Category Archives: Library

Westport’s Poet Laureate Raps With “06880”

During her 22 years in Westport, Diane Meyer Lowman has done a lot.

As her 2 sons moved through the school system, she was involved in many PTA ventures, including ArtSmart. She helped formalize and coordinate Staples High School’s library volunteer program, and was on the district’s food committee.

She was a substitute Spanish teacher, at Staples and the middle schools. She did pro bono nutritional consulting for Homes with Hope. She teaches yoga at Town Hall.

But until a few days ago, Diane — a graduate of Middlebury College, with a master’s in Shakespeare studies from Britain’s University of Birmingham — had never been Westport’s poet laureate.

That’s okay. Until a few days ago, we’d never had a poet laureate either.

Diane Lowman (Photo/Jane LaMotta)

If you missed the announcement, you’re not alone. It came in the middle of the Westport Library’s opening-day ceremonies. (The library was part of the selection process, along with the superintendent of schools’ office and the town Arts Advisory Committee, which manages the poet laureate program.)

The application process was rigorous: a resume, personal statement, 4 letters of recommendation, and several interviews. “It was like applying to college,” she says.

So what exactly does Westport’s poet laureate do?

Good question.

The job description includes the importance of promoting poetry as a form of communication, inspiration and entertainment; expanding and promoting awareness and appreciation of poetry and writing in general, and advocating for poetry, literature and the arts.

Diane admits she is not a poet, per se. (She has, however, written 1600 haiku.)

“This is the inaugural position,” she says. “There’s no template. But I’ve got some good ideas.”

They include working closely with schools, the library and the arts community; helping students and senior citizens collaborate through writing; organizing poetry slams at places like Toquet Hall and the library; bringing a “Poetry on Demand” desk (and local poets) to townwide events; putting bulletin boards around Westport, for anyone to post poems; working with ArtSmart, the Westport Arts Center and Artists’ Collective of Westport to include poetry alongside exhibitions; integrating poetry into WestportREADS — stuff like that.

“I wake up every morning thinking of something new,” Diane says.

She welcomes ideas from the community. “This is not about me. It’s about Westport,” she explains.

Diane knows that the word “poetry” can be intimidating to some people. When she studied Shakespeare, she realized that his name too carries “a cultural cachet that can feel elitist or off-putting.”

But, she insists, “everyone can read and write poetry. It’s just another way to communicate feelings. It makes us realize how much we all have in common, whether we’re seniors in high school or seniors at the Senior Center.”

Her favorite poets are Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and her son Dustin. (He’s midway through an MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her other son, Devon, is an artist and art  handler, also in Chicago.)

Devon, Diane and Dustin Lowman.

There’s no type of poetry Diane does not like — except “poems that intentionally try to be difficult. Challenge is fine. Thinking, reflecting, questioning — that’s good. But it’s not good to make someone feel dumb or stuck.”

Westport’s new poet laureate — who began her honorary, non-compensated 2-year post on July 1 — is both excited and humbled.

“I’m so appreciative of this community,” Diane says. “I’m so glad to be able to give back to it. I know it sounds trite, but I’m very enthusiastic and excited.”

No, not at all.

Not trite; quite right.

(Westport poet laureate Diane Meyer Lowman welcomes all suggestions and ideas. Email waac@westportct.gov — with “Poetry” in the subject line — or dilo922@gmail.com)

Library Cafe’s Mystic-al Tale

Westport Library officials anticipated a big crowd at their “transformation” opening last Sunday.

They just didn’t figure it would be so big.

After a brass band led hundreds into the new building at 11:15, they swarmed into the new space. People oohed and aahed over the Forum, the recording studio, the children’s section, art galleries and reading rooms.

And they lined up, 20 deep, for sandwiches, salads, baked goods and coffee in the new café.

By 1:30, the library had run out of food.

They called Mystic Market — their new partner. Barely half an hour later, the café was fully restocked.

Heli Stagg in the library cafe, with prepared food from Mystic Market, baked goods from Sono Baking Company, and the brand-new espresso machine.

Mystic Market’s popularity has grown steadily, since opening a couple of months ago in the old Blu Parrot/Jasmine/Arrow Charles Street site near the train station.

Now, library users far beyond Saugatuck are discovering the market’s magic too.

The new partnership “was meant to be,” says Heli Stagg, Westport Library retail and café manager.

As the library expanded, she’d searched for a new partner. Oscar’s was the first, when the small original café opened several years ago. After owner Lee Papageorge died, Gold’s took over. Both were “great,” Stagg says.

But with the transformation project nearly complete, the library wanted to offer more than basic salads and sandwiches.

Stagg had heard raves about Mystic Market’s prepared foods. When she met general manager David Griswold, the first thing he offered was a tour of their state-of-the-art kitchen.

