West Hartford Commission on the Arts is looking to connect out-of-work artists with potential customers.
By Ronni Newton
The West Hartford Commission on the Arts, which was officially rejuvenated last fall and has been meeting monthly, has now launched a database of local artists that can be accessed by the public – an initiative that Commission members hope will provide some support for a sector of the economy that has been extremely hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m an educator, but I’m also a local singer-songwriter,” said Commission member Latanya Farrell, a longtime West Hartford resident who last summer was named principal of Stafford Elementary School in Bristol, where she had her first teaching assignment more than 20 years ago.
Musically, she has been out of work since the pandemic began, and so have the members of her band.
Javier Colon, also a West Hartford resident and Commission member, has found very limited paid opportunities since COVID-19 shuttered event venues and put a halt to most performances.
The two, who are also longtime friends, chair the Commission’s Artist Outreach Committee.
“People in the gig economy have been hit hard financially, but they’re also not able to share their gifts,” Farrell said.
“It’s been an incredibly strange last 11 months for the music industry,” said Colon during a phone interview on Feb. 11 – 11 months to the day after his last airplane flight. Prior to the past year, the singer-songwriter, who was the winner of the inaugural season of NBC’s “The Voice” in 2011 and is a full-time musician, said he flew several hundred thousand miles a year.
“I know first-hand the impact, the struggle, that all the artists and folks in the entertainment industry have been going through,” Colon said.
Farrell and Colon, and the other Commission members, have been brainstorming ways to help, which is how the idea of the Artist Job Bank was born.
“We’re just thinking out-of-the box,” Farrell said, noting that even if live performances aren’t happening, there could still be opportunities for artists to participate in virtual or pre-taped events.
“Let’s put it out there to artists who want to work again,” she said.
As an educator who has had to rely on technology more than ever to do her job over the past year, Farrell immediately thought of Google forms for the creation of the Artist Job Bank. She said it was a simple database to create.
The Artist Job Bank, while launched by the West Hartford Commission on the Arts, is locally-focused but not intended just to serve West Hartford. It’s also not just for musicians, but also actors, visual artists, dancers, comedians, and others.
“We want to make it so artists can find whatever jobs are available,” Colon said. Performers often are part of fundraisers, and while those opportunities have also been impacted, organizations are also thinking creativity about how to stage events to support their efforts.
Colon said he did some outdoor performances over the summer, and more recently has been providing some entertainment, virtually, for charities.
Both Colon and Farrell have donated their talents to West Hartford Public Schools and the town to appear in virtual performances as well.
“We want to bring some art back to all of us,” Farrell said. “You can’t stop art, you can’t stop that creative spirit.”
Financial compensation will be negotiated between the two parties, and is outside the realm of the Artist Job Bank, which is intended just as a registry, Farrell said. “We’re just providing the connection.”
Colon said the Artist Job Bank is in the early stages – with about 20 individuals or groups registered – but it will only work if artists sign up and if organizations know it exists.
He said he’s also hopeful that there will be more opportunities as the weather warms up, safe ways to enjoy the arts. Capacity can be a problem because sometimes the economics of holding events doesn’t work if too few people are able to attend. He’s also hopeful for the future after the pandemic.
“We’re in a bad place with the music industry right now, but after this is over I think we’ll really see a big uptick. The desire will be pent up,” Colon said.
“I’d like to personally thank the West Hartford Commission of Arts for their hard work in responding to the needs of our community’s artists impacted by the pandemic,” said West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor. “The Artist Job Bank is exactly the sort of proactive advocacy the Town Council envisioned when we formed the Commission this past fall.”
The Artist Job Bank can be an important tool for the local arts and culture community. “I hope they’ll take advantage of it,” Colon said.
“We’re excited about the opportunity this brings for artists, for our town,” Farrell said. “There are so many opportunities for light, and I am grateful to be part of bringing that light.”
Any artist that would like to be included in the Artist Job Bank can register here.
Members of the public who are looking to hire an artist can view the list of registrants here, and contact them directly through the information they have provided.
Eight West Hartford arts and culture organizations have also joined forces to promote and showcase the arts and cultural nonprofits in the community. More information can be found on the West Hartford Arts and Culture website.
The mission of the West Hartford Commission on the Arts is to “foster and facilitate participation in, and development and appreciation of artistic and cultural activities within the Town of West Hartford and also to encourage the display and presentation of artistic and cultural activities in public, school and community facilities town wide.” More information about the Commission can also be found on the town’s website.
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