Tag Archives: Westport Arts Advisory Committee

TEA Talk, Otocast Blend Art And Technology

Before he became a famous New York Times/CBS/Yahoo/PBS technology expert, David Pogue was a musical theater geek. Fun facts: His Yale degree is in music, and he spent his early year conducting and arranging Broadway musicals.

David Pogue

So it didn’t take Einstein to enlist Pogue — a Westport resident — as moderator of this Sunday’s TEA (Thinkers, Educators, Artists) Talk (October 21, 2 p.m., Town Hall).

Nor was it a quantum leap to design a theme (“The Arts Go Viral!”) or find speakers like Jerry Goehring, (producer of the off-Broadway musical “Be More Chill,” which became a hit on viral media), and pianist/arts educator/  Westporter Frederic Chiu to dive into the pros and cons of how technology affects art (and vice versa).

But it is a stroke of genius that Sunday marks the official launch of Otocast. It’s a mobile tour app that lets any Westporter or visitor explore our town’s long arts, cultural and historic sites.

Like Sunday’s TEA Talk, Otocast is a project of the Westport Arts Advisory Committee. First unveiled in a soft launch at this summer’s Arts Festival, it’s now ready for prime time.

Otocast — available free for iPhones or Androids — includes audio, photos and info on a wide range of interesting sites. Location-based, it shows users whatever is closest to where they are.

Three separate “guides” are already live.

“Downtown Westport” offers details on Town Hall, Veterans Green, the Tunnel Vision arts installation, Westport Historical Society, Main Street, Saugatuck River, Jesup Green, the library, Levitt Pavilion, Westport Woman’s Club, Westport Country Playhouse and more.

“Our Creative Community” provides information on theater, film, non-profit organizations, schools and many other groups.

“From Saugatuck to Riverside” covers Westport’s original center, all the way to the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

Westport artist Robert Lambdin’s “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” is the kind of artwork that can be seen — and heard about — on Otocast.

The app blends audio commentary (from well-known voices like 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, natives like Sam Gault and others) with maps, photos and artwork.

It draws extensively on Westport Public Art Collections. Users learn, for example, of Howard Munce’s Remarkable Book Shop painting, and one of the old Westlake restaurant. They hear about — and see — art at Town Hall, Fire Department headquarters, the Parks & Recreation office, and of course Westport schools.

They learn about the history of the Doughboy statue on Veterans Green, and the nearby Honor Roll — a painting of which hangs in 1st Selectman Jim Marpe’s office.

Stevan Dohanos’ “Honor Roll” painting has a place of honor in Town Hall. Now it’s on Otocast too.

They also watch a video of Sally’s Place — the beloved record shop — and see changing views of Main Street. They listen to Charles Reid talk about Famous Artists School.

Two more Otocast guides are in the works: one on Westport’s Natural Beauty (Compo Beach, mini-parks, Earthplace, the Saugatuck River, with compelling artwork from the 1930s through now), and one focused exclusively on the WESTPac collection.

Otocast is the perfect app for residents and visitors to tour Westport. Of course, you can also download it and enjoy it in the comfort of your home.

It’s great too for former Westporters, relatives who live elsewhere, and anyone anywhere in the world who wants to visit us virtually.

In other words, Otocast is a superb mix of art and technology. Just like Sunday’s TEA Talk.

(For more information on the TEA Talk, click here. To download the app, search for Otocast on the App Store or Google Play.)

TEA Talk Sunday Explores Art, Social Change

Everyone knows about TED Talks.

But here in Westport, we’ve got TEA Talks.

The Westport Arts Advisory Committee’s annual TEA — that’s Thinkers Educators Artists — event is set for this Sunday (October 29, 2 p.m., Town Hall).

The topic is timely and relevant: Art and Social Change.

Three 20-minute conversations among Westport arts professionals will explore how artists working in theater, art, writing and music can move popular thought, or sway public opinion.

In a nod to today’s fraught times, they’ll ask (and hopefully answer): “Does it take difficult times or momentous events for artists to create work that is a form of political and social currency?”

In the late 1960s, Naiad Einsel’s “Save Cockenoe Now” posters were a local symbol of the intersection of art and social change.

Carole Schweid (actor/director, Play With Your Food) and Michael Barker (managing director, Westport Country Playhouse) will address theater’s historical role addressing social issues.

