The WEHA Bear Fair will bring public art to West Hartford this summer and increase the visibility of their sponsors while also raising funds for a variety of nonprofits.
By Ronni Newton
Bears seem to have proliferated in West Hartford over the past several years – and during the warmer months have been seen lumbering across the road, hanging out in pools, and foraging for food – but this summer there will be sightings of a new kind of bear in town.
The WEHA Bear Fair is being launched by 20/20 Media, and organizers are excited about bringing this “honey of a happening” to West Hartford.
The concept is similar to CowParade, which gave local artists the opportunity to showcase their creativity on fiberglass cows that provided public art for the community and were then sold at auction with the proceeds going to a nonprofit. While West Hartford has actually hosted CowParade twice – in 2003 and 2007 – the 2003 event was hosted by Ledger Publications, which is now part of 20/20 Media, and organizers are excited to not only bring the bears to town but to provide a fun-filled event that can be enjoyed safely even if the COVID-19 pandemic continues to limit activities.
CowParade brought thousands to West Hartford just to see the brightly-painted bovines – which helped enhance the town’s vibrant and trendy image and also benefited local restaurants and retailers. It also brought attention to its sponsors, and supported nonprofits.
“There were so many people reporting bear sighting last year,” said 20/20 Media President Tom Hickey, an organizer of the event. As he and others brainstormed ideas for the event, they decided bears would be easily identifiable, and fun.
The Bear Fair event, Hickey said, is intended to spread positivity, increase West Hartford’s visibility, and spotlight artists, sponsors, businesses, and nonprofits.
“We looked around us and saw the pain and suffering – physical, emotional and financial – brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. And we realized there couldn’t be a more urgent need for another interactive art exhibit that would help our town as well as local nonprofits,” Hickey said.
It costs sponsors $10,000 to procure a bear. The 90-pound animals are crafted of fiberglass and each is 48 inches tall, 63 inches long, and 30 inches wide. About a dozen sponsors have already committed to participating with many more expressing interest, and a total of 24 bears will be available for the WEHA Bear Fair, Hickey said.
The cost of sponsorship includes delivery of the bear, and a stipend of $750 that will be paid to the artist. If the sponsor doesn’t have an artist in mind, 20/20 Media has a list of some who are interested in taking on the challenge.
Jerry’s Artarama has committed to giving bear artists a 50% discount on supplies – paint as well as varnish and sealant to make them weatherproof.
The sponsor can be a business, individual, organization, foundation, or a partnership of multiple entities, and they can choose where to display the completed bear. The goal is to have bears in all neighborhoods of West Hartford – the Center/Blue Back Square as well as Bishops Corner, Elmwood, Park Road, and the Design District.
Once all of the bears are painted and it’s time to come out of hibernation, a Bear Fair Reveal will be held.
Each bear will then act as a fundraiser for the sponsor’s nonprofit of choice. Each will have a QR code with information about the artwork and the nonprofit, and those who come to view the bear will be able to make a donation directly from their smartphone, 100% of which will go directly to that charity.
The interactive event is virtually “pandemic proof” because all of the bears will be outside, and there is no need for people to gather in one space to view them, and – unlike a gala or auction – no need to gather with others to participate in the fundraising element.
Hickey said they are hoping to raise a total of $250,000 for the charities.
“This is a great initiative,” West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor said. “Thank you to 20/20 Media and Tom Hickey for bringing the bears to West Hartford. This is a great opportunity to celebrate and support our vibrant, connected, and caring community. I look forward to seeing the creativity on display at the Bear Fair, and the bears will be a reminder of our strong and fun community coming together during this historic and challenging time.”
Property owner Robert Udolf was the first business owner to say yes to becoming bear sponsor, and he said the decision to get involved was an easy one, as was the beneficiary – the Ronald McDonald House, an organization that the Udolf family has a long history of supporting.
Udolf already has a special artist in mind to create the bear design.
Brian Hajdasz , owner of Modern Tire, was a sponsor of WeHa Wheels, but since the service is temporarily “garaged” due to the pandemic he immediately transferred sponsorship to the Bear Fair.
“Modern Tire understands how challenging these times have been for small businesses and nonprofit specifically,” Hajdasz said, adding that he is grateful for all the support his business has received from the community and sees this as an opportunity to give back by paying it forward.
“Juniper is very excited to be a sponsor of the WEHA Bear Fair,” said Anton Brel, vice president of operations for Juniper Homecare, which has its headquarters on New Britain Avenue in Elmwood and recently commissioned a mural that pays tribute to West Hartford’s rich history.
“It is an excellent opportunity to re-engage with our wonderful West Hartford community. COVID has cancelled so many wonderful events but this will undoubtedly bring businesses, residents and visitors together again for a great cause,” said Brel.
Fleet Feet Sports on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford Center is also sponsoring a bear in partnership with the running shoe company Karhu – a company with which Fleet Feet has already collaborated on “fit id” technology to develop shoes based on foot scan measurements. The Karhu brand is based in Finland, and the name, appropriately, means “bear” in Finnish.
Fleet Feet also hopes to have the local running community help cover the sponsorship of their bear.
“We thought it would be fun to decorate our bear with caricatures of runners,” said Stephanie Blozy, owner of West Hartford’s Fleet Feet store. Each runner who pays $100 will get to have their caricature on the bear.
Fleet Feet has already named Footwear with Care, a nonprofit organization that donates high quality boots. sneakers and foot care to the homeless, as their chosen fundraising recipient.
Gina Bunch of West Hartford-based Daley Moving & Storage also came up with a unique way to participate in the WEHA Bear Fair – with “Daley’s Den.”
“As West Hartford’s premier mover it only made sense for DMS to be responsible for storage and transportation of our bears,” Bunch said. She’s also offering use of one of company’s warehouses where the bears can hibernate while they are being painted by the artists.
Plans are for the WEHA Bear Fair to open this summer at a date TBD, and a website and dedicated social media accounts are in the process of being created.
Sponsorship opportunities are highlighted in the PDF included below, and will remain open through Feb. 28, and to find out more contact Tom Hickey, 860-508-4032, ; Donna Edelstein, 860-833-0839, ; or Karen Connal, 860-670-2580, .
Artists interested in being considered to paint a bear should contact 20/20 Media Creative Director Elisa Wagner [email protected].
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