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TheaterWorks Director Has Vision For Hartford's Pearl Street

FRANK RIZZO

September 08, 2009

If Steve Campo has his way and those who have watched the entrepreneurial theater director through the decades know how determined that way is Pearl Street will be a cultural landscape in downtown Hartford.

Campo, the founder and executive director of TheaterWorks, is seeking to ensure that the arts center building it owns continues in perpetuity as a community resource for arts groups by deeding it to a nonprofit caretaker organization.

He has also entered into an agreement with Martin Levitz, owner of a boarded-up adjacent building at 215 Pearl St., for "operational oversight and management." Arts groups could immediately use the building the former Ados Israel Synagogue for storage and have use of its parking area.

Campo also envisions longer-range plans for a walkway that will create a designated route from Pearl Street to Bushnell Park. The SLAM Collaborative, a Glastonbury-based architectural-landscape firm, has renderings that it will use to generate public support.

The immediate issue is the deeding of the TheaterWorks property now called City Arts on Pearl to a nonprofit arts entity.

"We've had some discussions about his interest in sustaining this resource for the arts as well as the district into the future," says Kate Bolduc, executive director of the Greater Hartford Arts Council. "But the council is not in the [real estate] business. However, we would certainly work with Steve and figure out a way to help in planned giving for an arts trust that would enable arts groups to use the building in perpetuity. We think it's a fabulous idea."

Campo, who has headed the theater for 23 years and negotiated the purchase of the building in 1994 for $275,000, says he is working with Hartford attorneys from MacDermid, Reynolds & Glissman "to create a comprehensive legal structure that will assure TheaterWorks' long-term future in the community" and "that each of the not-for-profit organizations in our building will have the right to remain there for as long as they choose and at the nominal rental rates they currently enjoy."

Besides the theater in the basement, the building acts as home for a gallery curated by the New Britain Museum of American Art and low-cost office space for small local arts groups, including HartBeat Ensemble, Concora, Judy Dworin Dance Ensemble and Hartford Chorale.

Campo says that TheaterWorks has invested more than $2.5 million in improvements to the four-story, 1927 Moorish Revival building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

TheaterWorks and SLAM Collaborative unveiled renderings for an urban landscape project including areas for outdoor performances that would start at Pearl and lead to Bushnell Park.

AT&T and the city currently own properties that would complete the pathway.

The renderings evoke the recent Highline Project, which took over an abandoned strip of property in lower Manhattan."We hope this acts as a catalyst," says Robert F. Pulito, a principal of SLAM and a member of the theater's board of directors.

Campo says that "activating" the long-dormant neighboring building and its alleyway could start a "grass-roots initiative." He said it was a similar multiyear strategy that allowed his small organization to purchase its Pearl Street building 15 years ago after using it as an ad-hoc theater space for five years.

Exterior upgrades being undertaken with the Hartford Business Improvement District include street banners, refurbishment of the Pearl Street bus shelter, new plantings, signage and general cleanup. More information on the Pearl Street projects will be available next week on TheaterWorks' new website at www.theaterworkshartford.org.

"It is my hope that ... we will ultimately bring it to a point where, with the support of key art funders, it can be acquired and transitioned into a fully active resource for the arts."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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