Category Archives: Arts

Breaking News: Tyler Hicks Wins A Pulitzer For Breaking News

Westport native and Staples High School graduate Tyler Hicks has just won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography.

He received the award — one of the most prestigious in journalism — for “his compelling pictures that showed skill and bravery in documenting the unfolding terrorist attack at Westgate mall in Kenya.”

The event took place last September. Hicks — a staff photographer for the New York Times who has covered major conflicts around the world, won numerous other major awards, and survived a kidnapping in Libya — now lives in Nairobi. When he heard news of the massacre, he raced to the scene.

The Pulitzer Prize website shows 19 of Hicks’ photos. They include these:

A woman tried to shelter children from gunfire by Somali militants at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in an attack that killed more than 70 people. Tyler Hicks made this photo from a floor above, in an exposed area where the police feared for his safety. (Tyler Hicks, The New York Times - September 23, 2013)

A woman tried to shelter children from gunfire by Somali militants at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in an attack that killed more than 70 people. Tyler Hicks made this photo from a floor above, in an exposed area where the police feared for his safety. (Tyler Hicks, The New York Times – September 23, 2013)

Plainclothes officers rushed into the mall and Hicks accompanied them, knowing well that many terrorists remained inside and fearing not only guns but explosives around every corner. (Tyler Hicks, The New York Times - September 22, 2013)

Plainclothes officers rushed into the mall and Hicks accompanied them, knowing well that many terrorists remained inside and fearing not only guns but explosives around every corner. (Tyler Hicks, The New York Times – September 22, 2013)

Terrified Saturday-afternoon shoppers rushed from stores and a casino toward the exits. The police feared that escaping attackers had camouflaged themselves among them. (Tyler Hicks, The New York Times - September 21, 2013)

Terrified Saturday-afternoon shoppers rushed from stores and a casino toward the exits. The police feared that escaping attackers had camouflaged themselves among them. (Tyler Hicks, The New York Times – September 21, 2013)

Tyler Hicks travels the world. He has seen sights, and undergone experiences, that none of us could ever comprehend.

He has recorded them — in all their brutality and gruesomeness — for all the world to see.

It’s a terrible — and terribly important — business. But no one does it better.

 

 

Never Too Busy To Give Back To The Arts

You know the saying: “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”

It’s hard to find someone busier than a new mom with a full-time job. And planning a huge event — like the annual fundraiser for the Westport Arts Center — is almost another full job in itself.

Yet Caitlin Burke and Kristen Briner are doing just that.

It says a lot about them — and just as much about the importance of the arts to our entire town.

The theme of this year’s event (Saturday, April 26, Cranbury Park in Norwalk) is “WONDERland – A Mad Art Party.” Both women are well versed in the “wonder” of Westport arts.

WAC

Kristen came here as a little girl to visit her godparents. She started her business — the very creative Madison/Mott digital marketing agency — here 20 years later, with 1991 Staples grad Luke Scott. Serving local businesses like Gault Energy and Wish List, along with international clients, the company has a hip, funky vibe that is the 21st-century version of Westport’s arts heritage, dating back over a century.

“Westport has always been a breeding ground for artists of all genres,” Kristen says. She joined the WAC board because of the organization’s commitment to connect Westport and surrounding areas to the arts — and the energy with which staff and members do so.

Caitlin Burke (left) and Kristen Briner.

Caitlin Burke (left) and Kristen Briner.

Caitlin — a 1996 Staples alum, whose parents Bud and Sharon Frey also graduated from Staples — returned here in 2007. She’s the new director of marketing for Norwalk-based ICR.

As a youngster, Caitlin did not know much about the Westport Arts Center (she played field hockey, and served on her class committee). But, she quickly learned as a new homeowner, “it’s a lot more than just a gallery.” Caitlin has been impressed with the WAC’s outreach to urban schools, veterans (through Homes for the Brave), the elderly and Smilow Cancer Center.

Both women look forward to sharing the “wonder” of the Westport Arts Center — and Westport’s arts history — with their young sons. (Very young. Caitlin’s is 8 months old; Kristen’s is just 2 months.)

