In their first 2 decades here, Frederic Chiu, Jeanine Esposito and their kids lived in a small Greens Farms house.
A decade ago, they searched for something a little bigger. One listing had nothing they were looking for. It was old (1806), had too much property (3 acres), and sat on a busy street (Weston Road).
But for some reason the couple — he’s a world-renowned pianist, she’s an equally talented artist — checked it out. When they saw the big music room, carriage house and beautiful, 400-year-old copper beech tree, both knew it was what they wanted.
There were four other bidders. In a letter to the owners, Frederic and Jeanine described their vision. It would be a place where artists and performers of all types could gather, connect, learn from and inspire each other.
They got the house. Then wondered, “What did we do?!”
They scheduled their first event before they had furniture: a celebration of Latin America. Guests brought chairs.
As soon as the event began, there was an exciting chemistry. Most attendees were strangers, working in different art forms. But they felt united.
Beechwood Arts was born.
Friends said it wouldn’t work. There were too many other arts organizations, they warned. You can’t combine different arts. You’d need a big board of directors. And on and on.
Jeanine and Frederic did not listen to the skeptics. They heeded their own instincts. They had faith that their intimate space, its spirit of energy of openness, and their own belief in celebration and collaboration, would work.
This year, their project — now called Beechwood Arts & Innovation — turns 10. Their mix of generations, cultural backgrounds and themes has blossomed into a thriving, ever-evolving special salon.
Their day jobs keep them plenty busy (and, until COVID, on the road). But Beechwood is their special baby. As its parents, they look back proudly at a decade of arts experiences.
The statistics are stunning. Frederic and Jeanine have produced 130 events: arts immersion salons, petit and open salons, livestreams, shows, creative conversations, inspiration retreats, community conversations and more.
Nearly 350 visual artists have shown over 1,400 pieces. Beechwood has hosted more than 180 performers, along with dozens of filmmakers, video artists and creative chefs.
Beechwood has featured works by international artists like Joshua Bell, and local students. Events have been held in the music room, dining room, and under that magnificent beech tree.
Art was drawn during some events. Tiny portraits were hidden in the walls and grounds. Audience members have read out loud. Musical works were premiered. A “sonic sanctuary” allowed guests to create performances that mixed with nature. Chefs and filmmakers competed in smackdowns. Long before Zoom was a thing, Beechwood linked artists and musicians around the world, all creating simultaneously.
The lack of a big board of directors — or many other trappings of a traditional arts organization — has allowed Beechwood to be both creative and flexible.
Immediately after the 2016 election, an event was aimed at healing divisions around the country. Less than a month after the COVID lockdown, Beechwood inaugurated weekly virtual programs. Then, a week after George Floyd’s death, a group of Black artists created an delivered an “Amplify Festival,” with original art and performances, and plenty of conversation.
Those conversations are a key to Beechwood’s success. Every event includes opportunities for strangers to mingle.
Frederic and Jeanine are not afraid to talk with other organizations. Though there is often tension in the arts world over perceived competition for audiences and dollars, many Beechwood events are done collaboratively. Partners have included the Westport Library, MoCA Westport, Westport Museum of History & Culture, Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County, Connecticut Alliance for Music, Festival Edelio, Maritime Gallery, MakerFaire and others.
Entering its second decade, Beechwood joins with other venues around the country for 3 compelling Thursday 7 p.m. Classical Smackdowns , with interactive voting– all courtesy of Frederic.
On April 27 it’s Debussy vs. Prokofiev. May 27 brings Bach vs. Glass. Mendelssohn vs. Chopin follow on June 24. All are virtual.
Beechwood also continues its Amplify Festival — “amplifying voices through the arts” — as a partnership with the Westport Library and TEAM Westport (May 8, 7 p.m., in person and livestream). It’s part of the WestportREADS program involving Layla Saad’s book “Me and White Supremacy,” and includes “Duets” by Mozart & Mumford, “Skin” body paint and spoken word, and more.
On Sunday, August 1, Frederic and Jeanine plan to welcome artists, performers and guests to their beautiful Beechwood grounds. They’ll show off their frog pond, sculpture field, birds and bees garden, indoor spaces — and of course their beloved copper beech tree.
“Hidden Secrets of Beechwood Arts Immersion” is set for Sunday, October 17.
Both events are great ways to celebrate 10 years of arts in their home. It’s one they never intended to even look at — but now is is their, and the arts world’s, wonderfully innovative institution.