Tag Archives: Westport Arts Center

Drew Friedman: One In Half A Million

Drew Friedman was a pillar of downtown Westport. A major landowner, a founder of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association and landlord of restaurants like Onion Alley, Bobby Q’s and Acqua, he influenced much of Main Street.

His holdings once included the original Westport Public Library building on the Post Road between Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza (now Starbucks and Freshii). He also owned Post Road property beyond downtown. And was a presence in Weston too, as the owner of Cobb’s Mill Inn.

He died in February 2016, at 86.

Drew Friedman and his wife Laura Papallo Friedman, at Cobb’s Mill Inn. (Photo/Patricia Gay)

Now Friedman is back in the news.

In his will, he left $500,000 to set up a “Drew Friedman Community Arts Center.”

But it’s not a place.

It’s a foundation.

Friedman’s former business partner Nick Visconti asked artist/photographer Miggs Burroughs — whose “Tunnel Vision” project is installed next to and across from some of Friedman’s former properties — and Visconti’s sister Louise Fusco to join him on the foundation board.

Their mission is to give $50,000 a year to one or more worthy artists and/or arts organizations and activities in Westport or Weston.

Nick Visconti, MIggs Burroughs and Louise Fusco announce the fulfillment of Drew Friedman’s dream.

So far, money has gone to Homes With Hope, CLASP Homes, the Westport Arts Center and Westport Historical Society. It will help fund art classes and activities for under-served students and young adults. This spring, an art exhibit will showcase all their work.

In addition, the foundation will award 2 scholarships, of $7,500 each, so high school students with need can attend an arts college, or art classes at a community college.

A special gala at the Westport Woman’s Club on May 17 will celebrate the arts program — and artists’ — great accomplishments.

Though not an artist himself, Friedman married one. His wife Bobbie created memorable works of art on canvas, and in clay and bronze, in a beautiful studio he built at their Westport home.

Now Bobby Q’s, Acqua and Cobb’s Mill are all gone.

So are Drew and Bobbie Friedman.

But thanks to his generosity and foresight, the arts — and artists — in Westport and Weston will live on for years.

(Candidates for Drew Friedman Community Arts Center scholarships should click here for more information.)

Leonard Everett Fisher: Back In Charge, Backing The Arts

In 1965, Ruth Steinkraus Cohen began organizing a community-wide arts council.

But the Westport philanthropist/activist focused primarily on music. Noted illustrator Leonard Everett Fisher urged her to include the visual arts.

Cohen had been invited to testify in Hartford, on hearings about establishing a statewide arts commission. She invited him to come along.

Those discussions led to the formation of the Westport Arts Council — one of the first in any town, anywhere. Cohen served as chair. Fisher was an original board member, and its 2nd president.

But the executive director was “a total failure,” Fisher recalls. “We never got much traction.”

He turned his energy to the Westport Library. He served 3 terms as president, and helped plan the “new” building, on the landfill site near the Levitt Pavilion.

Leonard Everett Fisher

The Westport Arts Center, meanwhile, developed and grew on its own. Fisher — busy with his professional and personal life — had little to do with it. He showed his works occasionally. But, as he admits, “I was not a great contributor.”

A while back, then-director Helen Klisser During offered Fisher a one-man retrospective. It was well deserved. In his 70+ year career, Fisher illustrated 250 books for young readers; designed 10 US postage stamps, and had his works shown in the Smithsonian, the New York Public Library, Yale, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and in museums around the world. He’s listed as one of the 2000 Outstanding Artists and Designers of the 20th Century.

The show brought him closer to the WAC. But he still had no time for the board.

A year ago, artist Ann Chernow called. She said that 1st Selectman Jim Marpe had a plan for Golden Shadows — the main house on the town-owned Baron’s South property.

Marpe asked 3rd Selectman Helen Garten to head up a committee to explore restoring the decrepit house as a Westport Artists Museum. Other groups had their eyes on the property too.

The Planning & Zoning Commission eventually gave tacit approval to an arts campus on Baron’s South. But commissioners did not want to deal with multiple entities.

Golden Shadows: the centerpiece of the Westport Arts Center Baron’s South plan.
(Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The Westport Arts Center agreed to take over the museum plan. Who better to help than Fisher?

So — at 93 years young — Fisher has joined the Westport Arts Center board.