WAC“WONDERland” follows in the tradition of unique WAC fundraisers like the Warhol Ball and Art Noir. (Each time there’s a new venue, too.) This year, guests will “sip, savor and seek” as they “discover the unexpected” with a trip through the looking glass, and down the rabbit hole.

The evening includes a performance by Juilliard trained opera singer and 1993 Staples graduate Lucia Palmieri.

“The Westport Arts Center is a manifestation of everything that makes Westport such a wonderful, magical, music- and art-filled place to live,” Lucia says.

“WAC programs are not only educational, entertaining and fun, they are an integral outlet for artists in almost every medium. I am honored to be part of this evening.”

“Yes, it’s challenging to organize all this as working moms of little kids,” Caitlin says. “But it’s a great way to meet amazing people, and do some good. The WAC gives back in many ways, and this is one way we can help.”

It takes a busy person (or 2) to get a big job done. Many Westporters are busy people, with not enough time to attend every worthy cause.

This one, though, is well worth checking out.

(“WONDERland – A Mad Art Party” includes a 5:30 p.m. reception and dinner for Ann Sheffer, the WAC’s “Queen of the Arts” [$500 per ticket] and an 8 p.m. Friends of the Arts part [$225 per ticket]. For more information, click here.)

Orphenians Tap Chanticleer’s Talent

Chanticleer is a 36-year-old, San Francisco-based ensemble. The New Yorker called them “the world’s reigning male chorus.”

Orphenians is a 56-year-old elite choir at Staples. Director Luke Rosenberg is working hard to make them the world’s reigning a cappella chorus — at least, at the high school level.

Orphenians director Luke Rosenberg. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Orphenians director Luke Rosenberg. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

On Wednesday, Chanticleer visited Darien High School for a choral festival. Participating were their hosts, plus choirs from Staples, Westhill-Stamford and Brewster Highs.

It was a long, intense but joyful day. First, everyone rehearsed 2 pre-selected pieces as a mass choir, under the direction of Chanticleer’s musical director.

Each high school choir then performed its own selected repertoire, for the other schools to enjoy. Next came Orphenians’ special 90-minute workshop with 3 members of Chanticleer.

The evening concert showed off each individual choir. Finally, Chanticleer combined with all several hundred students for 2 tutti numbers: Monteverdi’s “Si Ch’io vorrei morire” and Andre Thomas’ “Rockin’ Jerusalem.”

Here’s an iPhone recording of Orphenians performing “Tap-Tap.” You can hear the group live at Staples, later this spring.

(If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)

 

Wise Words, From Bob And Judy Rosenkranz

Just over 3 years ago, Bob Rosenkranz retired after a long career as an endodontist on Boston’s North Shore. Married half a century, he and his wife Judy — a former phys ed. teacher — had to decide, “What do we do after we grow up?”

They figured they’d split time between their 2nd house in Vermont, and a gated community in Florida.

Their daughter Robin, son-in-law Matt Leon and 3 grandchildren — Jake, Josh and Jessica — had lived in Westport for nearly a decade. Whenever Bob and Judy visited, they stayed in Norwalk hotels. They’d take the grandkids to the usual dining spots — McDonald’s, Swanky Frank’s — and the tried-and-true recreational areas, like the beach.

Bob and Judy didn’t know much about Westport. But one day, they had dinner — by themselves — at Positano’s. They saw a Richard Dreyfuss performance at the Westport Country Playhouse. The next day, they took the train to New York, and stayed overnight. Both had grown up in Brooklyn. They remembered the city from the 1960s. It had changed dramatically, for the better.

Not the "wise men" Judy and Bob met. These guys don't play tennis.

Not the “wise men” Judy and Bob met. These guys don’t play tennis.

Judy — who played tennis with women 20 years younger at home — and Bob visited the Westport Tennis Club. They saw a bunch of older guys playing — quite well — and heard talk about the “Wise Men.” A man named Otis spent an hour chatting with them. “In Massachusetts, no men play tennis in the morning,” Bob says.

Judy broached the subject with Robin and Matt: How would they feel if she and Bob moved to Westport? The “kids” were all for it.

Judy and Bob talked to a realtor, but weren’t sure what they wanted. A rental? Condo? Nothing felt right.

