by Sabrina Shu
The Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts Program was pleased to partner with student volunteers from Trinity College’s “Arts in Action” class, taught by Dr. Rebecca Pappas. The students spent time learning about the CHS and volunteering at events from September to November this fall. As part of their class, they also wrote up some of their reflections on their experiences, which we share here. Thanks for all your help, Sabrina! –Kate
It all started in a beautiful autumn. The professor of my Arts in Action class told us to venture into one of the art organizations in Hartford in order to truly experience how art is used to change the local community. Among all the options given to us, my partners and I chose the Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts Program (CCHAP) at the Connecticut Historical Society as the organization to work with. It later turned out as a smart choice. My experience at the Connecticut Historical Society (CHS) was both rewarding and enjoyable. It had a warm and welcoming working atmosphere, a great instructor, while all the exhibitions and events it presented always taught me something new. I can say with much pride that I consider the Connecticut Historical Society a successful local art organization and a fantastic, informative place to work.
The Connecticut Historical Society is an organization dedicated to serving Connecticut residents. It hosts multiple fascinating events to educate the public about local history. The Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts Program makes connections with different cultural communities across the state, and can serve as a platform for local cultural artists to publicize their art works and communicate with their peers. CHS serves all citizens of Hartford from different cultural backgrounds: Caribbean, African American, Somalis, Asian American and so on. Anyone with an interest in culture and history can have fun at CHS due to its inclusive nature. This open attitude towards diversity is one of the reasons why CHS earned my respect. Based on what I learned from Susan Eaton’s book, Hartford has “[fallen] towards segregation” for quite a long time (Eaton 51). This is why the effort CCHAP puts in bringing this community together is so inspiring and motivating: it truly serves the needs of this city.
CHS has many beautiful historical exhibitions for them to visit, such as Connecticut during WWI, and the transformation of American homes through history and early American History. All the exhibitions in CHS provide people an immersive experience. For example, CHS created many “typical American houses” based on different eras. One can walk into these houses and imagine themselves as the resident of these places, and play with the furniture and decorations inside these houses. This design allows visitors to participate in the exhibition in an immersive way and learn about unique history while having fun.
For local cultural communities, CHS can be a great platform for them to introduce their creations to the public and their peers. CCHAP works with different communities on projects. One example is Mas Camp, a partnership with the local West Indian community where local high school students get paid for making beautiful costumes with the guidance of experienced artists. The costumes they made were presented in public to all Hartford citizens at the West Indian Independence Day Celebration. Moreover, at events like Open Studio Hartford, folk and traditional artists get the chance to talk to both the visitors and their peers about their creations and even sell their art works to the guests. From historical exhibitions to art events, CHS provides countless opportunities to the Hartford community to learn about local history and cultural art forms. Just like what William Cleveland said in his “Arts-based Community Development,” CHS “buil[t] and improve[d] [the] community capacity” through its exhibitions and cultural events (Cleveland 4). It is like a bridge between the public and the artist community, an opening space for people to bond with each other. Even though visitors and artists all come from different regions and backgrounds, by talking about art, a sense of community is created.
It was a great fortune for me to work for the Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts Program at CHS, primarily because of its supportive and responsible working atmosphere. CHS holds an open and cooperative attitude towards all of its volunteers. For instance, when I was working at the Open Studio Hartford event, I saw the milk pot went empty in the afternoon. When the manager of the CHS passed by, I informed her about this situation. Without any hesitation, she went to the kitchen and brought back a new pot of milk to the table. It seems like one small interlude of the event, but for me, it shows that CHS is never about a “boss – servant” relationship. All of my co-workers listened to my advice with great patience and their full attention. None would underestimate my suggestions for being an insignificant volunteer. This reminds me of the strength of collaboration mentioned in Adrienne M. Brown’s Emergent Strategy: “the stronger the bond between the people or groups in collaboration, the more possibility you can hold” (Brown 159). The collaborative attitude CHS held created a great bond among its workers, which makes volunteers like me want to work even harder for the CHS – not because the school demanded me to do so, but because I fell in love with the community.
Moreover, working for the Connecticut Historical Society taught me to be a better organization-runner. The director of CCHAP, Kate Schramm, was a great mentor and instructor to me. She was always there to answer my questions about CHS and to share her experience of arranging the organization with me. I never felt lost or confused while I was working in the CHS, for Kate always provided sufficient instructions to help me get on my way. Kate not only shared her successful experiences with us but also mentioned the trial and error she encountered hosting different events. While we were preparing for the Day of the Dead event, she told us about one accident she faced in the past week: the food truck company CHS worked with before met some sudden mishaps, which forced CCHAP to find a new food truck only two days before the event. While Kate was describing this situation, she did not say it with anger and sorrow, but a positive attitude dedicated to solving the problem. Her experience inspired me later on while I was hosting a reading conference by myself. Even though a couple of accidents happened during the activity, I stayed calm and successfully conquered them. Kate’s experience provides me with the ability to deal with crashes with grace and confidence. By volunteering for the CHS, I learned how to face accidents with a calm and positive attitude. I have become a better art activist because of CHS.
In conclusion, working with the Connecticut Historical Society is indeed a lovely experience. The Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts Program at CHS does a great job as the platform for both the Hartford residents and the local heritage artist community. It is a great place for communication between artists, outreach for potential art resources, and education of future artists. The working experience is refreshing and enlightening. Working at CHS makes me believes that it has the potential to become one of the most influential art platforms in the Hartford area, a place where people can be united. I would recommend anyone who is interested in knowing more about Connecticut history and local artworks to visit, even work for the CHS. For it is the kind of community that you can proudly call home.
Brown, Adrienne M. Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. AK press. 2017.
Cleveland, William. “Arts-based Community Development: Mapping the Terrain,” A Working Guide to the Landscape of Arts for Change. https://animatingdemocracy.org/resource/arts-based-community-development-mapping-terrain. Accessed November 27, 2018.
Eaton, Susan. The Children in Room E4. Algonquin Books. 2009.