by Nat Bush
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, Nat! –Kate
The Connecticut Historical Society is a lot more complicated of an organization than I had originally assumed. What I mean by that is there is a lot more happening than just exhibits about American, particularly Connecticut, history. On the second floor of the museum, there is a temporary exhibit for WWI and Connecticut history, but on the first floor, there is a regularly changing exhibit done in partnership with organizations around the state to provide the community with insight into a specific cultural practice that is practiced by some members of the Greater Hartford region. This fall there was an exhibit for Mas, the costumes used in the West Indian Independence Day Celebration that was held in Hartford this past summer. I had no idea this festival existed until I had the opportunity to check out this exhibit, and I was impressed by the fact that the intricate and bright feathery costumes were designed primarily by students. It showed me that even high school students can design something artistic and unique – one does not need to be a professional artist to make art.
In addition, CHS holds free events that are open for the community to also provide a better understanding of specific cultures, which are organized through CHS’s Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts Program (CCHAP). For example, I had the opportunity to volunteer at their Day of the Dead event in October and Open Studio Hartford at the beginning of November. At the Day of the Dead event,visitors made papel picado, got face paint, made sugar cookies, drew skulls,and an entire room was dedicated to ofrendas. The Open Studio Hartford was an event where artists in the Hartford region were able to teach the community how to be artists with their own unique techniques, and they had their artwork for sale. Open Studio Hartford is a citywide event that has organizations host artists who don’t have studios, and CHS was one of these organizations. In addition, the Sewing Circle Project, organized by the former director of CCHAP, Lynne Williamson, made an appearance with their work. Lynne described her experience with the project to me at the beginning of my time volunteering at CHS, but it was truly something special to meet the participants in person. Each individual comes from a different country in Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. The Sewing Circle brought them together with their shared expertise with weaving and sewing in a way stronger than words ever could, and I was humbled to be introduced to them.
My perspective on historical societies has been broadened and I now have a greater appreciation for organizations such as CHS. In my class at Trinity College, Arts in Action, we discuss how important the arts are for community involvement. Even if an individual doesn’t consider themself to be an artist, there are plenty of opportunities for them to learn and to gain confidence in their capabilities. At the Day of the Dead event, one did not have to be an artist to enjoy themself and learn more about the festival. Children were encouraged to cut out paper picado, which only required some creative and unique cuts into a piece of paper. The end result still made them excited and inspired. The children looked at each other’s work and got more ideas on how to make their own designs. They also shared ideas for what to get for their face-painted designs. They came to the event as complete strangers but left with a greater sense of community.
As a volunteer for CCHAP, I had a fantastic time meeting the people in charge of making events such as Day of the Dead happen. I had the opportunity to sit in on a few organizational meetings, and it was incredible how just a few people could then bring together dozens of volunteers who gave their own insight into how to improve the event. It brought a smile to my face to give out the sugar cookies to kids and to explain what the purpose of decorating them was. Just knowing the fact that Kate Schramm, the recently designated director of CCCHAP, came all the way from Indiana to become the spearheader of the program says a lot about how well-established is the program is. Although my semester is almost over, and with that my time at CHS, I certainly am excited to come back to CHS to see what other inspiring events will be taking place.
In my class, we also have discussed the challenges that Trinity has with its involvement in the Hartford community. Students feel discouraged from using their free city bus pass because they feel that Hartford is not safe to explore. Personally, I have never felt this way, because I am aware of all of the great opportunities that Hartford has to offer. Downtown Hartford is full of small shops, restaurants, and it is next to the Riverfront Park and the Connecticut Science Museum. CHS is another prime example of the great services that the city provides. If a student has a bit of downtime on a Saturday afternoon, CHS provides informative and fun resources that they can learn from. With the city bus pass, it is also possible for them to get to the center in less than a half an hour with zero cost.
One main thing that I can take away from my time volunteering with CCHAP is that it really is important and fulfilling to be involved in the community. Every single person has a story to tell about how they grew up and how their culture influences their daily living. Learning about everyone’s uniqueness brings joy and individuality to our lives. Taking time out of one’s weekend to attend an event or visit an exhibit such as the ones hosted at CHS is a fantastic way to remember all the great things that a community has to offer.