Miggs Burroughs (artist/graphic designer/no further introduction needed) and Mark Yurkiw (artist/entrerpreneur) will discuss the influence of visual art on social change.

Haris Durrani (Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

And John Dodig (former Staples principal) will chat with 2011 graduate Haris Durrani about the young writer’s fiction novella, “Technologies of the Self,” about the life of a young American Muslim after 9/11.

Durrani will also be presented with the Horizon Award, given annually by the Arts Advisory Committee to a Westport artist under the age of 32 who shows extraordinary accomplishment and potential.

Rounding out the afternoon are professional performances of songs expressing socially conscious messages, from yesterday (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”) and today (Pasek and Westport’s Justin Paul’s “Dear Evan Hansen.”)

A reception follows the intriguing TEA talks, at the Westport Historical Society across from Town Hall.

 

Ryan Lester: Arts Honoree’s Career Began Here

These days, Westport is a town of hedge funds (and their managers), ginormous new houses (even as the housing market for them slows) and a TV show featuring our 2nd fattest housewife.

You may think we’ve strayed from our artists’ colony roots.

But you would be wrong.

Tomorrow (Sunday, October 23, 2 p.m., Town Hall), the Westport Arts Advisory Committee presents its 4th TEA Talk.

tea-talkThe acronym stands for Thinkers Educators Artists. The program features remarks on our town’s arts heritage, and a panel including author/lyricist Tom Greenwald, writer/radio commentator Jessica Bram, multimedia artist Sooo-Z Mastropietro, artist/photographer Miggs Burroughs, musician Frederic Chiu, and composer Ryan Lester.

Ryan epitomizes Westport’s arts past, present and future. A 2007 Staples High School grad, he receives the Horizon Award at tomorrow’s event. It’s given annually to a Westport artist under the age of 32, who shows “extraordinary accomplishment and potential.”

It’s a great honor, and Ryan is flying in from Los Angeles to receive it. That’s his home now, where he composes music for film, TV, video games and the concert stage.

ryan-lister

Ryan Lester

For the past 6 years, Ryan has composed for “The Daily Show.” NBC Universal recently asked him to score their animated sitcom “Mystery Island.” He’s worked as an orchestrator and synth on the NBC thriller “Crossbones,” the feature film “Barely Lethal” and Discovery Channel’s “Harley and the Davidsons.” Ryan is currently scoring “Confessions of a Boxman,” for early 2017 release.

He studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the Royal College of Music in London, and the Juilliard School.

But Ryan’s path to a musical career began in 4th grade, when Long Lots Elementary School teacher Betsy Tucker introduced him to the recorder and steel drums. At age 10, he began writing music.

The next year, Frank Coppola encouraged him to play trombone. Then came middle school jazz bands with James Forgey and Gregg Winters. Both teachers stoked his enthusiasm for that unique art form.

Important Staples influences also included Candi Innaco, Nick Mariconda, Adele Valovich and Alice Lipson. “Westport was a ridiculously great place to grow up, musically,” Ryan says.

westport-arts-advisory-committee-logo

Staples Players’ pit orchestra exposed him to a whole different side of music. A decade later, he says he draws on that experience for much of his work. In fact, he notes, “Westport schools were a lot more influential on what I do now than college.”

“I always knew I wanted to compose,” Ryan adds. “I just didn’t know if I could make it a career.”

He certainly has. And tomorrow — back home — Ryan Lester will be honored at what is still the start of his musical career.

His horizon is limitless.

(Tomorrow’s TEA Talk is free. A reception follows at the Westport Historical Society. For more information, click here.)


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Sunday’s TEA Talk: Where Are Our Arts?

You’ve heard of TED Talks. They cover global topics, in intriguing, inspiring ways.

Westport’s TEA Talks are just as important. And they touch on topics that, while broad in scope, are intensely personal.

This Sunday’s event (November 15, 2 p.m., Town Hall, free, with reception to follow) focuses on the arts. Specifically, it examines how changes in the state mandate toward STEM — science, technology, education and math — might affect our school district’s flexibility to take full advantage of the strong arts curriculum and programming we’ve spent decades nurturing.

This TEA Talk — it stands for Thinkers, Educators, Artists — is sponsored by the Westport Arts Advisory Committee. They celebrate our wonderful artistic and cultural heritage — and keep them thriving.

WAAC

Where will the arts fit in our schools? Will future students have the same opportunity to embrace them? What about students in neighboring communities, not as fortunate as ours? Those are some of the questions Sunday’s TEA Talk will address.

