The old Post Office Garage Depot, which sits between Elm and Cherry streets, behind Dunkin' Donuts, has been reborn and renamed as the Art House by owner Tedrowe Bonner, principal of the land use development firm Rubicon Seven.
At a ceremony on the evening of Friday, Oct. 19, "Celebrating Our Creative Legacy," which honored 19 of the town's leaders, the building officially announced its transformation from a forgotten remnant of New Canaan's past into an ecologically friendly arts space.
Upon completion of its renovation, the Art House will offer virtually free studio space to select artists, who in turn will be required to teach art classes to children a few days per week, at no cost to the students.
The idea is to encourage the arts community in New Canaan. The building renovation and programming will be paid for by Rubicon Seven, which will act as a patron and conduct fundraising.
"The idea is that New Canaan was one of the greatest art centers in all of America," Bonner said in an interview, "and our aim is to bring back that spirit, to get the artists back in town. To do that, we know that we have to give artists space that is virtually free. We're giving accomplished artists basically free space, but in exchange for that they teach art to kids in the region."
Leslee Asche, executive director of the Silvermine Arts Center, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, noted that there is a strong arts community already in New Canaan, adding that the Art House would only improve upon it.
"The main thing I would add to the equation is that (the Art House) says it's revitalizing the arts, and it's not so much about that, because there are two amazing arts organizations in this town, but (it is) revitalizing spaces using art. This is our 90th anniversary. Waveny just celebrated their 100th anniversary, and its Carriage Barn reopened in its current form as an arts center in 1977, so those are pretty solid arts roots. I think it would be wonderful to have an arts presence in the center of town. I do intend to be speaking with them to see if there are ways to get involved," Asche said. She attended the opening of the Art House on Friday.
Bonner said his space will differ from Silvermine in that its virtually free space will allow a small group of artists-in-residence to form a tight creative community. He thinks they could eventually have up to 10 artists-in-residence. Silvermine has a guild of more than 300, according to its website.
The redesign of the building will be done by students in Norwalk Community College's Art, Architecture, and Design Program. They will spend the next two semesters using the building as a real-world learning experience.
"Partnering with local developers provides our students with real-world experience that allows them to put their book learning into action," said Dr. David L. Levinson, president of Norwalk Community College, in a press release. "We appreciate the opportunity and mentorship Rubicon Seven is offering."
Bonner said he plans on restoring the former depot to its 1930s look and feel, and to do so in a green way.
"Norwalk Community College has a very good design program," he said. "Their work is to figure out how to create a green building, a sustainable building, that does not change the iconic nature of this building. A building that uses no fossil fuels, uses the sun, is a good working space for people, and really holds together the fabric of this building."
Bonner explained that he would like to hark back to the culture of pre-1960s New Canaan, one which he described as "fun and creative." That era was led by Solon Borglum, a sculptor active in the years around the turn of the 20th century. Borglum was the head of the Silvermine arts colony, what would eventually become the Silvermine Arts Center, and the group that came to represent it was called "The Knockers."
"The thing that I love about this period is that they had so much fun together. You had writers, sculptors, painters. The New York Philharmonic would come out sometimes just to play for fun. I love the spirit of that community, and I think it's a
great compass for how to develop our communities," Bonner said.
He added, "They ended up just being very creative, and very accomplished. (With) people just being together, having a great time, sharing ideas, all of a sudden you see this explosion in creativity coming out of this town."
Bonner said the event Friday evening was a great success and estimated that more than 150 people attended over the course of the night.
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