dreaming with Your Feet

In the Greater Hartford Welcome Center rests a red cubical jar that contains tiny blue slips of inspirational quotes. During a particularly potent 2:30 slump, I reached into the jar to find an interesting idea from Constanze: “Dancing is like dreaming with your feet!” Although I have always been fascinated by dancers’ ability to make meticulous and exacting movements appear effortless, my feet must be agents of nightmares, since they have inspired more dread and terror than musings in my lifetime.

Fortunately, I saw Constanze’s quotation come alive in a few different ways at the Arts Council’s Dancing in the Street Public Art Project yesterday (May 2). Another event in our Aetna Arts Week, Dancing in the Street featured performances in downtown Hartford’s Statehouse Square by Judy Dworin Performance Project, dancEnlight, Spectrum in Motion, Ballet Theatre Company, Sonia Plumb Dance Company and Allongé Dance Variations.

This free lunchtime event showcased the variety and excellence of dance in our community in a way that any passerby could take part in and appreciate. With each performance lasting less than five minutes, visitors were treated to a number of different dance forms in a short amount of time. Some of the types of dance included spicy flamenco, classic ballet and more contemporary pieces. After seeing a performance, attendees could then talk directly to the dancers and learn more about the dancers, the dance company and/or just dance in general. For those not familiar with the art form, Dancing in the Street presented a great chance to get up close and personal with art in an atmosphere away from a formal stage or ticket prices.

Throughout the event, I was in charge of carrying out the performance schedule as the self-appointed “MC” for the day. In spite of my managerial responsibilities, I found some time to break away from the desk to do a little dancing myself. In an attempt to transform my monsterish coordination, I asked a few of the pre-teen ballerinas from Ballet Theatre Company to give me a crash course in balance and movement. Painstakingly, I tried being a good student by following their suggestions to a tee. However, somewhere in the middle of tweaking my knees out, keeping my back straight and my hands in a specific position, I lost my balance and nearly fell, receiving hearty guffaws from all of my instructors. If I did in fact hit the ground, I guess that could be one way dance evokes dreams.

My favorite part of the event, though, occurred right at the very end. After all the performances ended, I put on some generic dance music from an iPod provided by none other than the dashing Roger Castonguay from The Defining Photo. Seemingly incapable of staying motionless, dancers from each company rushed to the dance floor and together started strutting their stuff. Inspired by the energy, even some passersby came and joined in on the action. To think about it in a different way, dance brought people who had never met before together in public to simply enjoy the art form and each other. In that spirit of collaboration and community, I can now understand why  

Dancing is like dreaming with your feet.

Much thanks to each dance company for participating in the day and for those who stopped by. It truly was a fantastic and memorable event I am proud I had the opportunity to help organize and create.

(Photos courtesy of Roger Castonguay from The Defining Photo)

Run, Don’t Walk

Sometimes it’s exhausting trying to keep up with all the exhibits, plays and performances opening (and closing!) every week. I guess that’s a good problem to have—with 150 arts and heritage organizations supported by our United Arts Campaign, it’s a pretty good bet that on any given night we have a hand in something new popping up. United Arts gives our grantee organizations reliable, consistent support they need to deliver really cool artistic programs.

I did manage, a few weekends ago, to sneak over to the Wadsworth Atheneum on Saturday afternoon to see their newest special exhibition, Andrew Wyeth: Looking Beyond. Getting to the show became quite the comedy of errors: I was hoping to take a mid-day tour with Susan, our Welcome Center Coordinator, until I was smacked in the face by a debilitating cold; I tried to attend the member’s reception but got my dates all confused and ended up missing out; luckily, on a whim, a friend joined me for lunch and we decided to visit the show.

And I’m so glad I did.

If you’ve read my bio (and why would you?), you’d know my artistic background is in theatre, but over the last couple of years I’ve developed a real interest in visual art–both the classic and the contemporary. I’ve always had an interest—a soft spot, really—in Andrew Wyeth’s work, so I was thrilled the Wadsworth was launching an exhibition of his work with an interesting new focus. Looking Beyond plays off of some of Wyeth’s most familiar themes—doors, windows, vistas and open landscapes—to explore the theme of “what’s beyond” the viewer’s initial impression and the distance he creates between the viewer and his subjects.

"Chambered Nautilus," in the Atheneum's permanent collection.

