State of Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development/CT Office of the Arts

Funding Received: 2013
Multiple, CT
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
December 12, 2013

McLevy Hall the night of the launch event

The past month has illustrated many fruitful results of our previous efforts on our original concept/inception. We’ve worked on two signature projects simultaneously; the launch of historic McLevy Hall and State of Makers (SOM), a statewide marketing initiative to raise awareness throughout Connecticut of our top artisans’ and makers’ talents. SOM will showcase the history of makers throughout our state. Both programs realize our original mission to develop statewide creative/innovation networks.

SOM has created a network of Connecticut makers, offering resources for promotion, exhibition, and commerce and is working in four of our communities each with its unique showcase.

The Torrington Morrison’s Hardware Project has resulted in the formation of the Morrison’s Artist Collective; five creative businesses operating in and anchoring a rural placemaking hub where surrounding communities connect and share resources to help lift the profile of cultural offerings in their region.

Recent Wins
-- This Connecticut Post, front page article on CHN artist Roberto Martinez appeared three days before the launch event celebrating the repurposing of the historic McLevy Hall as a creative/innovation center and helped drive attendance for that event.

-- This article from the Torrington Register illustrates the evolution of Desultory Theater Club, one of the anchor tenants at Morrison’s Hardware. Founder Keith Paul is also the Creative Director of Morrison’s Hardware, helping program and organize the space as well, serving as the principle point of contact there for community building and prospective tenets.

-- CreateHereNow’s Margaret Bodell and Rod Frantz were interviewed on Bridgeport community radio station WPKN by station GM Steve Di Costanzo three days before the McLevy Hall launch event. WPKN is a partner with CHN in the ongoing activation of the Arcade Storefronts, another successful CHN pilot project.

The power of unlikely coalitions
Under the visionary leadership of Deputy Commissioner Kip Bergstrom, Department of Economic and Community Development, the State of Connecticut’s Historic Preservation Office has launched Historic Preservation/Arts Catalyze Placemaking (HP/ACP) grants to provide an historical basis and perspective on our state’s creative placemaking efforts. The City of Bridgeport won the pilot HP/ACP grant, enabling CreateHereNow to artistically tell the history of this building where Abraham Lincoln spoke in 1860, while taking office space in this centrally located, historic building at one end of Bridgeport’s McLevy Green. McLevy Green is the center of all downtown cultural and community activities and historic McLevy Hall has now become CHN and the states central place making head quarters. It is a gathering spot for statewide placemaking information exchanges and conferences, like the upcoming New Year, New Business sessions planned for January and beyond to educate our artists, new leaders and innovators about upcoming grant opportunities and sustainable business practices as well as learning their ideas about how we can continue the momentum that has clearly begun.

CreateHereNow joined with nationally celebrated Sustainable America and Millstone Farm to make the McLevy Hall reactivation an environmentally friendly event, right down to the last bite. Sustainable America’s interns instructed attendees in “three point” waste management, breaking down the evenings waste into solid waste, recyclables and food stuffs. Locally owned and operated Millstone Farm accepted all food scraps from the launch event with some of the leftovers being given to the farm's pigs and the rest composted to nourish and invigorate the farm's crops.

By planning the November 7th McLevy Hall launch event in coordination with the 5th Annual Bridgeport Art Trail, a city-wide event featuring open-studio receptions, demonstrations and art sales, CHN was able to leverage and compliment an existing event staged by our allies, City Lights Gallery and the Bridgeport Downtown Special Services District while bringing CHN artists from across the state and New York City to pollinate with Bridgeport artists and Art Trail attendees. All of the work in Bridgeport by the municipality, property owners and the DSSD are direct returns on investments originally made in the 1990’s to establish the artist community, Read’s Artspace building in the heart of downtown Bridgeport.

The McLevy Hall Launch Event on November 7th was electrifying, with more than 160 CHN artists coming together to celebrate the occasion in a monumental fashion. We feel that this exchange from the CHN Facebook site sums it up rather nicely:

Jason P Krug

Rod, I just wanted to thank you for the opportunity to bring The Grimm Generation to McLevy last night. It was one of most exciting gigs ever, surrounded by the light projections and art, good people, good friends and the occasional rock star. I cannot thank you enough and pledge that when you want us, we’re ready to go.


Jason, everyone who was there has been singing the praises of The Grimm Generation performance.

