As seen in the ‘Palette’ annual Arts & Fashion issue of West Hartford Magazine.
By Lisa Lelas
What happens when a good idea is sparked by the Bishops Corner Neighborhood Association’s Arts Committee? It soon becomes a formidable pathway to every nook and cranny of art culture in the area for all to discover and enjoy!
In collaboration with the University of Saint Joseph and the University of Hartford, this new arts initiative has uncovered and polished that pathway to the once hidden artistic gems that lie right inside our nearby college campuses.
Not that any of these art venues were ever really “hidden,” but as Dean of Hartford Art School Dr. Nancy M. Stuart explains, “Because college campuses are sort of sequestered and secluded, many people often forget about the valuable resources available to them nearby in their neighborhood college campus. That’s why this is a great initiative for all of us to work together.”
Rochelle “Shelly” Oakley, collections manager and registrar for the Art Museum at University of Saint Joseph also supports the initiative. “We knew we needed more visibility with the community around the campus. There are so many great events, shows and exhibitions available to everybody, not just college students. So, that’s what we’re doing. As a collaborative team, we are getting the word out!”
The Arts Committee is a branch of the Bishops Corner Neighborhood Association, a community association that has been in existence for nearly 50 years by and for the residents and businesses in the Bishops Corner area of town.
Signe “Sig” Rogalski is the Arts Committee chair. “This group is really a grassroots organization,” she explains. “We all feel privileged to live in West Hartford. There is great culture and amazing artists in all parts of this town. As art educators, my co-chair, author Diane Dickson Mikan and I already understand the value of art and its importance to a community. We started checking into what was offered in our local universities and how to let more people become aware.
“This whole part of Albany Avenue, for example, from Bishops Corner all the way into Hartford has so much to offer, from The University of Saint Joseph and The University of Hartford, to the Wadsworth Atheneum and more. We felt the need to make people aware of what’s happening right here and around Albany Avenue!” Sig’s co-chair, Diane, adds, “We believe the arts matter. They enrich lives.”
Initially, with the help of several other volunteers in the committee, they started to make things happen. “We began with ‘Poetry on the Patio’ events a few years ago,” says Diane. Karen Fillion, committee member and manager of Edens Property Management, gave us the patio to use at Blue Plate Kitchen for these outdoor summer events. In this age of electronics, we felt it important to express the ‘written word’ with personal engagement.” Sig says. “We started a series of art talks after that, from authors and poets to college professors in various venues, such as the Senior Center [Gina Marino, Senior Center Director is also a committee member]. And most recently, another committee member, Ertan Sener [New Britain Symphony conductor and director] began developing our music component with a ‘Young Composers’ performance.”
“We had focused on poetry initially, but now we want to focus on all types of writing, fine art and music, either through workshops or lectures and exhibits,” adds Diane.
“We also tapped into, ‘Smart is Cool’, an organization working on re-inventing the image of intelligence for the 21st Century,” Sig says. “Ertan is working on an upcoming lecture and video about the importance of music and symphony in the future. There is the story of Xavier Blackwell Lipkind that Ertan will share. Xavier is the young West Hartford boy about 13 years old who composed a symphony for the New Britain Symphony Orchestra and performed it for about 1,500 people.”
“Just recently, at our Bishops Corner Neighborhood Association meeting we introduced the idea of bringing in our local art schools to the mix. We wanted to bring about an awareness of all that’s available in the arts right here in our community,” says Sig.
“When Sig first contacted us at the University of Saint Joseph, I was thrilled,” says Shelly Oakley. “They wanted to get the word out and create an arts resource for the community. The idea was to pull a panel of artists from both colleges to public venues and showcase what we offer right here on campus. Having a support network is wonderful for us, since marketing/advertising funds are limited. Sig is really the driving force in this arts initiative. We love the collaboration developing between the universities and the neighborhoods. It’s all a valuable asset.”
So, just what is being offered in the arts at our local universities? The correct question seems to be rather: “What isn’t being offered?”
Ann Sievers, director and curator of the Art Museum at the University of Saint Joseph, fills us in. “As an art historian most of my life, I am excited about all we offer here at the museum. We offer a very low cost annual membership for those interested. Members are even able to vote occasionally on exhibition pieces being considered for acquisition giving them a real feeling of ownership. The Art Museum in Bruyette Anthenaeum is open six days a week [closed Monday] and we invite everyone in the community to come see all that we have to offer. Most programs and exhibitions are free of charge.”
