A tapestry is a cloth woven with rich, often multicolored design. Selection of the Charter Oak Cultural Center as this year's recipient of The Hartford Courant's eighth annual Tapestry Award recognizes the rich and complex weave of cultures, traditions, ethnicities, religions, ages and genders Charter Oak brings together in the heart of Hartford and presents through the arts.
The Courant's Tapestry Award honors and celebrates an organization that excels at building bridges of understanding and, by valuing our differences, enables us to become a better community.
The Charter Oak Cultural Center delivers on that ideal every day of the year. Under the passionate leadership of Executive Director Donna Berman, the center has become a place where the understanding of people and the cultures they represent is welcomed, celebrated and shared with the community through the arts.
The arts are the vehicle through which the center delivers its mission of social justice, shared humanity and mutual respect. It provides access to the arts for all people without discrimination and believes that through the arts — especially when presented with love and connection, with warmth and heart — we all can become more fully alive. We see the possibilities within ourselves, within others and in the world around us.
Ms. Berman was having a meeting at the center one afternoon and heard the sound of rocks pelting the windows. She went outside and saw several young boys running away. She called to them and said, "Hey, you can't throw rocks at our windows. It's not OK. But would you like to come in and have some cookies? I'll show you around and you can see the building and the cool stuff we do here and I bet you won't want to throw rocks at it again."
One of the boys ran away, but two of the boys went inside and had cookies and looked around. Donna told them about the after-school dance class and they just rolled their eyes. But since then, one of those boys goes to the center every day and has joined the dance class. And each afternoon when he arrives, this 12-year-old boy, this rock-thrower, goes into Donna's office to give her a hug — every day.
Charter Oak Cultural Center provides the residents of its neighborhood, the Greater Hartford area and the state with the opportunity to learn, celebrate and understand a diversity of cultures through its many dynamic programs. The center enriches life in Hartford with thought-provoking art exhibits in its two gallery spaces and hosts the only Spanish language theater series in New England.
Learning to Repair the World is a program that brings together Jewish, Christian and Muslim young adults to learn from and about each other through a series of community building projects. The center supports a resident dance education and performance ensemble, Spectrum In Motion, along with Hartford's seven other professional dance companies.
There are films, lectures, readings and exhibits that deal with the burning issues of our day. The center currently has a life-size replica of the Anne Frank Secret Annex which has been toured by hundreds of visitors. Charter Oak's dynamic after-school arts program includes classes in world dance, drawing/painting and hip hop. These programs give more than 450 Hartford-area school children a safe and nurturing place for exposure to and participation in the arts, and it is all provided free of charge.
Under the criteria used by The Courant in judging the qualifications of Tapestry Award recipients, the winner needs to value the differences in people, excel in initiating, promoting or championing efforts to encourage diversity, develop programs that bring together residents throughout the region and collaborate on projects that result in building a common ground for people from all walks of life.
The Charter Oak Cultural Center meets and exceeds all of these criteria. Charter Oak is more than an arts center. It is a vehicle for changing the world — one adult, one child, one performance, one lecture, one film, one exhibit at a time.
You can sample the center's richly woven offerings ( www.charteroakcenter.org) and maybe you, too, will be moved and changed by the magic that is Charter Oak.
Kathy Binder of West Hartford nominated the Charter Oak Cultural Center for The Courant's Tapestry Award.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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