Tag Archives: Bill Harmer

Urban Scholars Youth Program May Forge Suburban Ties

It’s hard being a Westport middle schooler.

Navigating academic and social pressures in class, then during a gantlet of after-school sports, tutoring and other activities — it’s a perilous journey discovering who you are, and who you wnat to be.

But being a middle school student in Bridgeport is exponentially more difficult.

Options and opportunities are much more limited. Meanwhile, the burdens — financial, family and the like — are far greater.

Fortunately, there is the Urban Scholars After School Program.

Run by LifeBridge — a remarkable community service organization — Urban Scholars is an after-school STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) program with an important SEL (social emotional learning) component.

Drawing 6th through 9th graders from throughout Bridgeport to a bright, colorful facility in the city’s West End, it offers a welcoming, loving, challenging — even life-changing — home for 3 hours every day.

And it’s completely free.

Urban Scholars provides art, robotics, music (guitar, piano, drums), performing arts, science, dance, yoga, and special interest clubs like baking, games, cosmetology, community service and sports. There is tutoring and homework help every day too.

Teachers, social workers, AmericCorps VISTA workers, volunteers, interns and working artists all help. They expose dozens of boys and girls to opportunities they’d never get, like working with robots or playing a musical instrument.

One of the 2 music rooms.

They urge them to try new things, and encourage every success. They model teamwork and leadership. They help participants with self-esteem, relationships and managing emotions. 

They are, literally and figuratively, “life bridges” at a crucial time in children’s development.

Youngsters hoping to be part of the Urban Scholars program are interviewed; so are their parents, grandparents or other guardians. The directors work with those adults are partners, making sure attendance is regular and any issues are dealt with together.

Things that Westporters take for granted, like transportation, can be big barriers to participation. Participants walk, ride bikes, are dropped off, or ride city buses. Staff members accompany them to bus stops. Small details like that mean a lot.

Staff members in the robotics lab. One of the student-designed robots is on the right.

I know all this because Bill Harmer arranged a tour last week. The Westport Library executive director is committed to sharing his institution’s many resources, with partners that align with its mission.

He is exploring ways that the Westport Library can collaborate with LifeBridge and the Urban Scholars program.

“Our donors, staff and board believe in sharing,” Harmer says. From the Verso Studios, StoryFest and music festivals to its people, he wants the Library to reach out beyond its physical walls.

Ultimately, he hopes that youngsters from Westport and Bridgeport can collaborate — and perhaps other towns too.

Last week’s tour was eye-opening. Program officials proudly showed off the bright rooms on 2 floors of the LifeBridge building. Three working robots sat on lab tables. Student art decorated the walls (a larger mural program is in the works). Musical motifs encourage exploration in 2 rooms filled with instruments. The tutoring center includes both small tables and an adjacent “quiet room.”

Students’ art work is displayed throughout the building. (Photos/Dan Woog)

The Urban Scholars program runs through the summer too. This year, nearly 120 boys and girls took part.

Though families pay nothing — a big reason so many children are able to participate — the program is expensive. The school-year program budget is approximately $800,000; the summer one is another $200,000.

Funding comes entirely from grants, individual donations and AmeriCorps VISTA.

It’s less than 10 miles from the Westport Library to the Bridgeport Urban Scholars After School Program at LifeBridge. If Bill Harmer’s vision comes true, that distance may soon be even shorter.

(To learn more about the Urban Scholars After School Program, click here, or contact CEO Edith Boyle: eboyle@lifebridgect.org; 203-368-5550. To donate, contact Lori Goertz: lgoertz@lifebridgect.org; 203-368-5581.   

(LifeBridge also runs a community closet, with free clothes, school supplies, books, infant goods and more. Once a month, every member of an Urban Scholar’s family can choose three complete outfits. It’s also open to everyone getting any services through LifeBridge. To learn more bout the community closet and other LifeBridge programs — including how to donate –, watch the video below, and click here.)

(“06880” is “Where Westport meets the world.” To help us do that, please click here.)

Library Re-Purchases Controversial Book

A controversial book on transgender issues will soon be back on the Westport Library shelves.

