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Tag Archives: Westport Arts Center
The Westport Arts Center may be on the move.
To a few feet over the Norwalk border.
The gallery — which also sponsors educational outreach, talks, music concerts and films, in its Riverside Avenue home and other venues — has hired Sellars Lathrop Architects to possibly convert Martha Stewart’s former TV studio into the WAC’s new home.
The address is 19 Newtown Turnpike, Westport. But the 3-story building is in Norwalk.
Sellars Lathrop has invited neighbors to an informal meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, December 19). It’s an early step in the process.
The Westport Arts Center has a long history. When Greens Farms Elementary School was closed, the WAC moved in. Artists and sculptors rented studios in former classrooms, and the gymnasium was used for exhibits.
The town eventually reclaimed GFS for education. After being homeless for several years, the WAC eventually landed at 51 Riverside Avenue. The long, narrow space works as a gallery, and has a killer view of the Saugatuck River.
But there is little room for other programming — and none at all for working artists.
The Newtown Avenue project is not a done deal. Sellars Lathrop must make an application to Norwalk’s Planning & Zoning department. Westport officials will be involved too, because the entrance to the property is here.
“It’s no secret we’ve been looking for space for the better part of 3 years,” says Amanda Innes, executive director of the WAC.
“We’ve looked at many places in Westport. Some are near downtown. But this is a great property. There are 110 parking spaces. It’s nearly 10 times the size of where we are now.”
Riverside Avenue — which is rented by the WAC, as the Martha Stewart property would be — is just 3,400 square feet.
“We’re part of the whole fabric of Westport,” Innes notes. The Martha Stewart studio “is still Westport to us. In order to grow, this is the best space for all of us — hands down.”
Face it: We’re all voyeurs.
We go on Holiday House and Secret Garden Tours to ogle homes we’d otherwise never be invited into. We stroll into real estate open houses with no intention of buying, because we always wondered what’s behind that door down the block.
On Saturday, May 5 we get a chance to indulge our inner voyeur and honor Westport’s artistic heritage. It’s a special yin and yang of house tours.
This one is special. The Westport Artists Collective is opening up 13 members’ studios to the public. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., any of us can wander into the work spaces of folks like Miggs Burroughs, Nina Bentley and Dale Najarian. We can poke around the paintbrushes, watch them as they create, and ask questions about the artistic process.
Some of the studios are very neat; others are messy. Some are spacious and light; others are stuffed into the corner of a basement.
All are fascinating.
The tour is the latest outreach effort from the Collective. Begun 4 years ago as a professional and social gathering space for artists, it’s grown to 150 members. They paint, draw, sculpt and work with metal and plastic. They’re struggling artists and accomplished names; they’ve lived here all their lives, and just relocated from New York.
They meet the last Wednesday of every month. Among their projects: the popular pop-up shows at the Westport Arts Center, quickly hung and just as speedily disassembled in between major exhibits.
“We’re really active. And we’re passionate about how art has impacted our lives. We want to share it as much as we can,” says Amy Kaplan, a Collective member who chairs the studio tour. Her studio is also one of those on the route.
The Collective is going all out to make this a fun day. It starts with a 10 a.m. brunch at The ‘Port restaurant. Artists will be there (mimosas, too). Maps and writeups about each studio will be available. Guests then head to as many studios as they wish, in whatever order they want.
“One thing we all share is our passion for the power and possibilities of art,” says Kaplan — speaking of both the Collective and the tour.
“We’re all aware of how the act of making art opens up a door inside, making us better versions of ourselves.”
That’s metaphorical. In a few days, they’ll open up their real doors.
They invite all of us to step inside.
Click here for tickets to the Westport Artists Collective May 5 studio tour ($25 each; $15 for designers and students, free for those 16 and under). Proceeds benefit the Collective, and the Westport Arts Center’s community partner and outreach programs. A preview party on Friday, May 4 (6 to 8 p.m., Design Within Reach) featuring cocktails, live music and a pop-up art exhibit is free, and open to all. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Artists opening their studios for the tour include Nina Bentley, Miggs Burroughs, Leonar Dao, Kat Evans, Scott Glaser, Veronica Hofstetter, Jana Ireijo, Amy Kaplan, Jane Lubin, Carole McClintock, Dale Najarian, Kris Toohey and Cynthia Whalen.
Leonard Everett Fisher is a Westport icon.
One of our our town’s most cherished artist/illustrators, he’s designed 10 US postage stamps. His works hang in the collections of the Smithsonian, Library of Congress, New York Public Library, Yale Art Gallery and New Britain Museum of Art.
