176. Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism Gallery

What’s the Real Mission of This Commission?
(Google Maps location – Welcome to Hartford. We don’t do “addresses” at Const. Plaza)
July 28, 2010

jI’ve now been to two exhibits at the CCT gallery in downtown Hartford and both have been very well curated and absolutely interesting. I cannot be more positive about that. And we’ll get to them in a little bit. Please indulge me for a few minutes and allow me to discuss our fine state’s “Commission on Culture and Tourism.”

Now, it will not shock regular CTMQ readers that yours truly and this very blog you’re reading has been lauded on more than one occasion with something along the lines of, “Steve, you put those [CCT] people to shame. The state should be paying you.” Regular readers (and real-life friends) know that I’m not one to toot my own horn regarding CTMQ, but I’ve heard this type of semi-backhanded compliment now too many times to count.

I’m just thankful that we still have a CCT. I think their Open House Day is a great program (which has, sadly, become slightly more weighted towards commercial ventures over actual museums) and heck, every state needs an entity to promote its inherent worthiness.

176a“The Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism (CCT) was created in 2003 by the Connecticut General Assembly to bring together arts, historic preservation, and tourism. Its mission is to preserve and promote Connecticut’s cultural and tourism assets in order to enhance the quality of life and economic vitality of the State.”

Sounds grand. Quick question: When was the last time you heard about a CCT promotion? Picked up a CCT-branded brochure? Heard or saw an ad somewhere tagged with the CCT? Yeah, that’s what I thought. And here’s my favorite part of all: [The CCT has removed the page I had linked here with the giant staff listing.] And here is the CTMQ Staff Listing.

Actually, I think this (below) is my favorite part:

In 2008, The CCT Executive Director made $118,450.15.
From 2006-2010, The Executive Director of CTMQ made $0 (from CTMQ).
In 2008, the CCT Arts Administrative Assistant made $62,313.23.
From 2006-2010, The guy who designed CTMQ (my brother) made $0 (from CTMQ).

176bThere are about 40 state employees at the CCT. CTMQ is just me. (By the way, you too can find out how unbelievably overpaid many of our state employees are here as if you didn’t know.) That’s the price they pay for stealing money from us, the taxpayers: Jerks like me can post their names and salaries on my little blog for which I get paid nothing but compliments every once in a while. Ha.

“The Commission strives to develop and enhance opportunities for collaboration, coordination and growth in the arts, historic preservation, and tourism. The Commission devotes its resources to serving Connecticut’s cultural institutions and organization and individuals through funding, technical assistance, and promotion. The Commission works to enhance and preserve our historical and cultural resources and to strengthen our organizations and institutions to be economic contributors and to exist into the future.”

Oh I see. They strive to do that stuff. As long as they’re striving, and others (like me) are actually doing, I guess it’s okay. Now, lest you think this is all sour grapes, it’s not. I’ve never once thought about making a dime from CTMQ – notice no ads or begging from me. It’s a hobby and it’s fun. If it were a job, it probably 176dwouldn’t be so fun. Heck I pay for the URL, the server space, museum entrance fees, the food I eat, the camera to take the pictures, the gas to get where I’m going, etc.

My argument here is that while I know the CCT does important work behind the scenes, they really have little to show for it. I can guarandamntee you that I could get the whole lot of ‘em in a room and ask about some of the most important cultural sites and events around the state and I’d only hear crickets. (And not cricket like at the Cricket Hall of Fame in Hartford’s northend amidst the vibrant West Indian community there, because they probably don’t know about that.) Mark Twain! Mystic! Wasdworth! Beyond that, I’m not sure they have any clue. And with the Director and the Admin making $180 grand with awesome health benefits and an honest to goodness pension, you’d think they should have a little more to show.

Or maybe it’s just me. I guess I won’t be getting a job there anytime soon. Which stinks, because it seems like a pretty awesome place to hang out… er, I mean… Work.


(And it’s not “just me,” as many people have lamented the lack of awareness at the CCT and at the state government level. Remember the “Staycation” campaign? And remember how a mere two weeks after the last Staycation promotion Governor Rell announced that several state parks would have to close and when that didn’t fly, they decided to raise the state park entrance fees by 100%? Yeah, good times.)