Through a series of coincidences — including friend-of-a-friend stories — they bought the perfect house, off Partrick Road.

Then things really started to happen.

Bob and Judy found great new friends with older couples. They joined 2 film groups. The Fairfield University extended education program. A book club. A bridge group.

Bob joined the Y’s Men (he now knew how it was spelled). He joined 2 regular tennis games, plus 1 of platform tennis. He plays bocce. He hikes.

These are the "Y's Men." They are a very active group. The only thing they don't do is ride camels.

These are the real “Y’s Men.” They are a very active group. The only thing they don’t do is ride camels.

“I don’t know if these guys are former Fortune 500 CEOs or cobblers,” he says. “It doesn’t matter. They’re great!”

He is inspired by Y’s Men like Kurt Rosenfeld and Gun Moen, who is 87 and still skis, plays bridge and poker, and hits the speed bag.

Judy hooked up with a Manhattan art tour group, led by Westporter Joyce Zimmerman. She got involved with the Y’s Women.

She too plays platform tennis — outdoors, in January. She’s also in 4 other tennis games.

Bob and Judy Rosenkranz, in a rare quiet moment at home.

Bob and Judy Rosenkranz, in a rare quiet moment at home.

The couple dines out often. They love Westport’s restaurants, including Jewish-style delis Gold’s and Oscar’s. (In their previous life, the nearest deli was 35 miles away, in Newton.) They call the choices in supermarkets “phenomenal.”

As for shopping, it’s “fantastic — accessible and easy.”

They show off the library, beach — and many other parts of Westport — to out-of-town friends. They are awed by Staples Players performances, and love the Playhouse (especially the recent Harlem Dancers show).

I should note here that Judy and Bob are 2 of the warmest, most outgoing and funniest people that I have ever met. They also seem to have found a fantastic balance between doing things as a couple, and on their own. Still, their excitement about their new home town is astonishing.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” Judy says.

“I don’t have enough hours in the day,” Bob adds. And then he starts describing all the great hiking spots he’s found, like Sherwood Island in the off-season.

Many longtime Westporters have never been to Sherwood Island State Park. The Rosenkranzes love it.

Many longtime Westporters have never been to Sherwood Island State Park. The Rosenkranzes love it.

What’s nice to hear — beyond so many great words about Westport – is that, as Judy says, “people who have been here 30 or 40 years are opening up their lives to new people like us.”

But don’t think the Rosenkranzes spend all their time playing tennis, dining out and going to shows. They’ve cooked dinners for the Gillespie Center, done other volunteer work, and are always on the lookout for ways to give back.

Plus, of course, there are the grandkids. Judy and Bob were “mesmerized” by a recent Long Lots music concert (“there was no dissonance at all — and they had a whole ensemble with steel drums!”), and they are faithful attendees at endless soccer, baseball and lacrosse games.

Nor do they just travel between Westport and New York. They recently returned from a trip to Patagonia. (The region, not the store.)

But Bob and Judy always come back — physically, and during our conversation — to the wonders of their new home town.

“We love it here,” they keep saying.

Almost as much as we love having them here.

 

Eliza’s Story

Eliza had a tough life. Last summer she voluntarily signed on with Connecticut’s Department of Children and Youth Services. When foster care did not work out, she came to Project Return.

Since arriving at the North Compo Road home, where teenage girls and young women in crisis find a place to heal and grow, Eliza has thrived. She’s been sober for 6 months. Her relationship with her mother is vastly better.

Most importantly, she feels good about herself.

Project Return, on North Compo Road. It's a place where girls and young women transform their lives.

Project Return, on North Compo Road, where girls and young women transform their lives.

A part-time student at Staples and in Orange, Eliza starts full-time at Staples this week. Her truancy issues are gone. She’ll graduate sooner than she ever thought possible.

Eliza says, “I’ve grown into myself.” At Project Return she is surrounded by loving professionals, and other girls who support her. She feels “profound comfort. I’m safe, and in control of my emotions.”

Eliza’s passion for art has been stoked too. Drawing often in notebooks — usually with a fine-point quill, sometimes using watercolors, in an artist’s nook she created in the Project Return basement — Eliza creates wonderful works that come from her heart.

