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New Britain Could Provide Perfect Space for Art

According to a front-page article in the New Britain Herald earlier this month, post-industrial New Britain has an art scene “surprisingly robust for a city of 70,000 people.” The mayor, a business owner and New Britain’s commissioner for the arts all agreed, and were quoted in the article throwing around words like “culture,” “imperative,” “opportunity” and “unique.”

Unfortunately, the article failed to quote any actual artists or CCSU art students. Had it, the piece would have probably have been littered with words and phrases like “cheap”, “better facilities” and “what art scene?”

The idea that the town, or state, has been at all hospitable toward local artists is ridiculous.

Last year, when Central art students began their “art needs space” campaign, in which about a dozen CCSU students fought for studio space for students to work, the school gave them two ill-equipped rooms on the third floor of the
ITBD building – an off-campus conference center for local businesses.

Before professors stopped bringing classes over to the space because of its inadequacies, whenever the petty professionals that work in the building walked by the “studios” – one of which had walls constructed out of glass – students
were given the impression they were sitting in a fish tank. In at least one instance, a man in a tie actually rapped his knuckles against the glass to get the students attention for some unknown purpose.

The best part of this story is probably the fact that the Herald’s article featured a map of downtown, including the ITBD building, but never labeled the studio space that the school toted as progress for the arts. It did point out, however, sites like Central Park – a glorified road median, where “Musicians play during summer lunchtimes.” The entire piece ignored the actual events taking place in the area, like last week’s AVIARY opening, in favor of mentioning some vague “art programs” at Central, or stating that City Hall counts as an art gallery.

The reader is given the impression that the two contributing writers had a theory, in which New Britain was an “arts mecca” instead of a collection of abandoned buildings, and
sought out to prove it at all costs. Now, that isn’t to say that this postage stamp of a city doesn’t have potential.

The fact that most of New Britain seems to be made up of abandoned buildings might actually make it the ideal candidate for an arts rebirth – and the creeping economic depression might finally force politicians to begin funding the arts

Industrialization isn’t coming back to Connecticut. This, it seems, we may have already accepted. But why not try something new? Hartford has insurance and New Haven has the ports—so when will Connecticut get an arts city? If the town were to purchase a cluster of buildings relatively near each other (buildings that can be purchased, between the location and the bust real estate market, for nearly nothing) and give them as nearly rent-free space to artists, with yearly solo exhibitions as part of the lease contract?

What about other abandoned spaces around town? CCSU is the only school in the country with a mural painting program; New Britain High School has an art teacher who has painted murals not only all over the state, but internationally. Why not actually give the schools the resources – and the space – to make art a community experience? There are guaranteed more than enough talented street artists and storeowners that would be willing to work together in order to make something that would benefit both themselves and the entire town.

Following the 1929 economic collapse our country saw the state hire muralists to both create jobs and use public art to propagate ideas of the wealth that was promised to come. Why not hire any of the number of qualified sculptures,
painters or designers graduating from Central every semester to both ensure jobs and foster a creative culture?

Arts means culture and, more importantly to tax payers, it means commerce. It means restaurants, the buying and selling of paintings, jazz cafes, bars and an actual reason to read the Herald. It would mean a new reason for students to attend Central, and offer them something that no other state school can—a real art program with a high success rate for graduating art students.

New Britain has a long way to come in not only art, but in every way. What city officials, as well as CCSU administrators need to think about is how, in a failing business climate, to invest money in new and more creative ways.

-Marissa Blaszko, Opinion Editor: