Hartford announced last month that for the next three years $1 million will be annually budgeted for public performing and visual arts. This should be welcomed news for the Greater Hartford area as our capital city is a unique place for various arts and events. Most importantly, this is ideal timing since this will be an initiative with the Greater Hartford Arts Council and they have recently hired CEO Shelley D. Best. This is ripe for the city and the organization’s new leader, as her community building and network building artistic vision for our state capital will be transformative for Hartford and the region.
In fact, the Greater Hartford Arts Council and the city of Hartford partnered to establish Hartford Creates, a new arts initiative and alliance. At a recent press conference, Mayor Luke Bronin offered that this funding alliance will “beautify our public spaces.”
Much of the funding will be art instillations including outdoor artwork. Funds will also to towards outdoor performing arts through the Neighborhood Arts Activation and an All-Season Event Grants for year-round arts events.
Both Bronin and Best said that economic but also community recovery from the pandemic is instrumental for Hartford. This alliance initiative comes partly from the American Rescue Plan and it could be especially impactful in the next few years. It’s also a great start for Hartford and additional cities to follow.
Local artists and nonprofit organizations can apply for grant funding for public art projects. Awards will range from $1,000 to $10,000. Candidates and their organizations can apply through the Hartford Creates website: https://letsgoarts.org/creates
Interestingly, Hartford has recently been ranked as a top city for artists by a rent.com survey. Public officials – local and state – are finding pathways to spread the word about Hartford being an artistic hub and this public art initiative will add to this momentum.
Since Hartford is so diverse, there’s so much art to share. The city already has a thriving art and music scene, especially in the jazz arena. Public summer events, like the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz in July, attracts much attention to our capital city. The Paul Brown Monday Night Jazz Series in Bushnell Park is especially popular and is the nation’s oldest continuously run free jazz festival.
Considering Hartford’s rich cultural history, there’s much to learn from and for everyone. It’s been a hub for European ethnicities including Italian, Irish and Polish populations. Our capital city has also been a magnet for Black Americans during the Great Migration and so many Caribbean nationalities like Jamaicans and Trinidadians. Certainly, various Latino populations like Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Mexicans have also contributed much to Hartford too.
Art allows for communities to come together to celebrate but also exchange cultures and approaches. Culture is the life beat of American cities and art fosters dialogue and sharing. Public art can and will get so many in Hartford and beyond to respect cultures, histories and experiences. Hartford’s art initiative and its funding may only be a start to something more for our capital city and so many Connecticut cities.
But Connecticut remains a divided space where housing, education and economic segregation persists. Our cities are some of the most diverse secondary-size urban areas in the northeast. Public art helps remind everyone about our diversity and awaken us about Connecticut’s heterogenous communities. As an urban researcher and music aficionado, I support this art initiative and will follow where and how public arts funding heads for Hartford’s future. Hopefully, residents and readers will do the same.
Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D. is the School of Graduate and Professional Studies associate dean and teaches political science and urban affairs at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.