Despite Common Core requirements, Westport educators have found ingenious ways to enhance the curriculum even more, in subjects far beyond visual art. In subjects like math, English and social studies, teachers are utilizing town collections to develop students’ analytical thinking and communication skills.

For example, starting this year every Westport 3rd grader will look at Robert Lambdin’s “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” mural. They’ll explore the painting, and tie it in with many aspects of their curriculum. For instance: How have our town and Connecticut changed — and stayed the same — over time? And what influence does geography play on development?

Robert Lambdin's Saugatuck mural.

Robert Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural.

Sunday’s TEA Talk includes the state commissioner of education; 2 Westport educators, and world-renowned pianist (and local resident) Frederic Chiu. He’ll lead a discussion of the differences in music education in Westport and less affluent districts.

Anyone can watch a TED Talk on the web. But TEA Talks — those are what make this town (like our arts) special.

(For more information on Sunday’s TEA Talks, click here.)

TEA Talk Time

You’ve heard of TED Talks. The 18-minute, internet-addictive presentations cover a broad range of topics. Originally, TED stood for Technology, Entertainment and Design.

Get ready for Westport’s version: TEA Talk. This Sunday (October 26, 2 p.m., Town Hall auditorium) the Westport Arts Advisory Committee is sponsoring 3 20-minute conversations. Because this is Westport, the focus is on Thinkers, Educators and Artists.

Gina Rattan

Gina Rattan

And because this is Westport, the TEA Talk features a combination of rising young talent, and well-established thinkers, educators and artists.

Gina Rattan — a Staples grad who’s working now on the live broadcast of NBC’s “Peter Pan,” and is the resident director of the Broadway musical “Matilda The Musical” — will discuss the impact of technology on Broadway with Carole Schweid.

She directs the “Play With Your Food” series, and was an original Broadway cast member of “A Chorus Line.” This segment will include video clips of some wizardry behind Broadway shows.

Nick DeBerardino — another Staples grad and Rhodes Scholar pursuing a master’s in music at Yale, and the co-founder of Princeton’s Undergraduate Composers Collective — will explore the integration of recent technology into music composition and performance.

Nick DeBerardino

Nick DeBerardino

He’ll chat with Richard Epstein, professional bassoonist and host for 38 years of WPKN’s “Sometimes Classical.”

The program kicks off with Bill Derry — head of innovation at the Westport Library — discussing and demonstrating 3D printing’s application to the visual arts. Joining him is Thomas Bernstein, a photographer and sculptor best known for his “Dancing Leaves” series.

Both Gina and Nick will be presented with “Horizon Awards,” as up-and-coming artists (and movers and shakers).

The TEA Talk is followed by a reception, across the street at the Westport Historical Society. They’ll serve hors d’oeuvres — and tea.

(Both events are free, and open to the public. For more information, click on www.westportarts.org)

 

A Very Artsy Weekend Ahead

Who says Westport isn’t still an “arts colony”?

Oh. I did. Never mind.

Two upcoming events put the A-word front and center.

The first is this Saturday (October 26). The Westport Arts Advisory Committee and Westport PTA Council co-sponsor a guided tour of the Westport Public Schools Permanent Art Collection. A bus leaves the Westport Historical Society at 12:45 p.m., stopping at 4 schools and the firehouse.

Wheeler House, by Stevan Dohans. It's now the site of the Westport Historical Society -- where Saturday's tour begins.

Wheeler House, by Stevan Dohans. It’s now the site of the Westport Historical Society — where Saturday’s tour begins.

It’s a phenomenal treasure, ranging from WPA murals created by Westport artists during the Depression, to galleries by the likes of Alexander Calder and Roy Lichtenstein.

At Kings Highway Elementary School, tour-goers will see John Steuart Curry’s “Tragedy” and “Comedy” frescoes. Green’s Farms School features works by Andy Warhol and Robert Motherwell, plus the intriguing “Fountain” installation.

Bedford Middle School hosts murals from Ralph Boyer’s “History of Fire” series, while Staples High is filled with paintings, photos, etchings, watercolors and lithographs by Westporters like Stevan Dohanos, Leonard Everett Fisher, Howard Munce, Lynsey Addario and Miggs Burroughs. There are also 40 student-curated works, with recorded audio commentary.

Igor Pikayzen. master violinist.

