Tag Archives: MoCA Westport

MoCA’s New Executive Director Pledges Outreach To Westport

Over the last few years, the Westport Arts Center lost its focus on supporting and promoting local artists.

Last year — with a name change to MoCA Westport (it stands for Museum of Contemporary Art), and a move from Riverside Avenue to the former Martha Stewart TV studio on Newtown Turnpike — the organization seemed to become even less connected to Westport.

MoCA, at 19 Newtown Turnpike.

The Artists’ Collective of Westport — developed as part of the WAC, by prominent artists like Miggs Burroughs and Nina Bentley — became the pre-eminent group in town. MoCA’s outreach to local educators and civic groups ground to a halt.

Recently, the handsome gallery space on the Norwalk border — and the educational, music and other programs MoCA sponsored — risked losing its Westport identity altogether.

All that may now change. Westport artists, educators and organizations will hear soon from Ruth Mannes.

Ruth Mannes (Photo/Kerry Long)

She’s MoCA’s new executive director. And one of her first priorities is outreach to the town where the Westport Arts Center began, 50 years ago.

Mannes took over Monday from Amanda Innes. She brings a 20-year career in publishing (including executive managing editor of HarperCollins) and 12 years of involvement with Westport schools (townwide PTA executive board, fundraising for Staples Players), along with a passion for art (ARTnews named her one of the top 30 young contemporary collectors in the country.)

She and her husband began collecting in their West Village apartment, before their children were born. They met artists, gallery owners and dealers. “Art made our lives,” Mannes says.

They knew Derek Goodman through the art world. Soon after moving to Westport, Mannes saw him selling lemonade with his kids. They were neighbors.

Now Goodman has helped bring Mannes to MoCA. The board understood the need for greater engagement with Westporters.

Ruth Mannes, by the MoCA gift shop.

“We’re bringing excellent shows. We have wonderful music programs.” Mannes says.

“We can be a beacon of art and film. But we really need to connect with Westport: the library, PTAs, Westport Public Art Collections — everyone. We want their thoughts on dynamic programming.

“Our art should be accessible. Westport is a community with really curious people. If we bring in great shows, they’ll be engaged.”

As a first step, she’ll reach out to teachers, senior citizens, organizations — and artists. She’ll also look at changes in areas like admission structure and member benefits.

She’s spent this week getting up to speed on all things MoCA: shows, concerts, even a children’s art class that runs during the current school vacation.

She knows that when WAC/MoCA moved from near downtown to the midst of a residential neighborhood, it risked a loss of visibility.

But Mannes points to Beacon, New York as an example. An old train building was converted into a center for minimalist art. It now attracts art lovers from far away. “People sit, have coffee, see art and educational programs,” she says. “Community thrives there.”

Can that happen at out-of-the-way Newtown Turnpike?

“The other day, 3 French people knocked on our door,” Mannes says. “They were in Westport for a business meeting, but wanted to see what we have. They were disappointed we were closed between shows.” (A Helmut Lang exhibition opens March 15.)

Getting ready to hang the Helmut Lang show.

“We have benches outside. We’ll make our cafe area more attractive. If this place is dynamic, people will come. We don’t want it to be an ivory tower.”

Mannes says that MoCA’s educational programs are ready to “explode.” She’s eager to bring back adult programming that was dropped or weeded out.

Mannes says the board — including Westporters like Tom Hofstetter and Michael Kalman — is committed to addressing the alienation that some local artists, and other Westporters, have felt.

“It’s a fresh start,” she says.

(MoCA’s annual gala has a new date: April 25. For details, click here. For more information about MoCA, including exhibitions, programs and other events, click here.)

Calling All Young Shoots

The Westport Farmers’ Market celebrates creativity.

Every Thursday, the Imperial Avenue parking lot teems with vendors offering creative ways to prepare fresh food (and not just produce — there’s meat, baked goods and more). Musicians perform. It’s fun, funky and alive.

