These two notions both have notoriously elastic definitions. Perhaps the best description comes from the mid-century Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. He didn’t try to define it, but he said “I know it when I see it.” (He was talking about obscenity, but the same principle applies.) Embedded in that notion, then, is the fact that a central component of what makes a given town an artsy place is how it makes us feel.
How many times can we say it? New Haven is the hub for much of the artistic creation that goes on in the state. There are art galleries galore, including a pair of world-class ones. You want to see up-and-coming local artists? Try Artspace or the Giampietro Gallery. You want ancient frescoes? Get to the Yale University Art Galleries. Catch a play at the Yale Rep or Long Wharf. There are plenty of underground music venues that you’ll have to keep your ear to the ground for. What’s more, the city government appreciates the art created here. The City-Wide Open Studios is a perfect example, which has programs throughout the end of October and early November. And for the kids, the Connecticut Children’s Museum in the Town Green District offers hands-on learning.
New rule: if you think Hartford isn’t interesting, it’s because you haven’t tried. We are sorry to be so blunt about it, but we must be. The birth of Modernism in America, many have contended, happened at the Wadsworth Atheneum in the 1920s and 1930s under the curation of Chick Austin, who put on the first American exhibition of Pablo Picasso. Today’s Chick Austins might be DJing at block parties in Parkville, rapping at the Hip-Hop for the Homeless festival, catching art-house films at Cinestudio, or writing and directing local theater at the Hartbeat Ensemble.
The Quiet Corner has a few towns that are not so quiet. Putnam is certainly one of them. It’s the kind of place that would take a nondescript staircase between two parking lots, and commission a muralist to paint it. Why? To make people feel a certain way. Open-mic nights at Charlie Bravo’s, the First Fridays downtown festivals throughout the spring, and a film discussion series at the Woodstock Academy all achieve the same goal.
It takes a particular type of orientation toward culture to foster and support a place like East Haddam’s Two Wrasslin’ Cats, which is a wildly unique and fascinating coffee shop, featuring local artists’ work on the walls and fostering the sense of interaction one needs for the creation of culture. The Goodspeed Opera House nearby is also one of the premier venues for theater in the state, historic and regal with few peers.
Who knows when the first New Yorker — in love with the cultural offerings in New York City but not in love with the pace of city life — moved to the Litchfield Hills and created a little arts haven. Washington is as good an example of any of the kind of high-culture mixture of arts galleries, museums and performing arts that defines this part of the state.
Hard Hittin’ New Britain is the kind of place that doesn’t really need any pats on the back from people at magazines or newspapers or tourist promotional councils. It’s quite comfortable in its own skin, and its arts-and-culture scene reflects that. Catch an open-mic night at the Artists Co-op, or a concert at the New Britain Symphony Orchestra. The New Britain Museum of American Art is a gem of a museum, and on Nov. 9 will open a new exhibition of Ghanaian movie posters.
What is it about Old Lyme that led it to become one of the most important sites of American Impressionist painting? What motivated Walker Evans, one of the most important American photographers of the 20th century, to spend the autumn years of his life in Old Lyme? The town has long been an artists’ colony, and Nutmeggers would do well to keep an eye on the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts for the visual arts. The town also boasts the Side Door, one of the best jazz clubs in Connecticut, if not New England.
The Quiet Corner’s biggest town is often overlooked, but there’s a world of grassroots art and culture along Willimantic’s streets. Every summer it plays host to one of the most unique, colorful and distinctive cultural events in the state: the annual July 4th Boombox Parade. Finding itself without a marching band back in the 1980s, locals brought their radios, and tuned into WILI-1400, which supplied the music. It has continued every year since, and exemplifies the type of unique quirky attitude of the town.