Last month, after “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters” was taken out of circulation, a group of residents accused the Library of “political censorship.” They asked the Library to re-purchase it.

The Library said the book by Abigail Shrier was rejected by the Purchasing Committee because it included misinformation about scientific studies on transgender issues, and omitted other information.

The residents called the decision “unacceptable and most likely unlawful.” 

Today — noting that the Library’s appeals process works as intended — executive director Bill Harmer says the book has been re-evaluated. It will be re-purchased.

The decision was announced in an email to Alessandra Gordonos, who made the original complaint. Harmer said:

In accordance with the Library’s Challenged Materials Procedure, the Library has reevaluated the book in question in the context of the Library’s Collection Development Policy.

As a result of this reevaluation, the Library has made the decision to re-purchase the book for the Library’s collection.

The Library is committed to its mission of empowering the individual and strengthening the community through dynamic interaction and the lively and open exchange of ideas.

In furtherance of its mission, the Library also is committed to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, and The Freedom to Read Statement of the ALA Council and AAP Freedom to Read Committee.

The Library is committed to making available books and materials that promote diversity of thought and opinion, and deepen patrons’ understanding of issues.

I note that inclusion of any materials in the Library collection does not constitute or reflect an endorsement of any particular opinion, idea, or viewpoint by the Library.

The Westport Library first added “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters: to the Library’s materials collection in February 2021.

To the best of our knowledge, the book circulated only once, and was withdrawn in June 2021. In July 2021 and again in September 2021, you made separate requests for the Library to re-purchase the book for the collection.

After review, the Library’s selection committee decided not to re-purchase the book, due in part to the mixed reviews that the book had received during that summer — reviews that highlighted omitted information and misinformation from some of the results from the studies the author cites in the book.

The Library’s collection manager indicated to you that the Library had a selection of other recent books on this topic in our collection, and offered to borrow a copy of the book for you from another library.

The Westport Library’s collection is always in flux. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

In selecting materials for the Library’s collection, the Library follows its Collection Development Policy. The fact that this item was once in the Library’s collection and was then removed is not unusual, given space considerations and in keeping with Library best practices.

The Library’s collection, at any given moment, is always in flux. We are not an archive. Much of our collection comes in based on interest, and leaves — is replaced — when interest wanes. Out-of-date books, for instance, are removed by librarians, as are multiples of a book as its popularity decreases.

Library staff constantly reviews items in our collection against the Collection Maintenance criteria in our Collection Development Policy, to determine whether any items should be withdrawn.

The Library also has a Contested Materials Policy and Procedure to ensure that all patrons have an opportunity to appeal any decision reached by the selection committee — and to provide us with a complete system of checks and balances.

“Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters” has been reevaluated in accordance with the Library’s Challenged Materials Procedure. The book represents a current, diverse viewpoint on culturally significant subjects (gender identity and expression, gender dysphoria, being transgender, adolescence, and development) that are relevant to the community. The book and its author have gained widespread public attention and are relevant to the contemporary discourse concerning the subject matter of the book.

The Library recognizes that public response to the book has been divided; that the book endorses theories concerning gender identity and gender dysphoria that are controversial and disputed; and that the book’s accuracy and objectivity have been challenged.

In reaching this decision, the Library also takes into account the extent to which other materials addressing gender identity and expression, gender dysphoria, being transgender, adolescence, development, and related topics are available in the Library’s collection, as well as the Library’s commitment to providing materials that reflect a diversity of thought and opinion.

The Library’s collection includes more than 100 physical books, over 900 e-books, and other materials concerning these subjects, rounding out the body of information available to patrons and permitting patrons to educate themselves, test ideas, draw conclusions, and make their own, informed decisions abou what to read and believe.

The Library’s collection is dynamic. Materials in the Library’s collection are subject to ongoing evaluationm and may be retained or withdrawn by the Library as circumstances change or warrant. Decisions concerning the development and maintenance of the Library’s collection will continue to be guided by the Library’s Collection Development Policy.

I also reiterate that inclusion of materials in the Library collection does not constitute an endorsement by the Library of any particular viewpoint, idea, or opinion.