If all goes well, he says, the WAC/Baron’s South project can be completed a year from now.

Fisher is in excellent physical shape. His mind is clear and sharp.

“So long as I put one foot in front of the other, this gives me energy and excitement,” he says.

“What we’re doing is wonderful for the town. I think people will be very surprised at what they see.”

At which point Leonard Everett Fisher will do what he’s done ever since moving here, more than half a century ago. He’ll turn his attention to a new project, benefiting the arts and all the citizens of Westport.

Remembering Brenda Lewis

Brenda Lewis — the soprano whose range of vocal styles brought her great fame in opera houses and on Broadway — died here last weekend. She was 96, and had lived in Westport for many years.

Lewis inspired audiences worldwide — and musicians in our town.

Alexander Platt — the 1983 Staples High School graduate who returned recently to lead the Westport Arts Center’s concert series — posted this remembrance on the influential Slippedisc cultural website blog:

When one loses an especially close friend, one feels as if one has lost a part of oneself. From the moment she discovered me over 30 years ago, as an aspiring conductor fresh out of high school, Brenda Lewis was one of my dearest lifelong friends, “the Jewish grandmother I’d never had” as we used to jokingly recall.

Brenda Lewis (Photo courtesy of New York Times and Opera News)

Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” and Walton’s “Facade” were just two of the narration projects we undertook together, at Yale and beyond. Throughout, she was a fount of goodness, wit, wisdom, generosity, great knowledge, and tough advice (more of which I wish I’d followed).

Her recording of “Regina” will always be the authoritative interpretation of this great American opera — as with her own career, something always underrated, and it was a relief to see that her work in the first production of Barber’s “Vanessa” was finally acknowledged.

From her earliest days, she was an utterly self-made artist, always mixing Broadway with summer stock and some of the world’s great operatic stages, from New York to Vienna. As I once exclaimed to her, “Brenda, ‘crossover’ — you invented crossover!”

Or as she put it to me once, wistfully, “Wherever I was singing — on Broadway, in a classroom, in a barn somewhere, or singing ‘Carmen’ or ‘Salome’ at the Met — I was just so happy to be performing…..” — such great advice for so many of us, at this difficult time for music.

With Brenda’s death a magnificent mid-century golden age in New York’s operatic history is now gone — to my knowledge, she was the last of that line — but “there will always be a Lionnet,” and there will always be a Brenda, in my heart.

(For Brenda Lewis’ full New York Times obituary, click here.)

 

Aw, Shoot!

Keep your eye on Josh  Suggs and Samantha Henske.

Thanks to their own keen eyes, both were double winners in the 3rd annual Young Shoots student digital photography contest.

The joint effort of the Westport Arts Center and Westport Farmers’ Market shows off local talent — and the color and vibrancy of local farms.

Over 70 photos were submitted by youngsters ages 8 to 18, from across Fairfield County. Subject matter ranged from rhubarb to honey bees.

Suggs won the age 11-14 competition (judged by photography and food experts) for “Back to Our Roots,” and the Fan Favorite (selected by the public) for “Apple of My Eye.”

Josh Suggs’ “Back to Our Roots.”

Henske picked up 1st place in age 8-10 for “A Bouquet of Lettuce,” and the Fan Favorite prize for “One in a Million.”

Samantha Henske’s Bouquet of Lettuce

The age 15-18 category winner was “Happy Rhubarb” by Lili Dowell. The Fan Favorite was Sarah Maybruck’s “Colorful Beginnings.”

Lili Dowell’s “Happy Rhubarb.”

All were honored last night at Sugar & Olives. First-place winners earned $100, and the co-lead of a photo shoot at The Whelk with chef Bill Taibe.

Second place winners Samantha Sandrew, Olivia Toth and Claire Langdon received $50 each.

Fan Favorites got a 1-year membership to the Arts Center, and a Farmers’ Market t-shirt.

First place winners (from left) Lili Dowell, Samantha Henske and Josh Suggs, with Bill Taibe. (Photo/Adriana Reis)

Pic Of The Day #138

Westport Arts Center night view (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

“Young Shoots” Sprout At Farmers’ Market

I’ve written before about the Westport Farmers’ Market’s “Young Shoots” photo contest.

It’s open to 3 age groups: 8-10, 11-14, 15-18. They can take shots every Thursday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the market in colorful, imaginative ways.

First-place winners 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.

