Longtime Hartford Music And Dance Institution Closing After School Year
October 17, 2010
After 120 years, The Hartford Conservatory is bringing down the curtain. The closing was probably inevitable, despite heroic and imaginative efforts to stay in business, yet it is sad. How many more arts organizations can the city afford to lose? How many more opportunities can Hartford youngsters afford to lose?
The conservatory's board of trustees voted last month to close at the end of the current academic year in May, a time frame that will allow current students to graduate.
School officials attribute the decision to close to a " mix of competitive and economic factors," not the least of which is the venerable institution's business model.
The conservatory was founded in 1890 by some of the city's leading families as the Hartford School of Music, and is now located in two historic Victorian buildings on Asylum Avenue. Generations of Hartford youngsters went to the conservatory for music lessons. Its concerts and recitals were among the city's leading entertainments for years; it even had its own orchestra, the Hartford Civic Orchestra.
But recent years have been tough sledding. The highly successful Hartt Community Division at the University of Hartford pulled way ahead in music instruction. Community colleges began adding performing arts courses, at a fraction of the tuition the conservatory had to charge. The conservatory had to cancel its dance program a few years ago because of rising costs. Some good people were lost, notably the wonderful Dr. Peter Harvey, dean of faculty and nonpareil performer.
But perhaps most significantly, the conservatory offers its postgraduate students a diploma, not a degree. Over two or three years, the students immerse themselves in performing arts classes and instruction, but don't take math, sociology or Restoration drama. That's all well and good, but today most job applicants need a college degree, not a diploma. For example, most teaching jobs require general education courses.
So, the number of full-time diploma students has fallen to fewer than 50 a year over the past decade.
In 2005, the year Peter Harvey passed away, the trustees brought in Linn G. McGlade as interim executive director. McGlade, who has a background in arts and business, had helped stabilize other nonprofits. She and the board tried everything. Last year she signed a statement of collaboration with the University of Connecticut School of Fine Arts, but the tumbling economy derailed both private and state funding for the project.
Proposed mergers with Hartt and Capital Community College couldn't be consummated. A for-profit school showed interest in buying the conservatory, but that would have required the conservatory to become an accredited community college (it is accredited as a technical college), but there was neither the time nor the money to make that happen.
That she kept the institution going for five years is a tribute to her drive and skill, but finally, as with the Hartford Ballet, Connecticut Opera and other arts entities, there were no more rabbits in the hat. McGlade and the trustees are now focused on "closing the conservatory in a thoughtful and orderly manner befitting its long history." That means finding an appropriate use for the two historic brick buildings, whose preservation is essential to the look of the avenue.
It also means finding a home for the tuition-free programs the conservatory has offered to scores of Hartford children, many from the surrounding Asylum Hill neighborhood, each year. McGlade is talking to Hartt, the Hartford Children's Theater, the Hartford Preservation Alliance and other groups. Is it possible that income from the buildings could support scholarships at other institutions?
I feel a personal loss; my daughter took flute lessons at the conservatory, and so I spent many a pleasant hour listening to music in an elegant urban environment. As McGlade said, many students who come to the conservatory aren't necessarily interested in traditional academic studies; they are often self-taught men and women with a passion for performing. That there will no longer be a place for them diminishes the city.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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