WINSTED — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D) spoke with representatives of various arts organizations at a roundtable discussion on Friday, Oct. 11 at the American Mural Project (AMP).
Included in the discussion held at AMP were AMP founder Ellen Griesedieck, state Rep. Michelle Cook (D-65), state Rep. Maria Horn (D-64), Connecticut Alliance for Arts Education Executive Director John Prins, Northwest Connecticut Chamber of Commerce President JoAnn Ryan, Infinity Hall Director of Business Development Carrie Hammond and Warner Theater Executive Director Lynn Gelormino.
“I think we are a far bigger economic boost for the state than people realize,” Gelormino said in an interview with The Winsted Phoenix before the roundtable discussion. “The nonprofit arts organizations we have in the state are a big boost to Connecticut. Despite this, both state and federal funding continues decreased or kept at level or decreased.”
Gelormino said that the Warner Theater has been a big boost to downtown Torrington’s economy.
“In the past year we have had two restaurants open on Main Street,” she said. “I think that has a lot to do with the Warner, the Nutmeg Conservatory and the Five Points Gallery, along with other galleries opening up. These arts businesses lend to young people coming in and putting feet on the streets.”
“Arts draws so many people to the region,” Ryan said in an interview before the meeting. “It is so vital to our lives. There are so many talented artists in the region, but it should be treated as a business. Funding is a concern for these organizations and we are keeping our eyes on that. We should all work together to make a change. We have to collaborate because we know how challenging the economy is. We want to make sure our leaders see the value in the arts and how the arts benefit our residents.”
At the beginning of the roundtable, Murphy complemented both Griesedieck and AMP.
“AMP is my most favorite project in the state of Connecticut, but don’t tell anyone I said that,” Murphy said. “I have been a believer from the very beginning that AMP is not only a good thing for Winsted, but it is transformational for everyone who gets to come here. I am a believer in art and the initiative of art changing people’s lives.”
During the roundtable, ideas were discussed on how the various arts groups can collaborate and supporting arts education in schools.
“Education is where it all begins when it comes to the direction where a child’s life takes,” Murphy said. “There are different ways to incorporate arts education. We do have some opportunities now because No Child Behind has been repealed. We have taken off the very strict requirements that schools have to follow in different subjects and how students are measured in school performance. That’s a challenge and an opportunity.”
As for funding for the arts, in an interview after the meeting, Murphy said obtaining federal funding for the arts is difficult.
“We spend so much money on defense programs and social insurance programs, so then there’s nothing left over for funds from Washington,” Murphy said. “To me, arts are our past, present, and future. In Connecticut, we have 10,000 businesses that are connected to the arts that have created a $9 billion economy. We need to put more public resources into the arts and we also need to be encouraging our schools to collaborate more with all the great artistic resources we have in the state.”
During the discussion, Griesedieck emphasized the need for collaboration and awareness of the arts in the state.
“The biggest thing we have here is that everybody counts and we all need to work together to find our best stuff to make everything go forward because we are stronger together than we are apart,” Griesedieck said. “No one is quite aware of this yet, but in Connecticut, we are an economic driver. Together, we can do things that we never even thought to be possible.”
AMP will be holding its Open Mill Days on Saturday, Oct. 19 and Sunday, Oct. 20 for visitors to show its mural installation progress.
Staff led tours will be held on both days from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
To register for the event go to www.americanmuralproject.org/events/