The number of “finished works” on display is rather small, but the unique joy of this exhibition is the number of sketches and early watercolor studies of each work that gives tremendous insight into Wyeth’s creative process. (For another, just-as-cool look at an artist’s process, check out Red at TheaterWorks). My friend and I loved comparing the study to the final product, looking at what details Wyeth chose to keep—and discard—when composing his paintings. For an amateur, yet avid, Wyeth enthusiast, the “works-in-progress” made this collection of particular interest.

But the jewel in this crown is actually the companion exhibit, “Wyeth,” a series of photographs by somewhat-local artist James Welling. Welling spent time visiting the famous locales of Wyeth’s work, capturing still images in dazzling color and depth of some of the painter’s most recognizable subjects. It’s amazing to see how time has stood virtually still at places like the Olson homestead, while other remote areas show the signs of a slowly modernizing world. Together, the two exhibits pack a real punch and provide some amazing insight into the work of a celebrated 20th-century artist.

Run, don’t walk over to the Wadsworth and see this show. I’m still kicking myself that I virtually missed “Reunited Masterpieces” a few years ago—learn from my mistakes, and make sure you catch this one. It’s a great way to add some excitement to an otherwise lazy Saturday, or even spend a lunch hour away from your desk. AND, the gorgeous catalogue makes a great read (plus, you look super-cultured when you leave it lying about on your IKEA coffee table. Or so I’ve heard.)

Andrew Wyeth: Looking Beyond and James Welling “Wyeth” are on display until July 22nd.

Collaboration and Rumination: Give Night at TheaterWorks

Art by its very nature is a social happening. At the Arts Council, we are working hard to use this concept expertly and advantageously for the arts and heritage organizations we serve by encouraging us all to work more closely together in today’s trying times for the arts.

Jeffrey Greene, Prison Arts Program Manager, Cathy Malloy, CEO of Greater Hartford Arts Council, Judy Dworin, Executive/Artistic Director of JDPP, Maureen Price-Boreland, Esq, Executive Director, CPA

In the spirit of this idea, last Thursday (Apr 5) three of our grantee organizations, TheaterWorks, Community Partners in Action’s (CPA) Prison Arts Program and Judy Dworin Performance Project (JDPP), joined forces to showcase a myriad of different art forms at Give Night where proceeds benefited both CPA and JDPP. The evening boasted a reception hosted by TheaterWorks, a viewing of the women’s portion of CPA’s 34th Annual Show, as well as performances by JDPP. Additionally, the Arts Council’s CEO Cathy Malloy provided the curtain speech before a production of TheaterWorks’ newest play RED.

Entering the jam-packed City Arts on Pearl building with my coworkers from the Arts Council, I first mused through the Prison Arts Program 34th Annual Show. Unlike other exhibitions I’ve seen where pieces seem connected through a common artistic style or technique, each artwork I viewed represented an entirely different approach manipulated by an entirely different story or background. Whereas some subtly alluded to a longing for family, friends and/or a return to a previous state, some emanated a fury and pain intensified by the difficulties of isolation. Before this exhibition, I have never seen any form of art from those incarcerated in prisons; however, after seeing and feeling the emotion clawing from each piece I saw that evening, I no longer will think about inmates the same way.

Tim Yergeau, Director of Communications and Donor Relations at Greater Hartford Arts Council, Cathy Malloy and Elliott Gersten, Esq.

This sentiment was only furthered by JDPP’s performances, which included dancing, singing and spoken word excerpts from JDPP’s critically-acclaimed piece Time In and its newest Meditations from a Garden Seat. Inspired by the women of York Correctional Institution’s reflections on time as well as their dreams and aspirations, the performances gave movement and voice to the visual arts exhibition I had just seen. Considering each sight and sound as pieces in the evening’s artistic puzzle unlocked a holistic and affective illustration of what life is actually like for incarcerated women – its tests and toils, its hopes, and, ultimately, its humanity.

Luckily, the investigative and pensive mood JDPP’s performances and the Prison Arts Annual Show generated inside me put me in the proper spirit for TheaterWork’s RED. Following the expressionist Mark Rothko just after his commission to produce murals for the Four Seasons Restaurant, the production challenged me to reinvestigate my understandings of the mind and emotion. Oftentimes I define concepts by contrast; for instance, darkness could not exist as an idea without light, happiness without sadness, etc. Perhaps mistakenly, I had always considered the mind dichotomous to emotion. Throughout Rothko’s passionate descriptions of his philosophies on art and life with his assistant Ken, as well-argued as they were, I couldn’t help but penetrate the words to search for a deeper emotional subtext. In essence, I used arguments, which originate in the mind, as a vehicle to unravel personality and emotions of the characters more than anything else, forcing me to reconsider definitions of concepts I thought I had ironed out through several grad school papers.  

