NWCT Arts Council: Arts Connected

Matica Circus duo from Harwinton, Connecticut performing at NWCT ARTS Connected event in May

Jennifer Almquist

NWCT Arts Council: Arts Connected

The Northwest Connecticut Arts Council (NWCT Arts) recently held Arts Connected, their first fundraiser, at the Spring Hill Vineyard in Washington, Connecticut. The evening celebration, a combination of Fellini movie, carnival, and Renaissance Fair, featured an aerialist from Matica Circus in Harwinton, and a flame and flow performer out in the courtyard under the stars. Momix, based in Washington Connecticut, under the artistic direction of founders Moses Pendleton and Cynthia Quinn, also performed. Two dancers wore Jeff Koons-style inflated red dog suits, and Momix dancer Jared Bogart wafted through the space wearing an immense, two-stories tall silk fan. Persian calligraphic painter Alibaba Awrang created a community work of art, while Ameen Mokdad, a violinist from Iraq, made music with Hartford’s Cuatro Puntos Ensemble. A young musician, Adelaide Punkin, performed an original song from the balcony of the vast space, while a giant puppet from Sova Dance and Puppet waltzed through the festivities. DJ Arvolyn Hill from Kent spun the tunes, an African drum circle set the rhythm, and there was abundant food and drink for the gathered crowd.

NWCT Arts is one of 8 regional Arts Councils designated by the Connecticut Office of the Arts, a branch of the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). The mission of NWCT Arts is to “elevate the role of the arts to build community and economic vitality.” The NWCT Arts was founded by Amy Wynn in June of 2003 in collaboration with the Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation and the Northwest Connecticut Chamber of Commerce.

Brian Boye, Litchfield County resident, Vice President at Nike Communications, NWCT Arts board member emphasized “Our goal with Arts Connected was to highlight the rich tapestry of artists that live and work in our community. We are blessed with such a diverse range of talent, from world-class dance ensembles like Momix to incredible visual artists like Stace Dillard who work solo in studios across our 25 towns. I am thrilled that we were able to feature more than 80 local artists in a variety of formats throughout the event. Our art gallery featured more than 60 artists and we had live performances from musicians, calligraphers, DJs, drummers, photographers, dancers, aerialists, and singers. It was such a joy to witness the community coming together to celebrate all this talent.”

Steph Burr began her time as Executive Director of NWCT Arts in the heart of the Covid pandemic. A fierce advocate for artists, Burr had to immediately shift gears to create the NWCT Artist Emergency Relief Fund to aid local creatives through the hardship caused by COVID-19. NWCT Arts raised funds to support artists in financial distress. 51 artists from 13 towns in the region applied for help; arts educators, performing artists, musicians, commercial artists, fine artists, and artisans who depend on craft fairs and farmer’s markets to sell their wares. 73% of the applicants were not receiving unemployment and 31% of those applying were housing insecure. Burr is also an artist who lives in Torrington.

For 20 years, the Arts Council has been advocating for artists and the creative process in our region. They empower, facilitate, network, collaborate, and secure funding for local arts initiatives. Burr knows it is still hard for new arts organizations, and artists, to achieve lift-off. Funding for the arts has been cut back by the State to pre-pandemic levels with no adjustment for inflation. Burr would like to see greater advocacy from more established artists and organizations to help emerging artists get on their feet.

Board member Boye said, “We want to raise the profile of the Northwest Connecticut Arts Council, which typically works behind the scenes to ensure that artists and arts organizations can continue to thrive in our 25 towns. We’ve learned over the past few years that the arts are a major economic driver here. When we have a thriving arts community, people will visit our towns, shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants and stay in our inns. In 2022, the non-profit arts and culture industry generated more than $30 million in economic activity in our community. But there are a lot of challenges artists face to live and work here. Our mission is to ensure that there’s a network of support for them. We know that access to their work brings joy to us individually, but it also positions our region as a cultural destination that has a positive economic effect that benefits everyone.”

NWCT serves the towns of Barkhamsted, Bethlehem, Burlington, Colebrook, Cornwall, Falls Village/Canaan, Goshen, Hartland, Harwinton, Kent, Litchfield, Morris, New Hartford, New Milford, Norfolk, North Canaan, Plymouth, Roxbury, Salisbury/Lakeville, Sharon, Thomaston, Torrington, Warren, Washington, and Winchester/Winsted.