In addition, winners have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor).

Those are nice rewards. But the contest also changes lives.

Last year, Lillie Fortino was art coordinator for the Norwalk Housing Authority’s after-school program. She thought the contest would be great for her kids.

Many had never been to a farmers’ market. They were hesitant at first. But they trusted Fortino, and her excitement fed theirs.

They brought a completely fresh eye — as children and photographers — to the bursting-with-goods-and-activity Imperial Avenue lot.

They also experimented with foods they’d never tried, like snap peas and soft cheeses, and bought flowers they’d never seen.

A talented girl named Anastasia Davis won her 11-14 age group.

Anastasia Davis’ winning photo.

Taibe invited Anastasia to Kawa Ni and the Whelk. There, she tried even more foods. Nothing was off limits.

The contest sparked a partnership between the Norwalk Housing Authority and Westport Arts Center. Fortino has a new job — director of education for the WAC — and this year she included work by NHA youngsters in the arts center’s student show. One boy proudly sold a piece there.

Ahead: collaboration between the NHA and the WAC’s artists’ residency program.

Everyone knows the Westport Farmers’ Market vendors grow great food. Who knew the market helps young kids grow too?

Anastasia Davis

Alexander Platt: An “Itinerant Music Pastor” Comes Home

Ten years ago — when the Westport Arts Center asked Alexander Platt to head its Concert Series — the timing was not right.

The 1983 Staples High School graduate was in the midst of a long career leading orchestras and an opera company in Chicago, North Dakota and Florida — plus a summer “Maverick Concerts” music festival in Woodstock, New York.

His twin brother Russell got the job instead.

Now it’s Alexander’s turn.

Alexander Platt conducts the Minnesota Philharmonic.

For professional and personal reasons — including feeling like “an itinerant pastor,” and the death of his mother (his father still lives in Westport) — Platt has returned home.

“It’s time to be intensive, rather than extensive,” the new Concert Series curator says.

“It’s wonderful to conduct orchestras. But it’s equally pleasurable to run them as a sherpa or guide.”

The chance to put a full season together — to “shape it, host it, bridge it with the community” — proved irresistible.

The Yale and King’s College Cambridge graduate is excited about the 2017-18 series. The WAC wanted classical music, jazz and “something in between.” Platt delivers it all.

Igor Pikayzen

From the opening on September 23 (cutting-edge pianist Anthony de Mare reimagines Stephen Sondheim), to internationally renowned violinist (and Westport resident) Igor Pikayzen, through the noted Juilliard String Quartet and the up-and-coming Calidotre String Quartet, ending with jazz and classical pianist Simon Mulligan, Platt has created 5 outstanding events.

“Even if you hate music, you’ll love these concerts,” he says. “They’re the best of the best. They bridge genres. I get in free, but I’d pay anything to hear them!”

Yet his work does not remain within the WAC’s walls.

Platt has begun building partnerships with “comrades in arms.” He’s reached out to Beechwood Arts & Innovation — his friendship and work relationship with Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito goes back more than 20 years — and Suzuki Music School.

He’s also talking with the Westport and Pequot Libraries. Platt not only wants to eliminate date conflicts; he hopes each organization can cross-promote others’ events.

The Westport native remembers hearing “first-class music” every weekend, at venues ranging from Town Hall to the Unitarian Church.

“You didn’t have to go to New York or New Haven,” Platt notes. “I want to rebuild the audience for great music right here.”

He pauses.

“And there’s no place I’d rather be than Westport.”

Farmers’ Market Photo Contest Draws “Young Shoots”

Two of our town’s most creative institutions — the Westport Farmers’ Market and Westport Arts Center — have teamed up to showcase the creativity of one of our town’s most important assets: our kids.

The Young Shoots Digital Photography Competition highlights images taken all summer long at the Farmers’ Market.

It’s a great place for budding (ho ho) photographers to shoot. Every Thursday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), the Farmers’ Market pulses with life. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the market in colorful, imaginative ways. All photos must be taken somewhere on the Imperial Avenue premises.

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

There are 3 age groups: 8-10, 11-14, 15-18. Submissions are due by August 14.

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 last year in the 11-14 age group for this shot.

Beginning August 20, the community will have a chance to vote online for their favorite images. “Fan favorites” get a 1-year membership to the Westport Arts Center, and a Farmers’ Market t-shirt.