Featured program this fall is HANGA NOW: Contemporary Japanese Printmakers exhibition on view through Dec. 18, highlighting the diversity, creativity and sensitivity artists give to materials that characterize contemporary Japanese printmaking. It features more than 40 artists working in a variety of styles and wide range of techniques, including color woodblocks, etchings, lithographs, screen prints, and more. A major artist included in the exhibition, Tamekane Yoshikatsu, flew in from Japan for a printmaking demonstration in September. A purchase party event will be held on the evening of Nov. 10 and a special “Hanga Now” gallery talk will take place on Dec. 1.
The building which houses the Art Museum was opened in 2001. “It’s a beautiful exhibition space,” says Ann. “All climate controlled with a suite of intimate galleries open to the public year round. We present six to eight exhibitions each year, ranging from installations of our permanent collection to major loans exhibitions drawn from private and institutional collections.”
Dubbed “one of the liveliest campus museums in the state,” by the New York Times, with more than 2,000 works of art, six exhibition galleries, changing installations, a print study room and a variety of programs for the University and the public, the Art Museum provides countless opportunities for the study and enjoyment of art, as noted on their website. The Art Museum at the University of Saint Joseph is located at 1678 Asylum Avenue in West Hartford.
Now let’s swing the spotlight over to The Autorino Center for the Arts and Humanities, also a major arts feature on campus at the University of Saint Joseph. Steven Raider-Ginsburg is the director of this prestigious performing arts center. “We are a presenting house,” he explains. “I curate programs from around the world to bring them to West Hartford. From individual performances to panel discussions, my focus is to be the intersection of the public community and academic life of students. I always look for programs that are intellectually rich as well as aesthetically pleasing.”
Steven weighs in on the Arts initiative developed by the Bishops Corner Neighborhood Association. “I think it makes sense. My mission has always been art for community engagement and community building, which fits right into the mission of USJ for positive social change, while still being rooted into its Catholic values. I always saw art as an educational tool to change our perspective.”
To illustrate the range of programs, earlier this fall they presented D-GENERATION: An Exaltation of Larks by the Sandglass Theater, a touching puppet-theater performance exploring the rich creative potential of people living with dementia, the OKEE DOKEE BROTHERS, Grammy Award-winning Americana Folk music bringing fun and music to the whole family, and coming on November 10 for the second Annual Chapel Series, WOMEN OF THE WORLD, providing singing ‘for wisdom, respect, joy and peace.’
Among many other featured programs throughout the year, The Autorino Center will curate its “roots culture” engagement in the New Year (February through April 2017) with their American Roots Festival at USJ which is a series of public performances and engagement activities that reflect the diversity of sources, origins, and uniqueness of American culture. The festival will emphasize stories of American people and cultures, through live performance, discussions, lectures, films and more.
Just down the road at the University of Hartford, 200 Bloomfield Ave. in West Hartford is yet another art jewel in our community. Dr. Nancy M. Stuart invites the community to experience all that the Hartford Art School has to offer.
“We have two galleries, the Joseloff Gallery and the Silpe Gallery, both with a variety of on-going exhibitions. Often with each exhibition we have lectures related to the work, with wine and cheese festivities, all open to the public. All exhibitions are free for the students and the community.”
Fall 2016 exhibitions include: CHRIS HORTON LEGACY exhibit on thru Oct. 30; BOOK OF LIES Oct. 25-Dec. 4 (with reception on Oct. 27); Auerbach lecture- LINDA SORMIN: ceramics on Nov. 7; a photo lecture with JOHN ROHRBACK on Nov. 8; and a CLAY CLUB SHOW & SALE Dec. 3-8, featuring hand made ceramic pieces by students and faculty. “These one of kind pieces, from $3 to $300, make great Christmas gifts!” Nancy adds.
“There are a lot of ideas on the table,” says Sig about the Arts Initiative program. “It’s all very exciting! There are so many people in our town to bring this awareness of arts to. It also brings possibilities to our young people and what they can really do with their own ideas. It’s all about sharing encouragement!”
And Shelly concludes, “I’m hopeful that all our ideas really will happen, making this a sustainable program to keep going for years to come!”
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