Greater Hartford Arts Council staff. Sherry Leniart, Database Coordinator, Desirée Kleykamp, Database & Membership Manager, Tim Yergeau, Anthony LaRosa, Marketing and Cultural Promotions Manager

In my eyes, this sneaky ability art has to incite reinvestigation is one of the major reasons it’s so vital in today’s world. Rather than remain stagnant, art continues to push creativity and change, expertly maneuvering around a set definition always. Through collaborations like Give Night, individuals have an opportunity to be a part of this social and cultural growth and to experience firsthand the variety of phenomenal, moving art available in our community.

Congratulations again to TheaterWorks, CPA’s Prison Arts Program and JDPP for a wonderful and successful event.

(All photos by Nick Lacy, courtesy of JDPP)

Public School Campaign Kick-off

We’re very excited to announce a brand-new addition to our Workplace Giving roster this year: the Hartford Public School system.

Each year, the Arts Council runs between 50 and 100 (usually around 75) workplace giving events in companies throughout our 34-town service area. We’re not just asking for donations—workplace giving makes up about one-third of the money we raise each year—but we enjoy the opportunity to connect local employees with amazing arts organizations and cool, interesting events and activities happening right in their backyard. Workplace giving takes on a variety of shapes and sizes depending on the company, but usually includes a presentation from the staff or one of our grant recipients and an interactive series of “arts breaks” giving workers the chance to escape their offices and try to do something artsy.

And who understands the importance of the arts better than teachers? With the Mayor of Hartford as our 2012 Campaign Chair, we figured it was the perfect year to jump-start workplace giving in the public school system. I’m hoping we can use the workplace campaign to get teachers and educators excited about the wealth of world-class arts organizations and cultural institutions Hartford has to offer.

Cathy had the opportunity to speak at the Superintendent’s Leadership meeting, a gathering of principals from across the school district, yesterday morning (blurry cell phone pic below). She made a passionate appeal to the leaders of the school system to help support our United Arts campaign, highlighting especially the importance of keeping the arts alive for generations of Hartford students. Their workplace event officially begins in a couple of weeks, and I’m looking forward to posting some exciting stories from this first-ever initiative as their campaign unfolds.

Cathy at Hartford Public Schools

Spotlight! on the Arts

Cathy was the guest on yesterday’s “Spotlight” radio program, a show devoted to the arts and entertainment in Connecticut. Host Ginny Wolf gives an excellent run-down of upcoming arts and cultural events, and the two spend the rest of the half-hour segment discussing Cathy’s vision for the Arts Council and some new ideas for the Greater Hartford arts community.

Download the interview audio file.

Learn more about Spotlight and host Ginny Wolf.

An iQuilt Kind of Week

With civic projects, sometimes when it rains it pours, and iQuilt is no exception. For some reason there has been a lot of iQuilt-related-buzz this week—from photoshoots and presentations to the first, exciting glimpse at what’s to come.

For those of you who might not be familiar with the name “iQuilt,” the iQuilt Plan is a new culture based urban design project for the City of Hartford. Basically, iQuilt aims to link downtown Hartford’s cultural assets—theatres, museums, landmarks and parks—with a “greenwalk” of open spaces from the riverfront to the Capitol across Bushnell Park. The goal is to make the city more vibrant, accessible and walkable and to provide a visual “language” to make the city easy to understand and less intimidating to visitors. The name iQuilt comes from the project’s “patchwork quality,” linking together various cultural desinations into a city-wide quilt.

Originally proposed by the Bushnell as a way to connect the performing arts center with the rest of downtown, the plan has grown to include projects designed to spur housing and retail development, expand and restore water features to historic Bushnell Park and reimagine Main Street as a lively, active and walkable destination. The City, the State, the Arts Council, the MetroHartford Alliance, Riverfront Recapture and a number of other organizations all have a hand in making the project a success. Will Wilkins, Executive Director of Real Art Ways probably puts it best when he says, “it’s not that there’s nothing to do in Hartford—it’s that there’s no where to do nothing”‘; iQuilt follows the models of other successful urban planning projects that make cities more open, creative places to gather.

