Three years ago, photographer Joe Standart created a buzz by bringing tourist traffic to the heart of New London with an outdoor art showcase based on his images of local residents.
“It was a major event in the city,’’ said Ned Hammond, New London’s economic development coordinator, recalling the summer 2006 exhibition. “It attracted people from every corner down here because it was photos of everybody.’’
Encouraged by the “New London Project,’’ Standart wants to replicate it on a much larger scale in Hartford this fall. Known in the art community for his gallery-quality images of people and house scapes, the Lyme resident wants to place life-like portraits of Hartford residents, ranging from immigrants to local luminaries, throughout the city’s downtown and neighborhood.
The “Hartford Project’’ would bring together ethnically and economically diverse groups, and would be a regional destination for daycationers at a time when the economy and high fuel costs are forcing households to seek cheap leisure and entertainment options closer to home, he said.
The only thing missing from Standart’s concept is the one spark that will get it off the ground — money.
Standart says he has already spent the $175,000 in grants he received from the state Commission on Culture and Tourism for the Hartford project and has sunk some of his own money into the project. He estimates it would cost at least $500,000 to put on the photo showcase.
The public will get a closer look at Standart’s photo exhibition from July 9 to Aug. 28 at state Culture and Tourism Commission gallery in Constitution Plaza. His portraits already are visible on 250 banners attached to lightpoles throughout the city. The Greater Hartford Arts Council and its sponsors bought and mounted the banners.
Standart set up three temporary studios — two on Park Street and one on Pratt Street — from last July to December, when he photographed and audio taped hundreds of random passers-by and people whom he invited for a sitting.
Three of the photo murals he wants to drape across buildings along Hartford's Interstate 84 and downtown have been purchased. Standart said Hartford developer Phil Schonberger has agreed to hang two of them from his building at 31 Pratt St., home of The Society Room, free of charge.
But the gallery, murals and banners, he said, would be merely a warm-up to the main event featuring life-like portraits displayed from late August through November.
“I’m trying to do this in a classy way,’’ he said. “I’m not being tricky or avant garde. I’m using photography to activate a community and get people involved. Once people start talking, they get involved in what I call activating democracy.’’
Standart’s Hartford Project concept borrows liberally from the New London Project. It, too, featured portraits of local residents and used a large photo mural hung outside New London’s Union Station to build interest. Hammond, the city’s economic development coordinator, recalls that aside from numbers of local and out-of-town visitors, it drew coverage from The New York Times, Boston Globe and other media.
“I suspect it would do the same thing if you brought it to Hartford,” he said.
Standart estimates a Hartford exhibition would bring 200,000 visitors into the city, many who live outside the region.
Jennifer Aniskovich, the former chairman of the commission on culture and tourism whom Standart credits for urging him to expand his photography project to Hartford, says Standart’s art can be an economic magnet.
“If you connect the dots and make it fun for people,’’ Aniskovich said, “you can have a real impact on communities.’’
While people are in town to see the art, they spend to park, eat, shop and get a room, she said. “That’s a good thing.’’
Standart envisions businesses among the project sponsors. One idea is for visitors to use their cell phones to dial up a recording of each portrait subject’s personal story. Each recording would be identified with a sponsor, he said.
Kate Bolduc, chief executive officer of the Greater Hartford Arts Council, which found sponsors to underwrite the cost to produce and hang the banners depicting Standart’s portraits throughout the city, concedes he has a tough climb.
Bolduc, Standart and others agree the financial pressure bearing on businesses and nonprofits in this recession has made funding for arts and cultural programs more difficult. But that doesn’t mean the Hartford Project can’t happen, she said.
“If anybody can do it, Joe can,’’ Bolduc said, “He’s got a lot of persistence.’’