Igor Pikayzen. master violinist.

The next day (Sunday, Oct. 27, 2 p.m.), Town Hall is the site for the 20th anniversary celebration of the Arts Advisory Committee. There will be readings from works by John Hersey, Evan Hunter, Sinclair Lewis and Peter DeVries; film selections by Ring Lardner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Howard Fast and Max Shulman; performances by John Corigliano Jr. and Igor Pikayzen, and appearances by Scott Bryce and Joanna Gleason. All are Westporters or former residents.

Afterwards, everyone is invited to a reception across the street. The Westport Historical Society hosts an exhibition honoring former Visual Arts Awards recipients.

It’s an arts-filled weekend. Just like back in the day, when Westport was definitely an “artists’ colony.”

(For more information on the bus tour, call 203-222-1424 or email bbrauner@westporthistory.org. For more information on the Westport Arts Awards, click here.)

 

Kathie Bennewitz: Westport’s First “Town Curator”

You never know where life will take you.

Who knew, for example, that swimming and lifeguarding would help propel Kathie Bennewitz — 35 years later — to her new position as Westport’s 1st-ever town curator?

Yet that’s what happened, after Kathie Motes moved to Westport in the summer of 1978 — just before her senior year at a new school, Staples High.

Kathie Bennewitz

Kathie Bennewitz

Kathie joined the swim team, took art classes, and befriended Ellise Fuchs, whose father Bernie was a world-famous illustrator. Kathie posed for him, pretending to receive a medal for an Olympic scene.

At Princeton, she majored in art history. “I’m not a fine artist,” she claims. “But I love the process, and the way art reflects who we are.”

One summer, lifeguarding at Compo, she met Scott Bennewitz. He was a beach security guard — and a fellow Princetonian.

They married, and lived in Dallas, Minneapolis and Holland. She’d earned a masters in art history. Everywhere they moved, she worked in museums.

Eight years ago, they came to Westport. Kathie volunteered with the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection. She says that meeting co-founder Mollie Donovan “changed my life.”

Kathie learned how deep and broad Westport’s arts history is. And she realized the impact of men like John Steuart Curry, and institutions like the Westport Country Playhouse, on this town.

"Blues Piano Players" -- one of the 7 wonderful works by Eric von Schmidt that make up "Birth of the Blues." They hang in the Staples auditorium.

“Blues Piano Players” — one of the 7 wonderful works by Eric von Schmidt that make up “Birth of the Blues.” They hang in the Staples auditorium.

She also met volunteers like Eve Potts — Mollie’s sister. “Their commitment, passion and enthusiasm for this town, and its arts community, is infectious,” Kathie says.

She worked professionally at Greenwich’s Bush-Holley House and the Fairfield Museum. A year ago, she became an independent curator.

She also was appointed tri-chair of the Permanent Art Collection, and served on the Westport Arts Advisory Committee. The 2 organizations gave her a broad perspective on the arts here.

So, when a group of people — including Ann Sheffer, David Rubinstein, Leslie Greene, Carole Erger-Fass and Joan Miller — floated the idea of a town curator, she was intrigued.

So was First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. “We already have a town historian, Allen Raymond,” Kathie notes. “This is a natural counterpoint.”

The doughboy statue on Veteran's Green is part of Westport's art and sculpture collection.

The doughboy statue on Veteran’s Green is part of Westport’s art and sculpture collection.

In her new post, she’s responsible for advising the town on the care of its art and sculpture collection. Westport owns several hundred works of art, displayed in Town Hall, the Senior Center, Parks & Rec headquarters — even the Fire Department. Statues include the Minuteman and Doughboy on Veterans Green.

Kathie will also serve as liaison to the 1,100-piece Permanent Art Collection, and the Westport Library, with its own murals, paintings and illustrations.

“So many other communities lose their treasures,” she says. “But thanks to Burt and Ann Chernow, and so many others, we have ours. They’ve created a platform we can spring off of, and do even more.”

That “more” includes plenty. Kathie envisions self-guided tours of the schools’ collections. A “museum on the street,” with Howard Munce’s Remarkable Book Shop work displayed outside that old store (most recently Talbots). Robert Lambdin’s “Battle of Compo” mounted near the cannons.

She’ll be involved in the rehanging of art at Town Hall — something last done in 1976.

Kathie would also like to open up hard-to-see parts of the town’s art collection — like the amazing fire station mural — to the public.

