EVENT:West HavenCouncil on the Arts Second Artists Forum3/9/12

City Hall,West Haven,CT

TOPIC:West HavenFineArtsCenterProgramming


  • James Reed, Professor of Printmaking, University ofNew Haven
  • Paul Scanlon, President,West HavenCouncil on the Arts


Agenda:  Prof. Reed presented his perspective on what the futureWest HavenCenter for the Arts located at304 Center Street could be for the community, based on his experiences inBridgeport, followed by a roundtable discussion.  He made a strong impact with the statement, “There has never been an instance where the arts have been introduced to a community and the community got worse.”  APPLAUSE


Atmosphere: Chairs were arranged in a circle, folk music was playing, and wine, mineral water and snacks were served. 


Who was there: Officers of the West Haven Council on the Arts were basically happy with the turnout (20 or so by the end of the meeting).  A multi-disciplinary cross-section of the local arts community was represented, including: the director of a dance company, a filmmaker and director who has been on Broadway and now runs Theater West, the Executive Director for New Haven Symphony Orchestra, three co-producers of Shoestring Theater, a professional arts writer (myself), the director of New Haven’s Project Storefront who does costuming for theater productions, an organizer for Ideat Village, a children’s book illustrator and student in the Yale School of Drama, a videographer and photographer, a doctorate student in how music affects brain function ages birth to four, a graphic design student, and people who have volunteered for the International Festival of Arts and Ideas.  These are folks withWest Haven zip codes – self labeled humanists, optimists, futurists, opportunists and more – who are eager to be more oriented towards their local community and active in raising the bar of expectation for cultural activity inWest Haven.  A lifelong resident finished his self-introduction proclaiming, “I’d love to be part of the new heyday forWest Haven.”


History of West Haven Center for the Arts:   West Haven is a city of 10 square miles and 56,000 located 5 minutes from downtownNew Haven.  In 2003, Paul Scanlon founded a citizens’ arts coalition which collected upwards of 500 signatures in two days for an arts center to be a home for programming.  When an appropriate building (formerMasonicTemple) came up for sale in the downtown area, there was a big push with a lot of energy behind it for the City to purchase it. $550,000 in state grant money was approved by Jodi Rell for the original purchase.  Asbestos and lead abatement was undertaken by the City with an additional $100,000 raised from citizens, and a $500,000 contribution from Yale.  The building is now in a “buttoned up” state, partially renovated and protected from deterioration.  In 2007 the West Haven Arts Council became officially incorporated as a not-for-profit, 501( c )(3) organization, absorbing the former citizens’ coalition.  Turner Brooks, an architect affiliated with Yale, was selected for the project and brought it through schematic design.  At the first Artists Forum, the Arts Council gathered a lot of ideas and input about what the architect was doing.  The classical building will have a modern appendage, blending two architectural styles into a unified hybrid.  A feasibility study was commissioned which is now available to read in draft form.  There will be another design process before construction documents can be created. The Fine Arts Center is committed to solar power and to being a green (LEED-certified?) building.



Roundtable Discussion Points:

  • West Havenis “too cool not to be revitalized.”
  • West Haven’s downtown has good bones for parking, traffic flow and pedestrians.  The whole city is quite walkable.
  • The fine arts center can create a hub of cultural activity in the downtown area.
  • The Council is “trying not to leave anybody out.”  Planning for programming, the question is what are we missing or forgetting?  One vulnerability is letting a particular group or discipline monopolize the space.  The goal is balance and a mission that will drive the activity forward more than particular personalities.
  • A key word for the center is “flexibility.”  The space will be flexible to accommodate a lot of different types of arts and culture programming: galleries, rehearsal space, classrooms, a 2-tier blackbox theater and a 3rd floor wide open space with skylight for interactive events.  Grassroots and world-class artists will come together inWest Haven to comprise an entire spectrum of creative inquiry and innovation.
  • West Haven’s Mayor John Picard is extremely supportive.  Anew CityCouncil will be seated in the next couple of weeks.
  • State funding for arts is now being channeled via Arts Based Placemaking – tying cultural activity to specific economic drivers that will attract people in their 20s and 30s to live and build innovative industry inConnecticut.
  • West Cove has statewide significance as one of three specialty printmaking shops inConnecticut.
  • Theater West is now in its 4th season and its productions are growing in popularity, attracting 1,200 to the West Haven Green for summer performances.
  • The new train station, the beach and the new fine arts center create three legs forWest Havento stand tall on.  At all three places, the other two should have a visual presence to make people aware that all three exist as important and interdependent facets of community pride and growth.
  • Youth programs at the center need to create “a place for outcasts.”  Seniors are also important and often underserved.
  • Renting space for performances during recital season could be a good source of income and a community service.
  • West Havenneeds a Greenwich Village-style coffeehouse where live events, information and work-in-progress among artists can be shared with the public.
  • Bring in notables such as the Poet Laureate of Connecticut.


Big Ideas:

  • Horse-drawn carriages down Campbell Aveserving as shuttle between the beach and dinner theater.
  • Promote the fact that Campbell Aveis exactly halfway between New York Cityand Mohegan Sun – invite buses to stop so people headed for casino can walk around.
  • Skill-sharing workshops and open craft sessions for individuals and families to learn different types of hands-on, material technologies
  • Let’s become expert at “making something out of nothing.”  Take materials out of the waste stream and get them into the hands of creatives.
  • Build upon the partnership with Yale to bring in world-class acts.
  • Keep dreaming big for West Haven, because if you “shoot for the ground you’ll hit it every time!”



Recommended Next Steps for the Arts Council:

  • Drive membership count upwards.  There are currently about a dozen members actively involved in projects out of a total membership of about 60 people.   President’s goal is to double that in the next few months.
  • Present a more prominent and visually unified image in marketing materials
  • Link with area studios and galleries as distribution centers: e.g. West Cove Studios
  • Reach out to state & Kip Bergstrom regardingWest Haven’s eligibility and process to apply for an Arts Based Placemaking grant
  • “There are lots of dots to connect.”
  • Invite influence: “We are literally forging the arts community ofWest Haven.  We are the go-to group.”  “Now is the time for people who are interested to get in on the ground floor; they can have all the input they want.”



Upcoming events on similar topic(s):

  • April 5th 7-9pm City Hall, West Haven, Meeting Rm A, West Haven Council on the Arts meeting.  Meetings are held every first Thursday in the same location.
  • May – Family Arts Night,West HavenArts Council


Additional Information:

  • The public can read the feasibility study online at strategicadvisorygroup.com.  Password is West Haven.