Thank you for taking an active interest in the Library’s resources. Please feel free to contact me directly with any further questions you may have

Jay Norris: Community Builder Puts Talents To Work

Jay Norris was called”The Tastemaker.”

Working with unknown musicians signed by Clive Davis to Arista Records, he’d head to an unfamiliar city. He’d find a venue; put influential journalists, artists and political figures together, and ride the buzz that followed. Norris developed marketing strategies for Notorious BIG, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Pink, Toni Braxton, Alicia Keys and many others.

He created “cultural currency,” he says. “It’s all about getting the right people in the room.”

Now the Westport resident looks forward to doing the same thing here. As a new Westport Library trustee, he brings great creativity, tremendous energy — and a vast network of remarkable friends and colleagues.

In a town filled with interesting people, Norris stands at the top of the list.

The Detroit native turned down a swimming scholarship to Stanford in favor of Howard. He majored in sociology, and was fascinated by both human behavior and pattern recognition.

Jay Norris

That served him well, in the music industry. He studied artists and audiences. He promoted music — a subjective task — but always quantified the results.

In 1997, Norris Norris founded Tastemakers Media. It forged strategic partnerships between the music industry and lifestyle brands.

He branched into real estate investment, management consulting, and a curated retail platform for Detroit makers and innovators. In 2018 Norris co-founded Guesst, a software platform that helps property owners find complementary brands for their retail locations. He’s now CEO of the firm.

Six years ago, Norris and his wife Crystal were living in Brooklyn. With 3-year-Jacob soon to enter school; they started thinking about options. Crystal knew Connecticut through relatives. The couple explored a variety of cities and towns.

On a beautiful summer day, they drove to Compo Beach. “I felt something I’d never felt anywhere,” Norris recalls. “The vibe from people was different from anywhere else.”

He saw only 2 other Black people. That was enough to convince him he could live here.

As they searched for homes, there was just one must-have: walking distance to the train station. They found a perfect spot, 5 minutes away.

Three months ago, a Westport YMCA swim parent introduced Norris to Westport Library director Bill Harmer. Like matches Norris had made in music, there was instant chemistry.

He and Harmer talked about the Library’s cutting-edge production studios, and its innovative programming. As they discussed Westport residents’ interests and talents in art, film and fashion, Norris grew excited.

He’d been to the Library only once before. But he was hooked — by the building, and by Harmer’s “north star thinking.”

“The Library is such an added value to Westport,” Norris says. “It’s a cultural innovative hub.

“Schools in Westport nourish our kids. The Library does that for the public. It brings people together, helps us find our common denominator, and points us forward.”

It functions too as a community event space. By “community,” he hopes residents of neighboring towns will come too, to see all that Westport offers.

Norris points to the Library’s inaugural Verso Fest, a music-and-media festival held in the spring. Bridgeport educator/activist Walter Luckett brought a group of teenagers to the inspirational keynote by actor/writer/producer/martial artist Michael Jai Wright.

But Norris is not limiting his ideas to youths. As Westport’s own Shonda Rhimes proved at last month’s “Booked for the Evening,” the Library can inspire people “from 5 to 100.”

Jay and Crystal Norris flank Shonda Rhimes, at “Booked for the Evening.”

Norris hopes to tap into his broad network  — men and women in film, fashion, sports and the media — to “bring subject matter experts into the room with influencers.”

He knows some of them, around the nation. He knows many others are here in town, waiting to be asked.

“We can do this!” he says excitedly. “Our lens is really broad. The best part is that Bill is really open to this. There’s no ceiling. He and the board want to hear all ideas.”

If you’re concerned that Norris has not yet mentioned a library’s traditional raison d’être — books  —  he says: Don’t worry.

During a Zoom interview with the current board, a woman said: “I like you. But I love books.”

Norris replied: “I hear you. I don’t want to change anything you love. I want to enhance it. We’ll send you targeted emails. We’ll customize things, so you can learn about what you want to read, when you want to read it. We’ll create programs that add to your experience, not detract from it.”

Norris’ community-building efforts don’t stop with the Library. In the summer of 2020 — right after George Floyd was killed — he and Crystal, a broker with William Pitt Sotheby’s, sat at Bartaco with another Black couple. They noted the lack of Black faces here.