Eliza (left) relaxes with her sketch notebook in the Project Return living room with Christine Manenke (transitional living coordinator) and Susie Basler (executive director).

Eliza (left) relaxes with her sketch notebook in the Project Return living room with Christine Manenke (transitional living coordinator) and Susie Basler (executive director).

This Saturday (April 5, 7 p.m., Rolling Hills Country  Club, Wilton), one of Eliza’s drawings will be auctioned off. It’s part of Project Return’s 19th annual Birdhouse Gala, featuring silent and live auctions of original birdhouses designed and built by local artists, bird-themed paintings, ceramics, furniture and jewelry, plus “migration vacations” and “nesting packages.”

Plus cocktails, dinner, and dancing to the DNR rock band. It’s a fantastic event, for an even better cause.

“This house has given me so much,” Eliza says, sitting in the comfortable living room as the smell of cooking wafts from the kitchen.

Eliza's contribution to the Birdhouse Auction Gala.

Eliza’s contribution to the Birdhouse Auction Gala.

“It’s helped me meet the person I always thought I was, but never thought I could become. I’m so grateful for the amazing therapists, wonderful tutors — all the incredible people who are here.”

Eliza is doing her part to give back. The piece she donated for the auction shows 7 birds — there are 7 beds at Project Return — with a quote from Maya Angelou, describing home as a safe haven.

Right now, it sits by the cash register at Eileen Fisher.

On Saturday, it can be yours.

Eliza would be grateful. So would the hundreds of girls who have passed through Project Return since its founding in 1985. And the hundreds more it will help over many years to come.

(For ticket information to the Birdhouse Auction Gala, click here. To bid on online items before April 5, click here.) 

Birdhouses from previous auctions. (Photos courtesy of Westport Magazine)

Birdhouses from previous auctions. (Photos courtesy of Westport Magazine)

Westport And Diversity: Staples Students Have The “Write” Stuff

Today’s “06880″ theme is diversity. There’s more of it in Westport than you think. Stories posted in the past few hours include Khaliq Sanda’s stirring speech reflecting on 4 years here as an A Better Chance scholar, and Clay Garner’s career as a Westport teenager-turned-Chinese-musician-star.

Of course, another story noted that Westport’s wealthiest neighborhood — Coleytown — is 91.7% white, 3.1% Asian, 2.7% Latino and 0.9% black.

TEAM-Westport-logo2Recently, TEAM Westport — the town’s multiculturalism committee — joined with the Westport Library to sponsor an essay contest. High school students were invited to reflect on the fact that 30 years from now, racial and ethnic groups currently in the US minority will collectively outnumber whites. Students were asked to describe the benefits and challenges of this change for Westport as a whole, and themselves personally.

25 students responded. Tonight the winners — as judged by Westport educator Dr. Judith Hamer; Yale University’s Patricia Wei and teen services librarian Jaina Lewis — were announced. And celebrated.

The young writers addressed a host of challenges. Many were optimistic, even inspired.

Top prize — and $1,000 — went to Staples junior Megan Root. Her tremendously insightful essay — titled “Diversity: The Maestro of Innovation” — explored what she misses by living in a community that is 93% white. She knows that while her teachers pose many important questions, she does not hear answers from a variety of perspectives.

First prize winner Megan Root is congratulated by (left) TEAM Westport chairman Harold Bailey, and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

First prize winner Megan Root is congratulated by (left) TEAM Westport chairman Harold Bailey, and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

Megan described the value of “a symphony of ideas.”

It’s a little like being able to hit new keys on a piano, shifting your hands and stretching your fingers so you can play different octaves. Every starts in the middle C position. It’s easy and comfortable and you learn the basic skills.

But all the interesting music, the songs with real power, make you strain for the high G and reach for that low F. Entering a majority-minority world is like starting to reach for those far-off notes.

It will be a challenge, unfamiliar and uncomfortable, but ultimately it will open up a whole new book of music. No one wants to be stuck playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Taught by the maestro of diversity, I hope to learn Mozart and Vivaldi.

Megan looks forward to being exposed to more diversity, as the population changes. “I don’t think I can really complete an education in life until I join bigger, more varied conversations,” Megan wrote. “America’s diversity means access to culture and traditions and ideas from every corner of the globe.”