There’s a lot to do, and see. It’s a photographer’s paradise too.

Which is why I’m happy to promote one of the the Farmers’ Market’s more creative opportunities.

An annual contest highlights images taken all summer long. And it’s got an especially creative name: The Young Shoots Digital Photography Competition.

Get it?

“Towhead Tomatoes” — 2016 Fan Favorite winner, and 2nd place in 15-18 age group. (Photo/Margaret Kraus)

There are 3 age groups: 8-10 years old, 11-14 and 15-18. All photos must be taken somewhere on the Farmers’ Market premises. Submissions are due by September 6.

This is no rinky-dink affair. Jurors include noted photographers Eileen Sawyer and Bonnie Edelman, graphic artist Miggs Burroughs, and Westport Arts Center executive director Amanda Innes.

First-place winners in each category receive a $100 cash prize, and the chance to lead a food photo shoot with Bill Taibe (chef/owner of The Whelk, Ka Wa Ni and Jesup Hall). Second-place winners get $50.

Winners will also have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor).

Anastasia Davis won 1st place in 2016 in the 11-14 age group for this shot.

The public can also vote online for their favorite images. “People’s Choice” winners in each category get a 1-year membership to the Westport Arts Center (soon to be called MoCA), and a Farmers’ Market t-shirt. All photos will be on display this fall at the Arts Center’s new home at 19 Newtown Turnpike. There’s a fun awards reception October 4 at Sugar & Olives in Norwalk.

Click here for photo guidelines and submission info. Click here to see past submissions.

Then fire away!

Westport Arts Center Disappears

When the Westport Arts Center moves to 19 Newtown Turnpike, they’ll leave more than their longtime Riverside Avenue home behind.

There’s no need to ship the large, recognizable logo  over to Martha Stewart’s former TV studio (which is actually a few feet over the border, in Norwalk).

They’re changing their name too. From now on, it’s MoCA Westport.

You won’t find an explanation anywhere in the press release, sent yesterday afternoon a few minutes before 5 (and headlined, somewhat awkwardly “Westport Arts Center Re-names as MoCA Westport”).

In fact, the new name is mentioned only obliquely — in the 7th paragraph, under “About the Organization.” It says:

“MoCA Westport, previously known as the Westport Arts Center  is a destination dedicated to using the Arts to enrich our community. We thoughtfully design and curate experiences of all types, from Visual Arts to Classical Music, including performances, juried exhibitions, lectures, excursions and other educational opportunities.”

But, I’m told, the acronym stands for Museum of Contemporary Art.

The organization was formed in 1969 — exactly 50 years ago — as the Westport-Weston Arts Council. The name was changed to the Westport Arts Center in 1986. It was housed in a variety of locations, including the then-closed Greens Farms Elementary School, before moving to Riverside Avenue in 2002.

Westport Arts Center, 51 Riverside Avenue.

Working artists still remember that Greens Farms space fondly — especially their individual studios. Together, painters, sculptors and others formed a true artists’ community.

In recent years, the Westport Arts Center has focused increasingly on non-local artists. Exhibits, shows and talks feature a number of artists and photographers with no connection to the town.

Art — and organizations — always evolve. The WAC’s — er, MoCA’s — new space in Westport — er, Norwalk — will have 2 state-of-the-art galleries, a members’ lounge, gift shop, cafe, and “an indoor/outdoor set of studios for an expanded immersive curriculum.”

19 Newtown Turnpike, before renovation. (Photo/Johnny Fogg)

It will all be on display September 19 to 22, during a grand opening weekend.

MoCA has big goals. They’re launching a new education experience, “re-inventing” the Heida Hermanns International Music Competition, planning “exciting opportunities for emerging artists of all ages,” and curating a permanent collection featuring the works of Westport’s “best visual artists.”

So long, Westport Arts Center. 

Hello, MoCA. Whatever that means.