“Pageant of Juvenile Literature” — a 1934 work by Robert Lambdin — hangs in the Westport Library’s Great Hall. This is part of that mural.

“Pageant of Juvenile Literature” — a 1934 work by Robert Lambdin — hangs in the Westport Library’s Great Hall. This is part of that mural.

She is eager to get started. But she won’t be alone.

“I’m a team player. I enjoy working with people in groups. We need everyone’s help.”

Among those helping: Marie-Neloise Egipto, a Staples senior who will do her spring internship with the Permanent Art Collection.

“I’m honored to serve the town,” Kathie says. “This is different from the other positions I’ve held. It really validates all the decades of work done by the Mollies, the Eves and the Anns who have advocated for, and celebrated, our arts community and legacy.

“Very few communities have the public, school and library collections that we do. Westport should be very, very proud.”

Just as we all should be proud that Kathie Bennewitz is our 1st-ever “town curator.”

Calling All Artists

The number of Staples graduates who go on to careers in the arts is astonishing. From Eric von Schmidt and Christopher Lloyd, through Brian Keane and Bradley Jones on through Ari Edelson, Daryl Wein, Gina Rattan — and the hundreds more whose parents will respond wrathfully because I did not name them — Westporters make their marks as actors, artists, musicians, choreographers, stage managers, cinematographers, sound engineers, and in countless other ways.

But they’re not the subject of this post.

Thousands of other Westport students were exposed to music, visual arts, theater and literature, then moved on to careers in law, medicine, technology, blogging, insider trading, and god knows what else.

Yet they still remain involved in the arts.

They act in community theater. Serve on symphony boards. Sing with a church choir. Etc., etc., etc.

Many towns have community theater groups, where non-professional actors continue to take the stage. This scene is from a recent Westport Community Theater production of “The Seafarer.”

Every October, the Westport Arts Advisory Committee honors notable and rising young “artists” (in the broad sense of the word). The brochure — detailing new and past awardees — makes for fascinating reading.

In 2013 — for the 20th anniversary of the awards — the WAAC wants to include as many “non-professionals” as they can find.

That information — recounting the impact the arts had on these bankers, engineers, CEOs and whatnot long after Staples — could be even more intriguing than the usual stuff.

First, though, the committee must find them.

If you — or someone you know — is still involved in the arts, in a non-make-your-living-at-it way, email Ann Chernow at ctfinearts@sbcglobal.net, or Sandy Lefkowitz at homehome@optonline.net.

And, just for fun, click “Comments” and let “06880” readers know too. We shouldn’t have to wait 17 months to hear about the arts’ influence on non-artists’ lives.

Honoring Our Artists

Daryl Wein

Daryl Wein

Westport is an arts hotbed.  Not a weekend passes without exhibits, performances and shows.  We attract hgh-powered names; for a small town, we’re a big player.

But 1 of my favorite events is pretty simple.  Each year Westport’s Arts Advisory Committee honors our own.  There are low-key speeches, a slide show, live performances, and heartfelt applause from neighbors and friends.

This year’s 16th annual Arts Awards take place 2 p.m. Sunday (Town Hall).  All Westporters are invited.  You don’t have to be an artist to enjoy it.

Horizon Awards will be presented to 2 rising young artists — both Staples graduates.  Daryl Wein (SHS ’02) is an uber-talented actor/filmmaker.  His documentary “Sex Positive” has won prizes, and been released in 9 countries.  He is an NYU Tisch School and USC Film and Television grad.

Josh Frank (SHS ’00) is a trumpeter, composer and music producer.  He has appeared with the Metropolitan Opera and recorded with the  American Brass Quintet.  He is a Juilliard graduate.

Sally White

Sally White

Champion of the Arts recipients include Howard Aibel (longtime advocate of the arts, as a director, board member and concert sponsor); Suszanne Sherman Propp (singer/songwriter and music teacher extraordinaire), and — a truly inspired choice — Sally White (longtime owner of Sally’s Place, perhaps the last great music store on the planet).

Heritage Awards will be presented posthumously to 3 giants:  Dorothy Bryce (actress); Mel Casson (cartoonist), and Barbara Wilk (artist).

There are many ways to enjoy a Sunday afternoon in Westport.  Honoring our arts heritage — with our own supremely talented artists, musicians and filmmakers — might just be the best.

Dorothy Bryce

Dorothy Bryce