In news from Danbury, one of Bethel’s surrounding communities, Ted Kilmer discusses the art scene and “quality of place.”
Posted by Paula Antolini
March 7, 2015 5:14PM EDT
Danbury’s Creative Class — Where Are They?
Written by Guest Contributor Ted Killmer
More than a decade ago, the celebrated and often controversial “urban enthusiast” Richard Florida wrote the seminal book “The Rise of the Creative Class.” In it, he began his exploration of “quality of place,” and has since published an updated version.
He posited that the liveliest economies were found in regions that were characterized by talent, technology and tolerance.
He also named Danbury as No. 6 in the Top Ten metro areas in the nation in which creative people reside per capita. Santa Fe tipped the scales at No. 1, followed obviously by our biggest cities.
But Danbury? Where are they?
When one discovers that in Halibut Cove, Alaska, where paintings are created using octopus ink, there are 18 declared visual artists, out of a population of 76, or that one-seventh of the population of the European Baltic state of Lithuania are artists, one wonders. Jamie Bennett, executive director of New York City-based ArtPlace America, a group that invests in creative placemaking projects around the country, looks toward “hallmarks of the arts.”
Yet ESRI, the geographic information system that layers data upon data about cities’ populations, doesn’t come close to a “creative class” or “creative placemaking” or “hallmarks of the arts” in Danbury. So, where is our creative class?
Let’s start with Main Street. We have two galleries: @287, the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut’s showcase that has consistently presented top notch talent; and the YMCA’s ESCAPE to the Arts, which promotes the work of its members and students. They are next door to each other.
Amanda Bloom’s brilliant gallery, featuring vibrant, contemporary works, attracted a local cognoscenti to Library Place, but it survived only three years, lost on a side street.
Through the Cultural Alliance’s Accessible Art programs, we find visual art popping up inside and out at various businesses — including in the hallways outside of Mayor Mark Boughton’s offices.
The comic book illustrator Mark Texeira maintains his studio in the Empress Building, the photography den of RmediA is located over the former Woolworth’s and the innovators at the Hackerspace hold promise.
Add architects (The News-Times wrote up our abundance of professional built-in practitioners in an October 2014 article, “Where the architects live”), writers, bloggers, and the odd culinary genius, but I’d still have to go to the Public Library to get my fill of creativity through books.
So, let’s try Greater Danbury, the 10-town region serviced by the Cultural Alliance: Danbury, Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Redding, Ridgefield, and Sherman. Throw Kent in; it helps.
The Alliance has 185 members, including more than 55 arts, history, and cultural organizations. They include photographers, musicians, designers, dancers, sculptors and creative businesses, among others. Include the 450 undergraduates and graduates housed at WestConn’s new Visual and Performing Arts Center.
Of course, we can count the viral reach of those 55 Cultural Alliance member organizations that have members, but we’re still not visibly seeing what makes Danbury No. 6. Where is our “madding crowd?”
When I moved from New York to Danbury two years ago, I came to participate hands-on to reinvigorate First Night, which just this past New Year’s Eve celebrated its 25th milestone anniversary. It featured a remarkable gathering of performers, dating back to day one, Dec. 31, 1989. The Mad Hatter Barbershop Chorus, New Hope Mass Choir, Sherry Winston — Danbury at its best.
But there’s still more to uncover, and I’m determined. Richard Florida can’t be all wrong. After all, the No. 6 is the most harmonious within numerological circles. And Danbury is a No. 6.
So what do we “hatters” do? Don our hats, for sure. Let’s fill empty storefronts with art. Walk the streets with history. Frequent the Danbury Museum & Historical Society, where music aficionados will find rare references to the great Marian Anderson and the rarely honored breakthrough composer Charles Ives. Map ourselves. Create Culture.
ABOUT TED KILMER
Ted Killmer is an arts programming and public relations specialist who lives in downtown Danbury.