Listen, I know that I personally benefit from various CCT efforts and that much of their effort lies in grant writing – and often thankless pursuit. But I also know that they don’t need 40 paid employees to do what they do and I know that their website is often out-of-date and even when it’s not, it’s very difficult to navigate and make sense of.

176eOkay, rant over. Let’s get to what they do right: Their downtown gallery.

“The Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism’s Gallery is dedicated to promoting cultural enrichment and visual understanding of the Commission and its constituent organizations. The gallery features changing exhibitions that support the mission of CCT and directly relate to programs within the agency. The CCT Gallery is located at One Constitution Plaza, 2nd Floor, Hartford, and is open to the public Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed state holidays and between exhibitions. ”

Admirable. And the gallery space is really very nice. But – you didn’t think I was done complaining, did you? – it’s very difficult to get to. You have to pay for parking and then navigate the absurdity of Constitution Plaza/Place and give a ton of info to the guard, etc. The gallery is also right next to the cubicles of the CCT staff, which is sort of weird but not too bad.

176fThe CTMQ family went to a gallery opening in May 2009 for the exhibit entitled, “Living Modern in New Canaan.” Hoang and I love the Harvard Five and the New Canaan modernist movement. Of course there’s Philip Johnson’s Glass House (CTMQ’s Visit here), but beyond that, there are many, many more. And preservationists are finally realizing that they are worth protecting and promoting.

Somehow, I deleted the pictures from the exhibition. That stinks because there were some good ones of Damian eating grapes and cheese while pontification the form and function of the various glass and steel homes. “I love running around naked,” he was thinking, “I wonder if Mama would care with all the world being able to see?” With a glance towards his beautiful mama he concluded, “And what about her? She loves going native too!”

” New Canaan became a popular center of experimental Modern residential design after a group of architects from Harvard University, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, John Johansen, Eliot Noyes, and Philip Johnson – the “Harvard Five” – chose the town as the location to build their Modern-style homes in the late 1940s. Hallmarks of their designs included open plans, generous expanses of glass, and an emphasis on horizontality.

By the end of 1952, more than 30 Modern houses were constructed throughout New Canaan. The properties caused a nationwide sensation after the completion of Johnson’s Glass House and participation in a series of Modern House tours. The tours attracted a second wave of architects and by the end of the 1970s, more than 100 Modern houses made New Canaan home.

The Living Modern in New Canaan exhibit at the CCT Gallery displayed photos, building materials, architectural models, period magazines, furniture and film clips.”

176hIt was really cool and very well done. I wish I had the pictures. (Incidentally, the Westport Historical Society had a very similar exhibit in 2010 all about Westport’s moderns, which we also checked out.) Also cool were a series of “lunchtime walking tours” of Hartford’s modernist buildings. Unfortunately, I never made it to one of the actual tours, but I got the handsome brochure and will be doing the tour on my own sometime and writing about it here. (Alas, one of the buildings on the tour is now demolished – the awful, awful southern end of Constitution Plaza where Channel 3 used to be.)

“… Guides from the Hartford Preservation Alliance will conduct a walking tour of Hartford’s Modern Architecture landmarks, including Constitution Plaza, Hartford Stage and the Phoenix Building.” Sigh. Oh well.

Flash forward 14 months to July 2010 and my recent visit to the CCT Gallery. I wanted to get down there for the exhibition on display – entitled “CHANGE.” The exhibit showcases the creativity and talent of Connecticut artists with disabilities and was organized in response to the desire of Connecticut artists with disabilities to have an opportunity to showcase their work. The exhibit will be fully accessible to artists and visitors, regardless of abilities.

(For those of you who aren’t aware, my son Damian has a very rare genetic disorder called Smith-Magenis Syndrome, so these types of things hit home. You can learn more about him by checking out the Damian tab at the top of the page.)

176gDamian (at four years old currently) shows no propensity for art. In fact, he’s pretty a pretty terrible painter. But he’s got time to learn. (Drumming, however, appears to be his calling.) I’ve had the pleasure of meeting one of Connecticut’s best autistic artists and his mom in Ben Carroll over at the Charter Oak Cultural Center gallery (CTMQ Visit here). I really like his paintings and urge you to check them out and maybe even purchase one or two. Seriously, check his stuff out. Damian has a few Ben Carroll’s hanging in his bedroom and he loves them.