Eliza Llewellyn reads her award-winning essay.

Eliza Llewellyn reads her award-winning essay.

Eliza Llewellyn — Staples senior, and class valedictorian — won 2nd prize, and $750, for “No Longer 91 Percent.” She’s grown up in a multicultural family — part Welsh, part Chinese — and has hope for America’s future.

“Beyond economic strength, a mix of ethnicities will make us more tolerant and empathetic toward others,” Eliza said. “Rather than recoiling from a gay couple or crossing to the other side of a street from a black man in a hoodie, we can learn to see these individuals as people rather than a blanketed ‘other.’”

She concluded, “I am more than a Westporter, or even a Chinese-European. I am a citizen of the world.”

Third prize winner ($500) Kyle Baer was less optimistic. In “Westport: A Bubble Refuses to Pop,” the Staples junior wrote that Westport’s near-total whiteness “sets Westport back from the rest of the nation in terms of its cultural richness.

“To be stuck in an upper-class, all-white town in the coming years will be a significant disadvantage to students. We have little choice but to evolve, or risk losing our appeal as a family-friendly town. Yet the path on which Westport is headed shows, as of yet, no signs of diverging.”

Kyle is right: Westport is homogeneous. But — as the very fact that he won a prize by writing about diversity, in a contest sponsored by his town’s multicultural committee — shows, at least we’re looking at that path he says we’re on.

Kyle Baer with his proud grandparents, Ed and Pearl Baer.

Kyle Baer with his proud grandparents, Ed and Pearl Baer.

(Click here for Megan Root’s essay; here for Eliza Llewellyn’s, and here for Kyle Baer’s.)

Brean Cunningham’s “Dogs On the Inside”

Brean Cunningham has been around movies all his life.

His uncle, Westport native Sean Cunningham, directed “Friday the 13th,” “Spring Break,” and “Manny’s Orphans” (the greatest soccer movie ever, starring a young Dan Woog as the referee).

After graduating from Georgetown University, Brean — who in his younger days played “every sport” at the Westport Y, and worked at Carvel — assisted his uncle when Cunningham produced the 2009 remake of “The Last House on the Left.” Brean later worked with Sean, on the development side of filmmaking.

But when Brean decided to do his own film, it wasn’t a thriller. It wasn’t a coming-of-age comedy. It wasn’t even the greatest soccer movie ever.

Brean wanted to make a difference.

Brean Cunningham

Brean Cunningham

In 2011 he co-founded Expect Miracles Productions, to “tell stories people can believe in.” He traveled to Africa for a web advocacy video about the positive effects of combating neglected tropical diseases in Ghana. He was a field producer on a documentary about Churchill, Manitoba (“The Polar Bear Capital of the World”), and the people who live there.

The 1st documentary he directed and produced, “Expect Miracles,” spotlighted the impact of volunteers in Appalachia.

Brean is very excited about his latest project. “Dogs on the Inside” explores the partnership between a Massachusetts prison and a dog shelter. Inmates train rescue dogs, who are then given to new families.

Brean Cunningham, at work in the Massachusetts prison.

Brean Cunningham, at work in the Massachusetts prison.

Both the dogs and inmates gain new leases on life. Both suffer from trust issues. As bonds deepen, prisoners — about to re-enter society — discover a new capacity for love and empathy.

It’s a powerful film. Like any documentary maker, Brean had to navigate a thicket of challenges, from obtaining permission to film, to making sure they had the right people and dogs to tell this compelling story.

Brean - Dogs posterBrean was allowed only 3 days inside the prison. He and his crew filmed the day the dogs arrived; a day in the middle of the program, and the day the dogs left with their new families. Everywhere Brean and the crew went, prison officials hovered over their shoulders.

Brean was impressed both by the prisoners’ warmth, and prison officials’ genuine desire that the inmates succeed. He was devastated, though, by what he saw in Mississippi, where the abused dogs came from.

Post-production took time. Nashville musician Sam Gay scored the film, and in late December it was done.

Brean and his co-director — Fairfield native Doug Seirup — have submitted it to festivals. It premieres at the Boston International Film Festival on April 14, with others to follow. Of course, Brean is looking for a local venue too.

