A proposal to support the formation of a regional arts council was tabled by the Finance Committee on Monday due to concerns over a lack of input from New London cultural institutions and similar organizations in nearby towns.
The committee voted 3-2 to table the matter pending feedback from several southeastern Connecticut towns that are not currently represented by a regional cultural collaborative. A motion by the committee’s chairman, Rob Pero, to support the arts council by offering $1,000, seeking $3,000 from the Northeastern Council of Governments, and asking regional towns to also contribute $1,000 initially passed 3-2. However, it was overturned when Mayor Martin Olsen asked to reconsider his vote.
The meeting followed a 1 p.m. gathering at , which was called following a recent City Council decision to begin discussions with the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism regarding the possible formation of a regional arts council. John Cusano, community development coordinator with the state commission, said such arts councils act as a sort of extension of the commission to promote the attractions of an area and streamline the operations of individual organizations.
Cusano said the councils include a wide variety of creative cultural locales, are engaged in cultural decisions and policymaking, and do not compete with one another. They may also participate in the Local Arts Agency Cultural Leadership Program, a grant-funded initiative to coordinate relationships between local groups and the commission and strengthen relationships between groups.
Cusano said the arts council could apply for a $6,000 grant, which would have to be matched in full. A second phase grant would allow for $5,000, which would also have to be matched.
Cusano said there are no cultural networks currently in place in southeastern Connecticut.
“Given the amount of activity that comes out of this little place called New London, it’s amazing that there’s no organization to even help coordinate,” said Cusano.
Ryan Odinak, executive director of the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County, said at the Hygienic meeting that over 200 cultural organizations are included in the group. Its activities include FCBuzz.org, a website about things to do in the Fairfield County region; a radio partnership; bundled marketing initiatives to get lower rates; and professional development workshops.
“You’re actually participating in the success of the organization,” she said.
Cusano said he would recommend an assessment of cultural institutes in the New London region, ranging from choral groups to museums, as well as coordination with other groups. He said a regional collaborative would help to energize the area and promote it to residents and visitors.
Vincent Scarano, president of Hygienic Art, said the gallery is already acting as a “de facto” collaborative by bringing together various types of artists from New London and the region to display or perform at the Bank Street location.
“It’s truly a grassroots movement, because if it wasn’t for the artists and the community this place wouldn’t exist,” said Scarano.
Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, said a thriving cultural scene is essential for community development.
“Don’t make any mistake about it: this is economic development in the truest sense of the word,” he said.
The Hygienic meeting included dozens of people attending from places such as the , , , the , the , the , and the Eugene O’Neill Theater in Waterford. However, none of the attendees at that meeting attended the finance committee meeting aside from New London resident Joseph Celli.
“It seemed to be that the leadership of the major cultural institutions in town thought this was a really good idea,” said Celli.
Councilor Michael Buscetto III said he was reluctant to support Pero’s motion since he was unable to attend the Hygienic meeting and had not heard from any representatives of the cultural institutions in New London or other towns in the region.
“Before you put money up for a regional effort, I think you should get the regional support,” said Buscetto.
Pero said the City Council had previously approved discussions on an arts council, and that the item would have to go before the full City Council for further discussion before it could be put in place. Councilor Adam Sprecace said Pero’s motion would not commit $1,000 to the arts council right away, but was meant as a gesture to show that the city would be willing to contribute toward matching the grant.
“We can’t spend this money without getting the other $5,000,” said Sprecace.
Buscetto said he supported the idea of the arts council, but felt the matter should have gone to the committee before the community meeting at Hygienic Art was held.
“I think all of the towns should have been invited, and if they had shown up that would have been a sign of commitment,” he said.
Following Olsen’s request to reconsider the approval of Pero’s motion, Olsen asked to table the question. He was joined by Buscetto and Councilor Wade Hyslop, Jr. in the 3-2 vote supporting his motion, and opposed by Pero and Sprecace.