This is a real art exhibit featuring 18 real artists. It was juried by real people who jury real art exhibits. These artists have real abilities – certainly beyond mine. Nowhere at the exhibit, online or in the literature I scooped up is the individual disability noted. I totally understand why; these folks are artists with a disability, not disabled people who paint. But still, a part of me is very curious what each struggles with and how, if at all, it affects their art directly. I found that four have websites, so I can learn a bit about them at least.

176iBen wasn’t featured in the CCT exhibit, however. Although, one artist who was – Kerri Quirk of Willimantic – paints very similar scenes in a very similar style. I just looked her up and she is also autistic and has her very own gallery! Perhaps I’ll stop in some day. I’ll link most stuff I find on these artists at the bottom, but Kerri’s bio is definitely worth a read. I enjoyed her bright paintings of cheetahs and a butterfly.

As I’ve mentioned, the main gallery is nice. Huge floor to ceiling windows grace two sides of the space and the ceiling is very high. It seems to me that this group of artists is drawn to bright colors far more than the typical mopey dourness of typical hipster artists. And while I can certainly appreciate dourness, I found the bright paintings a wonderful counterpoint to some of the issues the artists endure. One of the 18, at least, holds art degrees but has suffered a stroke. He (Ken Morgan), now works with computers and produces some really cool, very clear pictures of looping wires and cascading strings.

176yWhile I couldn’t pick a favorite (and really wouldn’t even want to), I was particularly drawn to the work of Todd Carboni. His art reminded me of some of the old Weston Woods cartoons Damian likes to watch, with the heavy black framing of the objects and the slightly wobbly lines. I love Carboni’s work.

Another one that stood out was Kristen Dockendorff’s “Crazy Ladies Having Tea.” I think her style is really cool; sort of Francis Baconesque, but anyone with (perhaps, I’m merely guessing) a disability that some may call “crazy” who can name a painting “Crazy Ladies” is probably wonderfully self-aware.

I really enjoyed the show. It’s on at the CCT Gallery through August 20, 2010 and then it moves on to the Cornwall Public Library in November and then the Fairfield Arts Council Gallery in January and February 2011. You should check it out.

There are actually two other sections of the CCT Gallery. The first, along a wall in the same general area of the rotating gallery focuses on a Connecticut Artist. Just three works hung here during my visit and I can’t tell you anything about it other than it was dark and dreary and fulfilled my expectations of an art gallery.

The second, called “The Runway” according to the lovely receptionist who greeted me, is a permanent exhibit of all different mediums from sculpture to paintings. Half of them didn’t even tell me who the artist was and none of them, save one or two, put the work into any sort of context. Oh well… While a few of The Runway’s wings took me to CCT meeting rooms and offices, apparently no one was meeting or working during my visit (A Wednesday morning at 9:10 AM), so I didn’t feel intrusive.

Here’s a nice painting of a bunch of Wassily Chairs which I snapped a shot of because…


… Because we have one in our humble abode. It’s actually become Damian’s “Trouble Chair” where he must serve his time-outs. Punk.


And lastly, speaking of chairs, the lobby of One Constitution Plaza (where the Gallery is located on the 2nd Floor), has eight pristine Barcelona Chairs. I sat in one to determine its authenticity and found the KnollStudio Mies Van Der Rohe stamp on the chrome stem. These bad boys cost about seven grand each. I’m quite sure the guard there has no idea he’s sitting near $56,000 worth of chairs.



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Cost: Free! (paid for by your taxes)
Hours: M-F, 9-5
Food & Drink? There’s a Jo-Jo’s conveniently located on the ground floor.
Children? Yes, it’s quick.
You’ll like it if: You like to get everything back from your tax dollars that you can
You won’t like it if: You see too many CCT employees lazing about
Freebies: None. Not even parking.

For the Curious:

CT Culture and Tourism Gallery
New Canaan Moderns Survey
Kerri Quirk
Kerri Quirk on TV!
Vito Bonanno
Bernard M. Lynch Jr.
Ken Morgan

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