David Griswold (center) and his Mystic Market team.

Stagg was impressed. Serendipitously, the market’s owners — Mystic-based Coastal Gourmet Group — were there for a meeting. She invited them to the still-under-construction library.

A few minutes in, they told her, “We have to do this.”

“Their food is excellent,” she says. “We want a high-end vendor. And we want them to succeed. This is a win for both of us.”

Mystic Market is not the only café partner. SoNo Baking Company is in its 4th year providing baked goods.

As with Mystic Market, Stagg had heard good things about the Norwalk-based firm. When she met the owners — and tasted their food — she was sold.

With both companies, Stagg says, “we’re doing exactly what the library likes to do everywhere: make connections. We want people to enjoy the café, and learn about businesses they might not know.”

Patrons enjoy the new Westport Library cafe inside …

The transformed library has made one more connection: with Food Rescue US.

That’s the innovate group that uses an app to match supermarkets, restaurants (and library cafēs!) having leftover food, with volunteers who can pick it up and deliver to shelters, kitchens and pantries.

Now — like Westport Library patrons — they too can enjoy the Mystic Market and SoNo Baking bounty.

… and out.

Pic Of The Day #797

The transformed Westport Library opened today. One key feature: a new entrance on Jesup Green. Moments before the ribbon-cutting, youngsters enjoy the once-overlooked sculpture nearby. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Westport Celebrates: Transformation Complete, Library Opens!

If you want to know what kind of town Westport is, consider this:

On a Sunday morning — the most beautiful day of summer (so far) — 1,000 or so men, women and kids turned out to celebrate the re-opening of our library.

Plus this: The multi-year project came in on time.

And within budget.

A large crowd waited for the opening ceremony.

There were brief speeches by Governor Ned Lamont and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

Governor Ned Lamont — whose family endowed a library at Harvard University — talks about their importance.

A band played. Dozens of kids jumped in for the ribbon-cutting.

Kids celebrate, moments after 1st Selectman Jim Marpe cut the ribbon.

Then everyone clambered up the very new stairs, to the great new entrance. As Marpe noted, the library — originally a gift from Morris Jesup — now embraces Jesup Green, named for the founder’s family.

A brass band plays, as the crowd streams up the steps.

It’s a spectacular building we can all be proud of. It will evolve and be used in ways we have not yet even imagined.

Within minutes of the opening, the grandstand was packed.

Today was a great day for Westport. If you haven’t seen it yet: The festivities continue until 4 p.m.

To all who made today possible — especially our amazing library director Bill Harmer — thank you!

Music on the main stage, dance, podcasts, educational sessions, even composting and bees — it’s all on, all afternoon at the new library, until 4 pm. (All photos/Dan Woog)

Governor Lamont To Cut The Library Ribbon

Tomorrow’s fun, festive Westport Library Transformation Project ribbon-cutting ceremony just got more high-powered.

Governor Lamont has agreed to do the honors.

The event starts promptly at 11 a.m. Everyone will gather on Jesup Green, at the new “Grand Staircase.”

Andrew Wilk will introduce First Selectman Jim Marpe. He’ll say a few words, and introduce the governor.

The new Jesup Green grand staircase.

After the ribbon-cutting, the Hartford Hot Several Brass Band will play. They’ll lead the crowd into the new Library. The Forum will be the site of the first official event: a few short words from Library board president Iain Bruce, project architect Henry Myerberg, and executive director Bill Harmer.

Then comes 5 hours of interactive fun. Bands, artists, live podcasts, a performance by world-renowned/Westport neighbor pianist Frederic Chiu, children’s music, discussions, acoustic guitar, dance, exhibits, MakerSpace demos — that and much more is in store.

See you at the Grand Staircase!

Fine Arts Festival Focuses On Future

It’s not easy getting into the Westport Fine Arts Festival.

Every year, organizers pick 175 artists from around the country. Every mid-July they fill Main Street with their painting, photography, sculpture, fiber, printmaking, mixed media, glass, ceramics, jewelry, wood and graphics.

Making the cut is tough. So is the juried competition that follows.

But the festival sponsor — the Westport Downtown Merchants Association — recognizes its responsibility to nurture up-and-coming artists too.

So this year — on July 20 and 21 — the 46th annual event will embrace artists you may not yet have heard about.

But with the Fine Arts Festival’s help, you certainly will.

Plenty of art — and art lovers — at Westport’s Fine Arts Festival.

The WDMA is partnering with the Drew Friedman Foundation and Silvermine Arts Center to highlight 3 young artists.

The Foundation — part of the bequest of the late downtown landlord, restaurateur and arts lover — will award one $3,000 prize, and two more of $1,000 each. Applicants are artists currently enrolled in MFA programs, or recent graduates of one.

