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Arts Funding a Hit

Even groups left out of Hartford's arts stimulus program support the spirit of the effort

Daniel D'Ambrosio

July 15, 2009

With just $1.1 million to cover more than $5 million in requests, Hartford's arts stimulus program was bound to leave somebody disappointed, but even those who didn't get grants were glad to see the city making an effort to support the arts.

"My first reaction when we found out we didn't get it: I was really, really disappointed, but my main reaction is: What a great thing for the city to do," said Will K. Wilkins of Real Art Ways.

Wilkins and his staff submitted an application for a $150,000 grant to fund a program to "provide employment for artists who live in Hartford."

"We were going to be working with a number of visual artists, spoken word artists and others," said Wilkins.

Mayor Eddie Perez announced the stimulus program in his State of the City address in March, saying it would "create and retain" about 200 jobs in Hartford. Perez vetoed an attempt by the city council to cut the program roughly in half during contentious budget negotiations and the appropriation made it into the final budget intact. Another $600,000 in federal money for the arts will also become available later in the year.

Councilman Luis Cotto served on a committee of 10 people five from the city and five from the Greater Hartford Arts Council that reviewed the applications and picked the winners. Out of a total of 57 applications, 23 were chosen for funding.

The evaluation process, while largely subjective, employed a scoring system, ranking the applications for their effect on the city's arts infrastructure and for the potential to create jobs. Scores were counted and averaged, "which made the process ultra fair," according to Cotto.

The next step, Cotto said, was to determine what percentage of their requests for funds the winning organizations would receive.

"We settled on 60 percent funding for most applications," said Cotto. "It was a question of how low can we go [as a percentage of requested funds] and include all these really great projects."

Kimberly Reynolds of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum said the museum received $100,000 of the $200,000 it asked for to fund a masterpiece series of shows, set to kick off in October with Rembrandt. The show will include a self-portrait from the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., marking the first time the Dutch master's work has appeared in Hartford since the 1930s.

"This grant helps make this series possible," said Reynolds. "The Rembrandt show would have gone forward [without it] but on a smaller scale."

Reynolds said the museum is still trying to raise money for subsequent shows in the series, which will extend over the next two years.

Joyce Magee, executive director of the Connecticut Guitar Society said the $14,900 her organization received 100 percent of what they asked for will subsidize this year's 19th annual Guitar Under The Stars program on the Riverfront Plaza in September.

"We're thrilled. It's a very significant and valued grant for this organization," said Magee.

Cotto said he regretted only that the entire process was too hasty, with just two weeks to submit applications.

"Groups did not have enough time to respond," said Cotto. "Applications that were lacking could have been more rounded out. There were some applications that I loved the spirit of personally, but you could tell it was rushed."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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