At 93 — and a member of the Westport Arts Center’s board of directors — he’s working hard to create a Westport Artists Museum at Baron’s South.
But just as important to Fisher was his service in World War II. Between 1942 and ’46 he was a topographical mapmaker. He planned, edited and produced ground maps for invasions and campaigns in Italy, France, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the aborted invasion and occupation of Japan.
More than 70 years after the war, his contributions are finally drawing national attention.
This Wednesday (April 11, 10 p.m.), PBS airs “GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II.” Fisher is one of the interviews in the film.
He’s in good company. Henry Kissinger, Mel Brooks and other Jewish Americans — some famous, others unknown — share their experience as part of the 550,000 men and women who fought for their nation, struggled with anti-Semitism in their ranks, and emerged transformed, to fight for equality and justice at home.
The film has already been shown at the Westchester Jewish Film Festival, and the Center for Jewish History. It will be screened this Tuesday (April 10), at the JCC Manhattan.
Fisher is one of the oldest living World War II veterans in Westport. Every one has an intriguing story.
But only Fisher’s will be told on national television this week.
(For more information on “GI Jews,” click here.)
Westport has long been known as an arts community.
The Westport Arts Center is doing its best to make sure that’s true for many years to come.
The organization will award a $5,000 scholarship to a graduating high school senior who plans to attend an arts-based college program this fall.
Scholarships are also available for the WAC’s Summer Camp program. The week-long workshops are for ages 4 to 7 (mornings), and ages 8 to 12 (afternoons). Themed week topics include painting, clay and 3D art.
The high school and summer camp scholarships are made possible through the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center Foundation. The Main Street landlord and founder of the Downtown Merchants Association left $500,000 in his will to help fund that group.
Scholarships are based on financial need. To begin the application process, call Westport’s Human Services Department (203-341-1050). Questions? Email email@example.com.
A few hundred Westporters thronged the Westport Arts Center last night.
They were there for the delayed-by-one-day opening of the Westport Artists Collective pop-up art show.
Okay — maybe some of them headed to the warm, welcoming Riverside Avenue gallery because they had no power electricity, heat or internet at home.
Whatever the reason, they enjoyed a great show.
All 150 Collective members were invited to showcase one work of art. The result is an intriguing display of works, ranging from photographs and mixed media to sculpture and paintings.
Westporters often debate whether this is still an “arts community.”
Stop by the WAC. The pop-up show answers definitively: Yes, it is.
But you’d better do it soon. The show is open until 5 p.m. today (Friday). And it ends tomorrow (Saturday) at 2.
The Westport Library has kicked off its annual WestportREADS program. This year’s book is “Regeneration” — Pat Barker’s historical fiction about a British officer who refuses to continue serving during the “senseless slaughter” of World War I.
It’s a complex novel, exploring the effect of the war on identity, masculinity and social structure. There’s lots to dig into, and the library has created a number of events based on the book.
For example, next Saturday (January 13, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) is Digitization Day. Area residents can bring World War I keepsakes — your grandfather’s photo album; a stack of letters found in your great-grandmother’s attic; anything else like medals, keepsakes or objects — to the library.
They’ll be scanned or photographed by library staff members, as both a permanent record and to help create a profile of the World War I-era person you want to remember.
On Sunday, January 28 (2 p.m., Saugatuck Congregational Church) the West Point Glee Club performs music from World War I. Some may be familiar (“Over There”). But much will not.
Other organizations are involved too. One of the most intriguing is a collaboration with the Westport Arts Center and Westport Arts Advisory Committee.
On Thursday, February 1 (7 p.m., Westport Arts Center), the 3 groups sponsor a poetry event.
Adults and high school students are invited to submit poetry, on broad themes: your interpretation of history, our current times, or the challenges we all face. Poets selected will read their work publicly.
The event is part of the WAC’s current exhibition, Ward Shelley’s “What Keeps Mankind Alive.” It features paintings that reveal how we all create narratives and stories to explain the world around us.
The deadline for submissions is Sunday, January 21. Click here for more information.
And on Saturday, February 10 (4 p.m., Westport Town Hall) the library partners with the Westport Cinema Initiative for a screening of “Letters From Baghdad.” The documentary tells the story of Gertrude Bell, a British spy and explorer who helped shape the modern Middle East after World War I in ways that reverberate today. Click here for tickets.
For a full list of WestportREADS activities, click here.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)