Norris did what he does best: He brought people together. He created Westpor10 — a social community for people of color. Adults attend cultural events, and dine out together; they organize beach parties and other events for their kids.

Jay and Crystal Norris, with their children.

Norris also mentors an A Better Chance of Westport scholar, helping bridge the gap between the teenager’s home town, and his new community of Westport.

Jay Norris has a lot on his plate. But — echoing the title of a gold record by Celine Dion, an artist he once promoted — he’s a master at “taking chances.”

(“06880” brings you stories like this, thanks to reader support. Click here to chip in.)

“06880” Podcast: Bill Harmer

Twice a month for over a year, I’ve chatted with some of Westport’s most interesting and insightful men and women, for “06880: The Podcast.”

We tape (and film!) the series on the big Westport Library Trefz Forum stage, with the wonderful Verso Studios crew’s help.

Hard to believe that after more than 2 dozen podcasts, I hadn’t sat down with my podcast “boss” himself: Library director Bill Harmer.

The other day, I did. For half an hour, Bill and I talked about the transformed building, and the magic that goes on there; the evolving role of libraries in American culture, and VersoFest — this weekend’s groundbreaking music and media festival.

I learned a ton. (Which, of course, is supposed to happen in a library.)

You will too. (As should happen in a podcast.)

Click below for a very intriguing half hour.

WestportREADS About Racism

Community reading programs have been around for a couple of decades.

A local organization — usually the library — picks a book. The entire town is encouraged to read it. Book clubs and other groups discuss it. The result is dialogue, awareness around a particular idea, community spirit.

We do things differently here.

For years, WestportREADS has centered not around one book, but a theme. Last year it was the 19th Amendment, and the centennial of women gaining the vote. Before that, it was immigration.

In 2019 folks of all ages read, discussed, thought about and grew through “Exit West,” Moshin Hamid’s novel about two refugees who find life and love on the run. 

Unlike other places, our event does not last a week, or even a month. This year — well, 2021 — WestportREADS runs from January through May. There are speakers, films, art exhibits, music performances, educational opportunities — you get the idea.

Not even COVID can slow it down.

The Westport Library — longtime driving force behind WestportREADS — has announced the topic, and the books.

This year’s theme is “Towards a More Perfect Union: Confronting Racism.”

The books are The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (fiction); Caste (Isabel Wilkerson, nonfiction); Class Act (Jerry Craft, young adult), and I Am Every Good Thing (Derrick Barnes, elementary school).

Programming kicks off on Sunday, January 17 (12 noon). Layla F. Saad — an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman and author of Me and White Supremacy — headlines the 15th annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. TEAM Westport’s Bernicestine McLeod Bailey will lead the discussion.

 

Layla F. Saad

Click here to register. More programs will be announced soon.

In past years, the Library has bought hundreds of copies of the book selections. They’ve distributed them throughout town, and made them available in their building.

The coronavirus complicated that task. So the Library has invested in digital versions and audiobooks. They are, however, providing hard copies to The Residence at Westport, the Gillespie Center, and schools.

“It’s called a ‘community read’ for a reason,” says Library executive director Bill Harmer. “All I did was pick the theme. This year it was a no-brainer. We really count on our partners to help plan what we do.”

WestportREADS is co-sponsored by the Westport Country Playhouse, TEAM Westport, the Westport Public Schools, Westport Weston Interfaith Council and Clergy, and Westport Museum for History & Culture.

Library Closed Until Further Notice


Westport Library executive director Bill Harmer says:

The health and well-being of our patrons and staff is the highest priority of the Westport Library. On Thursday, we made the decision to close our doors in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Other libraries in the state also acted and now nearly all are closed.

Over the past few days, I attended meetings at Town Hall to work with local health officials on developing a plan for how the community could mitigate and contain the virus.  I have talked to friends who work in hospitals and had an ongoing dialogue with the library’s board of directors.

The library hired a cleaning company to do a 2-day deep disinfectant of the building, top to bottom.

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

All evidence points to the fact that things are going to get worse before they get better. The virus is likely to spread exponentially and our infrastructure, especially doctors’ offices and hospitals, are woefully unprepared to handle the onslaught that is coming.