Photo shoot with iQuilt Partners

On Tuesday, I sat in on the Business Improvement District’s quarterly board meeting and had the pleasure of meeting Doug Suisman, master urban planner and Hartford native who’s been hired to design and manage the iQuilt plan. He gave a wonderful, dynamic presentation about what’s been achieved so far and what we can expect in the months and years to come—to be honest, I’ve heard the presentation a few times before, but it never disappoints. It’s hard not to be excited when seeing the sketches and renderings the planned river in Bushnell Park, or see the soon-to-come Bushnell Gardens expansion or imagine Hartford’s streets on a new “road diet” designed to make them more walkable (and bike-able). If you want to know more, make sure you visit iQuilt’s web site and download the 120-page plan overview. Warning: it’s a big file, but well worth the read.

After I got back to the office, Cathy and I dashed over to an impromptu photo shoot with some of iQuilt’s biggest partners: the Mayor, representatives from the Bushnell, the Wadsworth and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

iQuilt signs on the corner of Trumbull & Asylum Streets.

Then, I got word through Dwelling in Downtown’s Facebook group that we’d get to see the first, physical “instllation” of the iQuilt plan on Wednesday, March 7—a directional signpost affixed to the back of the walk signals on the corner of Trumbull and Asylum Streets. It’s a really cool use of exsisting dead space, and I love the idea of listing the walking minutes to each destination inside the directional arrows. Smart. Really smart. (Also: excuse my crappy iPhone pics).

iQuilt is an evolving project, so news comes out in dribbles and spurts. But stay tuned for an upcoming announcement about a large-scale community event this fall where you can see—and experience for yourselves—the exciting future of iQuilt.

Art Makes Cents: 2012 Hartford Arts & Heritage Jobs Grant Awards

Yesterday, Cathy joined Hartford Mayor Pedro E. Segarra at the Isham-Terry House, a historic property on the edge of Hartford’s North End, to announce the recipients of the 2012 Arts & Heritage Jobs Grant Program, a grant initiative funded by the City of Hartford and managed by the Arts Council.

Let’s back up a bit. First, about the Jobs Grant Program: each year since 2009, the city has invested money from its budget to fund arts and heritage programming and projects that generate or retain jobs, support local business and drive economic activity. Hartford’s Jobs Grant Program has received national recognition as a leading model for using the arts to stimulate the local economy. Funded programs must fall in one of three categories: facility improvements, youth employment and new or expanded programs.

This year’s recipients represent a wide array of different projects from all across the city. Connecticut Landmarks, a historical preservation organization, received funding to renovate the Isham-Terry House, a historic home that’s been left derelict for years. With Jobs Grant money, they hope to restore and re-open the house in the summer and, eventually, hire part-time interpreters and tour guides, welcoming thousands of new visitors from around New England.

Cathy, the mayor and Sheryl Hack, Executive Director of Connecticut Landmarks, took a tour of the house-in-progress. The heat hasn’t been installed yet so it was a bit chilly inside—a good 15 to 20 degrees cooler than the unseasonably warm 58 degrees outside—and there’s still a lot of work to be done, but the house itself is in remarkably good condition. With a new paint job and soon-to-be-cleaned carpets, the house is already starting to look brand-new—even though it’s almost 160 years old.

Thanks to Connecticut Landmarks for hosting the announcement event and for giving us a special behind-the-scenes tour of the home. For more information about the event, read the news release and see the list of 2012 recipients. Especially exciting are the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s CityMusic program, HartBeat Ensemble’s Art in the Park event and Real ArtWay’s new “Art & Science” exhibit.

Want even more coverage? Read Frank Rizzo’s Hartford Courant articles on the media event and the grant awards.

All photos by Roger Castonguay of The Defining Photo.

Behind-the-Scenes: Hartford Magazine

Our CEO, Cathy Malloy, will appear in the “Players” section of the April issue of Hartford magazine. “Players” features photos of local leaders and celebrities—next month it’s leaders in the arts—along with stories about the work they do in the community.

I snapped a few of these behind-the-scenes photos of Cathy’s photoshoot on Friday. Make sure you check local newsstands for the leaders in the arts “Players” spread in a couple of weeks.

     

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