Sunday Fisher, chair of the board of directors, lives in Sherman and is an operational strategist after decades working in the retail world. “Northwest Connecticut is truly a special place, renowned as a sanctuary where artists have historically come to create and find inspiration. It’s my hope that our region be recognized as a vibrant hub for all forms of art. At the Council, we are deeply committed to honoring our rich history as stewards of this artistic legacy while also forging paths that ensure the arts not only survive but thrive. Balancing these roles is essential to fostering an environment where the arts can flourish and enrich our community for generations to come.”

“The arts are a powerful economic engine for our region and are very worthy of expanded investment,” said Burr. “Our nonprofit arts organizations connect our communities and help define our culture. They also attract substantial revenue to the local economy and support many jobs and small businesses. It is no easy feat to do both.” NWCT Arts is working closely with the Connecticut Department of Tourism as the arts are responsible for increased tourism in the region.

Our state representative Maria Horn agrees with Burr. “Arts and culture are a defining part of the Northwest Corner for those who live here and those who visit the region. Communities like ours that support arts and culture not only enhance their quality of life— they also invest in their economic well-being. We know this because we’ve studied it.”

Cinderfella is a fire and flow performer from Naugatuck, Connecticut. He performed at NWCT ARTS Connected, a celebration of the arts at Spring Hill Vineyards in Washington, Connecticut. Jennifer Almquist

Stephen Gass, former President of sesamestreet.org, and vice board chair said, “When I was asked to join the board of the NWCT Arts Council, I said “OK” with one condition: the organization embraces the idea that our area’s sustainability does not rely solely on caring for our environment. Rather, given the countless ways the arts can feed our collective souls, fuel curiosity, create shared experiences, and critically serve as economic drivers, we champion the idea that the arts are essential to our well-being. Just as environmental sustainability requires that we think beyond a town’s borders, the NWCT Arts Council’s 25-town purview provides the “big picture” perspective that helps ensure a rich, far-reaching, and fertile arts and culture landscape for us all.”

Executive Director Burr, whose dream for NWCT Arts is to provide equity in the arts, reiterated their underlying credo, “As an arts organization, we work to put the voices that are most unheard at the forefront to empower the movement toward creative justice. The arts are a human right and bring us together to celebrate cultural diversity. Everyone deserves access to art and culture, to be included, and to feel a sense of belonging. We are dedicated to serving the needs of everyone regardless of race, age, physical or mental ability, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or economic status.”

Burr, “Our plan is grounded in the belief that the arts have the power to transform lives and communities, and that by supporting artists and the creative process, we can create a more vibrant and prosperous region. I am so grateful for the support of our board, staff, and stakeholders. I am confident that together we can achieve our vision of a region where artists can thrive, and everyone can experience the arts.”

NWCT Arts recognizes the positive impact the arts have on our mental health. Access to arts and culture is a universal human right, meeting both a social and psychological need. Jackie Armstrong, an educator at MOMA, said “Art can harness the healing power within each of us and help bring us into community with one another. When in front of an artwork, we are connected to the artist and to others who have experienced it. And connection, to us and others, is at the core of art and healing.”

Board chair Fisher continued, “As we reflect on the success of our first annual fundraiser, we’re filled with optimism about the future of the arts in Northwest Connecticut. This event has crucially boosted our ability to provide artists with the everyday tools they need to flourish. Our aim is to elevate the arts across the towns we serve, emphasizing not only their role in fostering community connections but also their significant impact as an economic driver. Looking ahead, we envision a partnership where municipalities seamlessly invest in arts and culture, ensuring every resident has access to these enriching experiences. Our first annual event marks a pivotal step towards making that dream a reality.”

Burr summed it up, “Our plan is grounded in the belief that the arts have the power to transform lives and communities and that by supporting artists and the creative process, we can create a more vibrant and prosperous region. I am so grateful for the support of our board, staff, and stakeholders. I am confident that together we can achieve our vision of a region where artists can thrive, and everyone can experience the arts.”

How can people help the NWCT Arts Council? They currently have eighty paid members. Information on how to join or support them and listings of future arts events can be found by going to www.artsnwct.org

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