The question for every institution, business, or school is not whether we should do something, but rather what the best course of action is.

For me, containment and mitigation are the answers. The only way to truly reduce the spread of the virus is through social distancing.  We did not believe that social distancing could be achieved by keeping the library open.

Therefore, we have decided that the library will remain closed until further notice.  Our book drops will also be closed, and we are waiving all late fees on Westport owned materials.

The library offers extensive downloadable and streaming digital resources, eAudiobooks, eBooks, eMagazines, music, movies, and many other entertaining and educational resources are available to all cardholders. Click here for links to the digital collection.

During the closure, we will continue to provide email support: for tech assistance visit support@westportlibrary.org; for reference questions ref@westportlibrary.org; for the children’s staff kids@westportlibrary.org, and for account assistance circulation@westportlibrary.org

A scene we won’t see for a while. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Mo Rocca, Jeff Pegues Team Up As Library’s Newsmakers

Last year, Jeff Pegues arrived early for a book signing.

The 1988 Staples High School graduate — who rose through the broadcast ranks and is now CBS News justice/homeland security correspondent — had published his second book,  Kompromat: How Russia Undermined American Democracy.

He sat in his car at the Saugatuck Congregational Church, watching dozens of people arrive. It was a bigger crowd than in many major cities.

“I was humbled, and struck by how many Westporters are interested in information beyond the headlines,” Pegues says.

“That’s not always the case. And it troubles me.”

When the Westport Library — which had sponsored his talk off-site, during its renovation project — wrote a thank-you note, he started thinking what more he could do.

He’s a fan of New York’s 92nd Street Y, which sponsors a long-running, provocative speakers’ series.

Jeff Pegues

Pegues lives in Washington, DC. But his hometown — and hometown library — retain strong holds on him.

Would the library be interested in a series of interview/conversations with intriguing newsmakers? he wondered.

Would we ever! replied executive director Bill Harmer.

With a generous donation from Christian J. and Eva W. Trefz, the Newsmakers Series kicks off on Saturday, January 25 (7 p.m.). The first guest is Mo Rocca, noted CBS News correspondent, podcaster and TV personality.

It takes place in the soaring Forum — which, thanks to a previous $1 million gift, already bears the Trefz name.

Quarterly events are planned. Pegues will help bring intellectuals, foreign policy experts, politicians, actors, artists, athletes and other newsmakers to Westport — and will moderate each. His job is to help the audience “understand who they really are.”

Pegues is enthusiastic about the project.

“The library is a destination for ideas,” he notes. “And it’s important for newsmakers to come to a town with so many influential people.”

As a journalist, he notes, he often asks questions like “how did you get here?” What, for example, motivated the child of a single mom in Akron to not only become a basketball superstar, but to speak out about topics most athletes would not touch?

LeBron James would be a perfect candidate for a Trefz Newsmaker evening, Pegues says.

Mo Rocca

Rocca — the first interviewee — has “a unique take on people,” Pegues says. “He has an incredible ability to mix news judgment with a comedic touch.”

Rocca’s resume includes 4 seasons each with “The Daily Show” and Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show”; the “Mobituaries” podcast and book (an irreverent but well-researched appreciation of intriguing things past), and current gigs on both “CBS Sunday Morning” and NPR’s “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”

He’s won 2 Emmy Awards — one fewer than Pegues.

“Westporters should have access to people like Mo,” Pegues says. “They want clarity and insights.”

He looks forward to helping provide it — in a place that is particularly meaningful to him.

“Westport is a huge part of my upbringing,” Pegues says. “My parents moved here in the late 1970s for 2 reasons: the minnybus, and the library.”

The townwide transportation system — whose hub was Jesup Green — is long gone.

In 1986, the library moved to its new location, next to the green. A few months ago, it reopened in a transformed, 21st-century way.

Next month, Jeff Pegues helps the Westport Library become even more special and vibrant than it already is.

(General admission tickets for the 1st Trefz Newsmakers Series on January 25 are $35, and include a copy of Mo Rocca’s “Mobituaries” book. VIP tickets are $100, and include a private reception with Rocca, and preferred seating in the Forum. Click here for tickets.)

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)

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.)