A Worthwhile Endeavor
Rita Papazian
Norwalk-Citizen News, July 7, 2006


The Advisory Commission for the Arts and Culture, which comes under the aegis of the Department of Parks and Recreation, is moving quickly to work toward establishing a strong arts community, one that will put Norwalk on the map for its vitality.

Ever since Mayor Richard Moccia established the commission, its chairman, Becki Christopherson, and its members have spread the word of their determination to strengthen the bonds among artists, arts organizations, agencies, institutions and people working in arts-related fields. While the mission here is to promote Nor-walk's cultural environment, it is also to connect and reconnect arts enthusiasts with one another, not only within the city but also throughout the Greater Norwalk area and state.

At last week's public meeting of the commission, a variety of people who live or work in Norwalk or neighboring communities, including artists, teachers, photographers, choreographers, videographers, and arts events and gallery directors, shared their ideas on how to build a viable and visible arts and cultural community.

One can't say Norwalk's lack of a sustainable artistic community stems from a lack of effort. This city certainly has tried. But communities of artists come and they go; they come and they go. They ride the crest of the wave of enthusiasm, become frustrated for lack of support and go off to channel their energies in other, more receptive communities.

The arts advocates who met with the advisory commission cited other cities and towns that have built viable cultural centers or communities that support the arts. Yes, other municipalities, like New Haven, Fairfield, Bridgeport and Westport, are now enjoying reputations for welcoming artistic talents and hosting events that draw residents and visitors alike.

The success of these municipalities in promoting themselves and their events and in attracting people to support their artistic endeavors has taken time and effort. It has not happened overnight. For years Fairfield has had difficulty in building some semblance of an arts community and in fact struggled with the idea to promote the town for tourists to visit because many residents, especially retailers, didn't want to be inundated with strangers. How provincial is that? It took the town a long time to realize the benefits of joining forces with the state's tourism office to get on the map to attract visitors.

For years, Norwalk has been on a roller coaster, with groups of artists coming together to promote their work and the city's artistic endeavors. It seems as if their efforts have been two steps forward, one step back. Now, however, the new advisory commission seems to be taking giant steps to accomplish its mission.

Norwalk has many arts and cultural attractions, including the SoNo Arts Celebration, the Oyster Festival, the Norwalk Symphony, the Festival of Words, Shake-speare on the Sound, and the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum. However, there has been no cohesive group working to connect, communicate and celebrate their offerings. One attendee at last week's meeting noted that he'd heard in Brooklyn about Norwalk having an artistic community, but when he got here he couldn't find it.

Christopherson talked about the commission's interest in producing a comprehensive brochure of all the arts-related activities in Norwalk as well as a plan for a collaboration of arts events that will put Norwalk on the map. The question the commission raised to those in attendance was: What should be done to make Norwalk more of an arts center?

Some said the city needs a real arts center, a physical place for artists to congregate, to exhibit their work, to perform and to teach and for an audience to enjoy the arts. Other suggestions included a brochure, possibly one that people could access online. This brochure would include all arts-related events taking place in the city and also give publicity to individual artists who were exhibiting or performing.

Children's book illustrator Lizzy Rockwell emphasized her interest in bringing a spiritual strength through the arts, especially by engaging young people in artistic endeavors. As she said, this city could certainly use some help in helping young people to channel their energies creatively rather than through crime.

Many suggested that the mayor seriously consider making the allotment of space for an arts center a prerequisite for proposals for city development projects. Some recommended that the commission also consider short-term solutions for providing artists space, for example, using temporarily vacant buildings, or even seek an arrangement with Norwalk Community College to establish an arts center.

As someone noted, Norwalk is always a land of promise for the arts. That is true. Artist Karen Santry and the original SoNo artists saw the city that way in the late 1970s and early '80s. The Marshall Street artists in the Lock Building saw it that way in the early '90s. Now there is another wave of interested parties some artists, some working in the cultural arts as entrepreneurs looking to achieve what others before have been unable to.

Maybe this group, with the support of the mayor and Common Council, can be successful. Let's hope so. This city really has many arts events in place; it's just a question of connecting the dots.

You can help support the commission's efforts. On July 27, John Cusano, the community development coordinator at the Connecti-cut Commission on Culture and Tourism, will give a presentation on the state commission and how it helps artists and arts organizations develop and promote their work.

This event will take place in the Community Room at City Hall beginning with a 6 p.m. reception for networking. Cusano's presentation will begin at 7:15 p.m.

Many of us know John. He was the first retailer on Washington Street when the SoNo area was renovated in the early '80s. He opened a beautiful gallery that became a special place to see innovative art. He and I served on the board of the SoNo Arts Celebra-tion together. I hope you attend this meeting and give input and support to a very worthwhile en-deavor that maybe this time will produce a lasting community of artists and an audience to sustain it.


Copyright 2006 Rita Papazian All rights reserved.