NAC Corner

Council to become a center for the arts in region

The Norwich Arts Council is changing its name. But don’t worry; you can still call it NAC.

This October, the more-than-20-year-old organization is making a small but important change. It is retaining its initials but is soon to become the Norwich Arts Center.

To celebrate the altered meaning of its last consonant, NAC will be hosting a fundraising soirée, “We Still Have a NAC for the Arts,” at 7 p.m. Oct. 8 in the Donald L. Oat Theater in Norwich. The event will include wine and hors d’oeuvres, an art auction, music and dance, and other cultural diversions for $10.

But why the name change?

NAC’s mission has been expanding and developing for quite some time. NAC has been designated as a Local Arts Agency for the region under the support of the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism. NAC has been networking with other arts organizations to develop a more effective arts and culture infrastructure. The intention of the name change is reflective of the direction NAC is undertaking as an “umbrella organization” as it evolves and works to bridge other organizations, groups and artists.

Peter Leibert, who serves as president on the NAC board of directors and is a member of the NAC Artists’ Co-operative, has seen the organization’s evolution from its inception in 1987.

“About 28 years ago,” Leibert said, “when people started to talk seriously about having an arts center in downtown Norwich, no one envisioned how strong and diverse the arts would become in the Rose City.”

Leibert and others involved in the arts began to meet at the original Three Rivers College location — then known as Mohegan Community College — after the Rose Arts Festival began to wind down.  
“I really don’t recall why the name ‘Norwich Arts Council’ stuck with us,” Leibert said, “when really, at that time, we were basically discussing the idea of an arts center.”

Reincarnated theater

That idea brought the group to the historic St. Mary’s Total Abstinence and Temperance Building on Broadway, which has acted as the base of operations for NAC. Initially renovating one room on the first floor for a gallery, the three-story building was eventually bought by NAC, and the third floor was reincarnated as the Donald L. Oat Theater. With NAC encompassing a broader range of programming and community projects, the idea of identifying itself as a center seemed more appropriate than ever, Leibert said.

“I clearly remember, 20 years ago, talking with John Ostrout, at the time the executive director of the Connecticut Commission on the Arts,” Leibert said. “The idea of becoming an ‘umbrella organization’ to all of the arts in Norwich was brought up and seriously discussed and perhaps in a sub-conscious way NAC has continually moved in this direction.”

Karen Beasley, coordinator of Local Arts Agency programming at NAC, agrees with the change and has been instrumental in facilitating the efforts that have guided NAC in its new direction.

“In our role as a state designated LAA,” Beasley said, “we are charged with the support of arts and the artists in the region, as well as residents and visitors. In changing our designation from a ‘council’ to a ‘center,’ we are embracing that role on the programming side as well, and opening our center more to the region.”

What a “center” signifies for Beasley is a place where the cultural needs of patrons in the region can be met.

“One of the issues identified by both the general public and the artists who responded to our cultural needs survey was the availability of classes in the arts,” Beasley said. “As a center, we are taking a step towards fulfilling that need, in making the space available and more active — a ‘center’ where people are welcome to come and take part.”

-Joe Matovic


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