You can be assured that there will be more opportunities in the future. The overall event was just magical with artists from all over the state and the region coming together to breathe life into an old, nearly abandoned, historical building.

-- Roberto Martinez's timeline in an entire vault on the third floor was just awesome;
-- Ditto Robert S. Greenberg 's history installation artwork on the first floor; puppets and filmmakers, student artists and, MacDowell fellow/poet Charles Fort;
-- The always dazzling video artist Holly Danger;
-- Dustin DeMelio and Diana Ramos rocking the super projectors on the McLevy Green exterior side while composer Christopher Cavaliere and illumination artist Marcella Kurowski rocked the Broad Street exterior as da DA Mr;
-- Strolling, legendary folk artists Kath Bloom and Tom Hanford; and
-- Jamal Ford-Bey captivating the audiences at the third floor auditorium, followed by the dual performances of The Desultory Theater Club 's one act original play "Jumper" . . . I mean, who could ask for more???

Wait, someone wanted more . . . how about 80Design's intimate urban design environment on the second floor;

-- Bill Fischer’s amazing drum circle who were igniting so much energy that the fire department almost rolled out in response to reports of self combustion;
-- And local Downtown Rockers Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, and Kid Ginseng;
-- WPKN station manager Steve Di Costanzo; and
-- Placemaking, scene-maker Margaret Bodell and her wildly creative entourage who transformed a bleak, abandoned, historic building into a High Temple of Throbbing Artistic Funk, complete with candles in the windows.

But we saved the uniquely sublime Grimm Generation for the closing ceremony, as it were, and the level of consummate musicianship and the stunning lyrical composition and vocal delivery sent everyone out into the night with visions of greatness in their heads and love in their hearts.

We thank you and The Grimm Generation and all the artists on hand Thursday night for joining this creative uprising and leading it around the state. You are all always and forever welcome in the CreateHereNow tribe.

Rod Frantz


How can temporary activities have a permanent effect on place?
Unless temporary activities are part of a larger vision, they will not have a permanent effect. If we want our efforts to be transformative, we need to set our sights higher than simply "coalescing around a common goal for the place." We need a bold vision, not just a goal. The difference in the words is important. Goals are the language of management by objectives. Visions are the language of myth and soul, of stories that can change a place by leading people into the future. Goals tend to be mind numbing. Visions are blood stirring. Famed architect and Chicago World's Columbian Exposition Director Daniel Burnham once instructed the people of that city to, “Make no small plans!” Neither should we.

Because art is mobile, fast and comparatively inexpensive next to other economic development strategies, it has a unique role to play in accelerating progress towards a bold vision of place, by enabling folks to have an experience of the future in the present. A critical mass of art and artists can be popped-up overnight, giving a taste of what a place would be like if its full creative energies, the combined creative outpouring of all its inhabitants were unleashed. This inspires people to redouble their efforts to create such a future. Too often, artists transform dodgy places into funky, edgy places that are then discovered by developers with limited imagination, who then turn them into dull, generic chic places. Part of the problem is that we need a crop of better developers. Part of the problem is that we need to find ways to maintain a stock of cheap space that preserves diversity of people and uses. But the biggest problem is that we think of place as real estate, rather than as activity. To paraphrase Adam Michnik's famous formulation about democracy, a great place is not a noun; it's a verb. It’s a never-ending process, it's not something you have; it's something you make every day. We shouldn't be thinking about how to create permanent effects from temporary activity, but rather how to make a larger and richer flow of temporary activity. Temporary activity is not an instrument to some greater end; it is the end.

We are not building a structure; we are launching a movement.

Our new insight is actually several insights gleaned over time that we feel are co-joined. First, the current placemaking language needs to be reexamined and made more readily comprehensible for the man and woman on the street (i.e. the folks that live there). People understand loving their “place” and using that place’s existing assets—both built and talent—to better their community’s ability to become even more vibrant and attractive.

Second, we need to help educate our creatives and innovators about commercial real estate while teaching the importance of creating artist/innovator and municipal government dialogues.

Lastly, we have discovered a distinct lack of boldness on the part of many of our natural collaborators, who seem to favor a “maybe next year” approach to place making and have adopted “the fierce urgency of the week after next.” When did boldness go out of fashion? While our places that are embracing boldness are bounding ahead? Lack of funds should not impede placemaking efforts. Community creative fundraising strategies need to be initiated and creatives need to step up and lead this charge.