The first prize winner in the Emerging Artists Program — chosen by a professional jury — will also be exhibited at Silvermine. The 97-year-old New Canaan organization encompasses an art school, educational programs, artists’ guild, permanent collection and 5 galleries.

This year’s Fine Arts Festival outreach also includes the Westport Library.

In recent years, the Festival coincided with the annual book sale on Jesup Green. Recognizing that the audiences for art and books often overlaps — and that the downtown venues are complementary too — both institutions have strengthened their ties.

Now — with the Library’s transformation project complete — the Fine Arts Festival will set up a tent on the riverwalk. The young artists’ work will be exhibited there on Friday night. There’s a reception in the library’s new café.

They’re invited too to the established artists’ Saturday night reception. Also honored there: several high school student artists, who will receive $5,000 Drew Friedman Foundation scholarships.

WDMA president Randy Herbertson and Silvermine board vice chair Robin Jaffee Frank are excited about the chance to encourage — and showcase — emerging artists.

Check out their work next month. In a few years, you can say “I knew them when.”

(For more information on the Fine Arts Festival, click here.)

Pic Of The Day #795

Reading an actual book, by the Library Riverwalk. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Library Transformation Is Complete. Grand Reopening Set For Sunday!

Few things in life exceed my expectations.

The Westport Library’s transformation project does.

I’ve written about the remarkable process that, over the past 18 months, has turned what was already a town jewel into a sparkling diamond.

I won’t go into all the details here. Suffice it to say that from top (expanded children’s section, more meeting rooms, wider balcony) to bottom (nestle between the stacks and the river) — with special attention paid to the main Forum floor (state-of-the-art stage, amazing people-watching pyramid, beautiful reading rooms, recording studio, brand-new café) and outside (shape-shifting stairs and entrance on Jesup Green) — the transformed library will awe all who use it. And everyone else downtown too.

Artist’s rendering of the main floor Forum. Come see for yourself on Sunday!

The public gets its first look at it all this Sunday (June 23).

A ribbon-cutting takes place at 11, on the new Jesup stairs. After a couple of brief speeches, the library will host 5 hours of fun, interactive events.

Bands, artists, live podcasts, a performance by world-renowned/Westport neighbor pianist Frederic Chiu, children’s music, discussions, acoustic guitar, dance, exhibits, MakerSpace demos — that and much more is in store.

Community partners like Earthplace, the Westport Historical Society, Wakeman Town Farm and Westport Garden Club will welcome the library into its new home.

Click here for full details.

Then book it!

The new Jesup Green main level entrance.

Booked For Frederic Chiu

The Westport Library’s Transformation Project has been a daring adventure.

For nearly 2 years, officials masterminded a top-to-bottom (literally) metamorphosis of an already great institution. In less than 3 weeks they’ll cut the ribbon, opening it officially to the world.

Last night, a couple of hundred folks got a sneak peek.

The opening reception, prior to Frederic Chiu’s performance.

Library officials took the bold step of scheduling — as their first event in the new space — their signature fundraiser of the year.

Booked For The Evening is a night of fine food, socializing, and honoring a noted member of the literary or arts world. Expectations are high.

The library had never tested its innovations before a live audience. High-tech video and sound systems; a beautiful Yamaha Disklavier piano that can play itself; the vaunted grandstand seating — all rolling out for the first time ever.

Frederic Chiu accompanies himself on two pianos. To find out how, read on.

It was one of the best Booked evenings ever.

The stunning reception area; the new performing arts space; the flow, the ambiance, the energy — it was all there, just as the hundreds of men and women who had worked for so long on the project hoped (and prayed).

Westport LIbrary director Bill Harmer and Sybil Steinberg, contributing editor and former book review section editor for Publishers Weekly, enjoy the event.

Frederic Chiu — the world-renowned pianist and longtime Westporter — gave an inspired performance.

In keeping with the theme of the night — and the Transformation Project’s emphasis on creativity — there were wonderful touches.

The audience voted to see an alternative (happy) ending to Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet” ballet, performed by dancers Marlon Grigsby and Harlee Trautman, as Chiu inaugurated the new piano.

Chiu then played a movement from Philip Glass’s “4 Movements for 2 Pianos,” with his protégé Timo Andres.

WSHU classical music host Kate Remington served as “Booked for the Evening” MC.

There were video — and live — tributes to the honoree.

Then, the finale: Chopin’s “Rondo in C Major, Opus 7 for 2 Pianos.” Chiu did something he’s never done, in his long career: He accompanied himself. The magic came courtesy of the Yamaha; one part was recorded weeks ago.

It was a warm, varied and community-minded evening. It flowed easily, and flawlessly.

Grandstand seating proved popular — and grand.

