In the Great Depression, the federal government paid artists to paint murals in post offices and photographers to document the country's hardship.
The city of Hartford is taking a page from history, using $600,000 in federal stimulus money for urban development to pay artists or arts nonprofits in 2010. As part of the stimulus package, cities got 50 percent more community development grants than in a typical year.
David Panagore, Hartford's development services director, said city officials came up with the idea of using the supplemental money to support the arts. Many cities use the money to build curbs or sidewalks, or help poor residents repair their homes.
"It's all about creating jobs," said Mayor Eddie Perez, who spoke Monday to a group of more than 30 artists, nonprofit officers and entrepreneurial dreamers sitting in Charter Oak Arts Center's pews.
He said the city wants to "continue to promote the arts sector as part of the economic development strategy."
This $600,000 is following a $1 million distribution to 23 nonprofits in June, from city taxes.
Adrienne Gale, founder of Hartford Prints!, was awarded $75,000 in June which she used to buy a letterpress printer and to pay 10 Hartford High School students. The students work nine hours a week at $10 an hour to make greeting cards, postcards and calendars.
Gale, who graduated from Hartford High in 1998, is not getting paid as part of the project, and is hoping that she can get funding for her own art. She works part time for her father's law practice. She would also like to extend her students' jobs through the summer.
The grants this time will be between $5,000 and $25,000. The money will go out by early June.
Joyce Bolaños, a TV producer for Telemundo, hopes to get funding for a film highlighting Hartford's architecture and local musicians. She did a "Dancing With the Stars"-type production with local dancers earlier this year that cost $6,000. She and a friend funded it from their own savings, and hadn't expected it to cost that much. None of the dancers nor the videographer was paid.
"I want to pay the musicians. I want to hire another videographer," she said. With $15,000, she could also buy time on cable, so it could have a wider audience than on the cable access channel. Her first film also premiered at Real Art Ways in Hartford.
Individual artists can receive grants only if they fall in the community development program's income guidelines — no more than $44,800 for single people — or if their project will add enough work hours for others to add up to 40 hours a week.
They also must live or work in Hartford.
That income level is no barrier for Hartford resident Andree Mills, 28. He works part time at Capital Community College, and only made $35 from dancing last year, when he won a break-dancing contest.
Mills wants to teach hip hop dance to young people, which he says gives them more than just a skill. "I teach to incorporate body and mind into one element," he said.
He's excited about the possibility of being selected. In June, 23 of 56 applicants were funded.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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