Brean loves sports, so his next venture may be “a great sports story.”

Go for it. Though it will be hard to beat “Manny’s Orphans.”

If the trailer for “Dogs on the Inside” does not open in your browser, click here.

Hey, The Calendar Says It’s Spring…

The weather wasn’t fantastic. But we’re tired of the long winter. And worried about more snow this Tuesday night.

So Westporters did whatever we do in the faintest glimmer of sunshine. We headed to Compo Beach, in droves.

My sister was there too. Susan Woog Wagner is a Staples grad — and a professional photographer.

Her shots are sure to put a “spring” in your step.

No matter what the weatherman says.

Compo - Susan Woog Wagner

Compo 2 - Susan Woog Wagner

(Photos/Susan Woog Wagner)

(Photos/Susan Woog Wagner)

Famous Artists School Draws NY Times’ Attention

Today’s New York Times Arts & Leisure section includes a long look back at popular arts correspondence courses of the 1950s and ’60s.

Writer Randy Kennedy says “the most prominent” — Famous Artists School of Westport — “became a cultural phenomenon, a highly profitable business operating out of a gleaming Modernist office complex along the Saugatuck River.”

(Newbies, take note: that “gleaming” complex turned into the sterile, soon-to-be-vacated Save the Children headquarters on Wilton Road.)

Describing Famous Artists’ talent test, Kennedy notes: “No one, of course, failed.” Instead, they were used “to dispatch a salesman to the door, with a big leatherette binder touting the benefits of a job in art.” Some were real. Others? “A bit far-fetched.”

Norman Rockwell (center, bow tie), with some of the Famous Artists School's faculty.

Norman Rockwell (center, bow tie), with some of the Famous Artists School’s faculty. (Photo courtesy of Norman Rockwell Museum)

At its peak, FAS had more than 40,000 students. At $300 per course, that was real money pouring in. (And real postage pouring out. Famous Artists — and its offshoots, Famous Writers and Famous Photographers Schools — placed heavy demands on our post office.)

Kennedy describes another reason FAS was financially successful: “Few students ever persevered through the entire course, freeing up manpower and saving the school money.” Far fewer students ever became famous artists — let alone capitalized  ones (in both senses of the word).

Famous Artists over-expanded, and went bankrupt in 1972. Its assets were bought in 1981 by Cortina Learning International, which continues to run it from Wilton.

But Famous Artists remains tied to Westport today: in the memories of anyone who lived here during its heyday. And in the minds of the thousands of “students,” who “corresponded” back and forth using the prestigious Westport address.

(For more on the Famous Artists School in Westport, click here.)

An advertisement from the 1950s. Perhaps Famous Artists could have hired a famous agency to create a more compelling ad.

An advertisement from the 1950s. Perhaps Famous Artists could have hired a famous agency to create a more compelling ad.

Sam Waterston Channels F. Scott And Zelda

Nearly a century after F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived there, 244 South Compo Road hosted another famous name.

Actor Sam Waterston recently toured the historic home, now owned by Jeannine Flower. He then sat for an interview with Professor Walter Raubichek, a noted Fitzgerald scholar at Pace University.

The walk-through and interview were filmed by Westporters Deej Webb and Robert Steven Williams. They’re working on a project about Fitzgerald’s time in town.

Channeling F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (from left): Professor Walter Raubicheck, Sam Waterston, Robert Steven Williams, Jeannine Flower and Deej Webb.

Channeling F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (from left): Robert Steven Williams, Sam Waterston, Professor Walter Raubicheck, Jeannine Flower and Deej Webb.

The filmmakers believe that Fitzgerald’s 6 months in Westport — May through October, 1920 — were pivotal to his writing.

(It was certainly pivotal to the newly married couple’s relationship. According to Webb and Williams, “their love was still in full bloom.”)

Scott wrote in his essay “100 False Starts” that a writer has 2 or 3 great life experiences, then recycles them over and over.

“We’ve set out to prove that Westport is one of those great experiences,” the filmmakers says. “We’re posing this to the international Fitzgerald community, and getting remarkable responses. That journey is what this film is all about.”

The film will premiere at the Westport Historical Society. No word on whether Sam Waterston will attend.