This morning, everyone who was there is talking about Frederic Chiu — and the newly transformed Westport Library.

It will be booked — by proud, pleased patrons — for decades to come.

(The ribbon-cutting and opening ceremonies for the new library are Sunday, June 23. Festivities begin at 11 a.m., and last until 4 p.m.)

Frederic Chiu: star of the show. (All photos/Dan Woog)

Frederic Chiu: Booked By The Library To Innovate

In its 21 years, Booked for the Evening — the Westport Library’s signature fundraising event — has brought many big names to town.

Tom Brokaw, Martin Scorsese, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Patti Smith, Alan Alda and others have enlightened and entertained us, on the cramped main floor.

But now the library’s Transformation Project is almost complete. Stacks of books have been replaced by a Forum — a dramatic event space framed by a state-of-the-art stage and screen.

This year’s Booked for the Evening is the first chance for the public to see the transformed library. Organizers needed an extra-special honoree, someone as compelling as the new space itself.

Frederic Chiu (Photo/Chris Craymer)

They did not have to look far. Frederc Chiu — the internationally acclaimed, award-winning virtuoso pianist, collaborator, innovator, entrepreneur and Westporter — will inaugurate the Forum’s stage.

And he’ll do it using a spectacular new piano, with a great back story. But more on that later.

Chiu has performed on 5 continents, in all 50 states, and with orchestras like the National Symphony in Washington DC, the China National Symphony and the BBC Concert Orchestra Symphony. He has collaborated with friends like Joshua Bell.

But he’s also our neighbor.

Chiu’s introduction to Westport came in 1986, when he won the prestigious Young Performers International Competition (now named for Heida Hermanns) here.

In the 1990s he lived in Paris. Whenever he played in New York, he visited his friend Jeanine Esposito here. After they married, Westport — with its arts heritage, and proximity to New York and Europe — seemed like a perfect place to be.

Chiu loved the Westport Library. He researched music and travel. He checked out CDs, DVDs and books. And whatever he could not find, the staff tracked down through interlibrary loans.

Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu, at home. That’s where they host their eclectic Beechwood Arts Immersive Salons.

Esposito, meanwhile, helped then-director Maxine Bleiweis develop the next phas of the MakerSpace.

Current director Bill Harmer has impressed the couple too. Recently, he announced that the library will be the winter home of Chiu and Esposito’s Beechwood Arts Immersion Salon series.

“Today, libraries are community hubs” Chiu notes. “They’re places to create bonds, where people can communicate. And they’re accessible to all.”

Chiu is excited that the Westport Library is expanding that mission by including the arts in its transformation. Audio and video production have dedicated spaces, next to the impressive new stage.

On Tuesday, June 4, Chiu’s Booked for the Evening performance debuts not only that stage, but also the library’s new Yamaha Disklavier piano.

It’s an astonishing instrument. Besides its marvelous sound, the piano is a technological marvel. It can play 50,000 songs (like a player piano). It also connects with any other Disklavier anywhere in the world.

And with its video capabilities, it allows Chiu to do something he’ll showcase on Tuesday: He can play a duet with himself. He’s chosen Chopin’s only work for 2 pianos.

Here’s looking at Chiu: The pianist stands in the Forum, while a video of him playing plays on the high-def screen behind the stage.

That’s just one piece of Chiu’s performance. He’ll play with Timo Andres, an award-winning young pianist/composer.

He also brings his interactive production of Prokofiev’s popular “Romeo and Juliet: The Choice” ballet to the stage. At the end, Booked guests vote for either the tragic conclusion, or the composer’s little-known happy ending.

But back to that Yamaha piano. It’s a gift from Stacy Bass and her brother, David Waldman. It honors their mother, Jessica Waldman, who died in January.

The donation has special meaning for Stacy, who helped start Booked for the Evening 21 years ago.

“My mother was passionate about theater and music,” Stacy says. “David and I wanted to give something to the library that really represents her. The piano will be part of the stage. She will live on every day.”

Frederic Chiu, at the beautiful new Yamaha Dislavier piano. It’s a gift from Stacy Bass and David Waldman, in honor of their mother Jessica. (Photos/Dan Woog)

Last week Chiu sat at the piano, in the still-unfinished Forum, and smiled.

“I’m being honored, and I’ll be onstage. But the soloist is always the instrument and the music. I do my best to put them out front. I’m of service to great music, and a great piano.”

Chiu notes that when the piano was invented more than 300 years ago, it “brought music to the masses. It was as much an innovation as the printing press and computer were, for bringing information to the public. Playing it is unlike any other activity people can do.”

No one plays better than Frederic Chiu.

And there is no better choice for Booked for the Evening, to inaugurate the Westport Library’s new age of arts and innovation.

(For more information on the June 4 Booked for the Evening, including tickets, click here.)