Click here for photo guidelines and submission info.

“Starstem” by Calista Finkelstein placed 1st last summer in the 8-10 category.

Baron’s South “Arts Campus” Returns To P&Z

In May, the Westport Arts Center and a group of arts advocates presented a pre-application to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The goal was to create an “arts campus” at the Baron’s South property. The 3-prong proposal included these ideas:

  1. The Westport Arts Center would lease and restore Golden Shadows — the main building that served as the home for Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff (“The Baron”) — retaining most of its decorative interior, for use as offices, classrooms and gallery space.
  2. The WAC would lease and restore the  Tudor revival guest house at 70 Compo Road South as additional gallery space.
  3. They would lease the 2 units at 52 and 52B Compo Road South, for use as artists’ residences.

The P&Z was not thrilled with the plan. They called the plan too intense for the “light use” for which the 32-acre property is zoned.

Many Westporters, on the other hand, thought it was great. “06880” was flooded with positive comments.

Golden Shadows: the centerpiece of the Westport Arts Center Baron’s South plan.
(Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The whole idea of a pre-app meeting is to get a sense of the P&Z’s mood. The WAC and arts advocates listened to the commissioners.

Tomorrow (Thursday, July 6, 7 p.m., Town Hall) they’ll present a formal proposal. They’ve reworked the use of the artists’ residences, and other concepts.

They also hope to show that the work they’ll do on-site will help the public enjoy all the open space surrounding the arts campus.

The meeting is open to the public.

Arts Campus On Baron’s South? P&Z Draws The Line.

The Westport Arts Center is a wonderful, vibrant place.

It’s also wholly inadequate.

Essentially one long room on Riverside Avenue — with a spectacular view of the Saugatuck River — it functions as a small studio and gallery. But it can host only one meeting, lecture, concert, class or exhibit at a time.

Given Westport’s long arts heritage — and the interest of so many Westporters, from senior citizens to kids, in art in all its forms — it’s no wonder the WAC has sought more suitable digs.

Last fall, town representatives approached the organization. Would the WAC be interested in preserving and using Golden Shadows — the main building on the southeast corner of 23-acre Baron’s South (named for the perfume developed by its previous owner, Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff) — for exhibits and performances?

Golden Shadows. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The town soon came back with a new question: Would the WAC like to take over the other 3 long-neglected buildings there too?

Meanwhile, a group of veteran, well-respected local artists and photographers — including Leonard Everett Fisher, Ann Chernow, Miggs Burroughs, Niki Ketchman and Larry Silver — had been meeting regularly to discuss their own idea.

These “deans” of the Westport arts scene wanted a dedicated museum-type space to preserve the town’s artistic legacy.

And at the same time, folks like Burroughs, Westport arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz, RTM moderator Eileen Lavigne Flug and the Westport Historical  Society’s Bob Mitchell were seeking ways to involve the WAC more fully with other arts organizations in town.

The result was a public/private partnership to create a “community arts campus” at Baron’s South.

As presented last night by 3rd Selectman Helen Garten, at a Planning & Zoning Commission pre-application meeting, there would be 3 phases:

  1. The Westport Arts Center would lease and restore Golden Shadows, retaining most of its decorative interior, for use as offices, classrooms and gallery space.
  2. The WAC would lease and restore the  Tudor revival guest house at 70 Compo Road South as additional gallery space.
  3. They would lease the 2 units at 52 and 52B Compo Road South, for use as artists’ residences.

The house next door to Golden Shadows. The plan would have leased it to artists.

“Leasing all 4 buildings to a single user is the best way to ensure minimal impact on the public open space and surrounding neighborhood,” Garten said.

“Instead of 4 separate buildings, each accessed by its own roadway and each with its own use, there will be a single integrated property.” It would function much as the baron’s estate did, decades ago.

However, P&Z members gave the arts campus plan a frosty reception last night. A pre-app meeting is intended to give applicants a sense of what the zoning board feels about a plan. Commissioners insisted that the concept is too intense for the “light use” zoning of Baron’s South. It’s zoned as “passive recreational open space.”

Arts advocates were unsure last night what their next step will be.

Back to the drawing board they go.

A view into Golden Shadows’ central parlor shows a chandelier and handsome circular staircase. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The town currently owns 72 Compo Road South, on the eastern edge of Baron’s South. This was planned to be gallery space.