After a year of working behind the scenes to help arts and cultural organizations devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition has appointed an arts and culture coordinator for Norwich and is working with Norwich and other municipalities to administer funding for the American Rescue Plan Act. .
Executive Director Wendy Bury said when ARPA’s funding was first announced, the Cultural Coalition appealed to city leaders saying: Don’t forget the arts and culture.
The Cultural Coalition – with full-time staff from Bury and Deputy Director Deb Mathiasen – then shared some ideas on what to do with the funding, like commissioning artists to make public art.
Bury said some city leaders responded to him and they were unsure if they would be the best people to decide where the money should go. Cities have allocated funds for social services and parks and recreation services, but do not have arts and culture services.
Thus, the Cultural Coalition proposed to intervene, whether it be to administer a subsidy for remuneration program, to carry out project management or to take on a larger and more personalized role.
A few municipalities have collectively accepted the coalition on all the offers.
But Norwich is a “much bigger animal” than the rest, Bury said: City council in September approved the $ 500,000 allocation of the first year of the city’s $ 14.4 million ARPA grant. to the Cultural Coalition.
“Norwich’s Biggest Money is meant to have a more transformative impact, so our goal has never been to be a small, short-term relief fund just to give people money to help. to play the bills, ”Bury said, although that could be part of it.
Sarbani Hazra started as Norwich Arts and Culture Coordinator, a two-year part-time contract position. Of the $ 500,000, Bury said, $ 75,000 goes to Hazra’s post and $ 25,000 is the administrative costs of the Cultural Coalition. Another $ 300,000 will go to a grant program, with $ 100,000 for marketing or flexible funding, if more is needed for grants.
Hazra, 39, grew up in New Jersey and has since lived and worked in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. She was a Fellow Fellow at Barnard College in New York, then Deputy Director of the Center for India and South Asia at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has also done theater, writing and television production.
Hazra said she moved to Southeast Connecticut about six years ago, when her husband worked at Pfizer. She lives in Waterford.
She has past experience with the Cultural Coalition because the organization helped fund her play “The Shadow of Merle”, loosely based on the life of late actress Merle Oberon. She has performed locally with Emerson Theater Collaborative and Lantern Light Tours at the Mystic Seaport Museum.
Hazra was also communications director for Baird Welch-Collins’ 2020 campaign, who ran against State Representative Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford.
Bury said Hazra’s first task in her new role was to raise awareness, as the coalition “doesn’t just want to give money to well-known organizations,” but to make sure there is fairness.
“I think one of the main things about this job that really appealed to me was how quickly they were looking to distribute the funds in the most equitable way, and also provide support to people of color,” he said. said Hazra. She said she is excited to work with artists and organizations she knows and to discover new ones.
Bury said one area the Cultural Coalition described for Norwich is in arts-based beautification projects, such as facade improvements and public art, while another improves the perception of Norwich and markets the city.
The Cultural Coalition organized round tables every two weeks in September, October and November.
Bury said attendees included Artreach, Blooming into Greatness, Chestnut Street Playhouse, Neighborhood Services Development, Norwich Arts Center, Norwich Historical Society, Otis Library, Rotary Community Corps, Slater Memorial Museum and Society of the Founders of Norwich, which manages the Leffingwell House Museum.
Now, the Cultural Coalition is hoping to launch a grant program early this year, although Bury said the fight aligns this with the timetables of four other municipalities because “we don’t want to create five different grant programs.”
Bury said Stonington allocated 1% of his ARPA funding to the Cultural Coalition, which stands at $ 52,000. She said the Cultural Coalition is probably going to set up a grant program, but hasn’t received a lot of feedback yet, so she will continue to have conversations.
North Stonington allocated $ 15,000 and Bury said there had been big roundtable discussions on how that money could be used for equipment sharing. She said that an idea raised is a portable scene, as no organization can afford it, but maybe several can share it.
New London has allocated $ 130,000 for a grant program, and Bury said the consensus seems to be that the Cultural Coalition should use it upstream, to help businesses stay open and survive.
The Cultural Coalition does not currently manage any grants for the town of Groton, but is beginning to advise the town on public art opportunities.
“We’re going to have a nice explosion of public art in this area,” Bury said.
She also said the offer is still valid for other municipalities, if they want help spending ARPA funds on arts and culture.