Get to know... Hilary Wittmann, executive director of Carriage Barn Arts Center
NEW CANAAN — Hilary Wittmann wants the Carriage Barn Arts Center to be an inviting place.
Since she assumed the role of executive director of the nonprofit, member-supported cultural organization, Wittmann has made it her mission to attract as many interested artists and supporters of the arts into the “Betty Barker Gallery,” the spacious gallery located within Waveny Park.
Wittmann, who previously worked for stints at the Ridgefield Playhouse and the New Canaan Nature Center, joined the Carriage Barn last year and is looking forward to the center’s 40th annual member showcase, for which an opening reception will be held Sept. 10, and a busy fall season of exhibitions.
Q: In addition to exhibitions, you host art classes and other events. What are some of the other programs?
A: Around each exhibit we have a big opening reception. And throughout the exhibits we try to do events. We always have one or two artist talks during the exhibits. Or we’ll do coffee with the artists and invite anyone to come.
We’ve also been doing a lot of concerts: classical music, chamber music, live jazz or just local bands. And we’ve been doing workshops, which is something in the past we had done only here and there. I’ve found that people love a one- or two-day workshop rather than something that’s a bigger commitment.
We’re doing collage, plein air painting, iPhone photography, modern calligraphy and printmaking without the press. It’ll be an opportunity for people who have never picked up a paintbrush to come in and try it.
Q: Who do you see coming to these programs?
A: It has been more adults. The programs we’ve done and that we have scheduled are during the day. But the iPhone is definitely one we’re planning to do specifically for a younger crowd. We work with a lot of the high school art students because we do a show every year with them. And we’ve been thinking about having some of the high school students running a workshop for middle school-aged or younger kids.
My goal is to have all these workshops be a combination of artists and people who want to do something fun and different for a day.
Q: Who are the members? How many are there? How does one become a member?
A: The membership is a combination. It’s open to anyone. A majority of them are artists, some very established, and then some are amateurs for whom it’s really a hobby. And then some are students, high school and college or even younger. And then we have a lot of members who just want to support the arts and the Carriage Barn.
We have about 400 to 500 members.
Q: Are the members mostly local?
A: Most of our members are from these surrounding towns, but certainly not all. They come from all over Connecticut, New York state. We have artist members from New Jersey, Rhode Island, even Maine. Some of them might have lived in New Canaan and moved away but are still involved.
But some of the shows, the photography shows and the contemporary art show, have each been going on for more than 30 years and have a good reputation. And it’s an honor to be included in those exhibitions, so we do get submissions from beyond the immediate area.
I think people just love this space. It seems like no matter where someone’s work ends up being hung it’s just a great space and they’re always happy to see their work among the other pieces.
Q: How can a member get their work into the member show?
A: We are open to everyone. Anyone who is a member can submit their work and everyone will have one piece included in the show, though usually not every single member submits.
Typically in juried shows we have about 100 pieces hanging. The member show is usually a little bigger than that. It’s a little bit of everything, which makes it really challenging to arrange everything, but it always comes together.
Part of our mission is creating opportunities for our members and for local artists.
Q: Where are you from originally?
A: I’m from New York City, but I’ve lived here in New Canaan for about 10 years. When we moved here we had three kids already and we were kind of ready for something else and for them to be part of this community.
Q: You have a Bachelor of Fine Arts, do you still make art?
A: I was a painter. I shouldn’t say was, though I’m not really practicing now.
Since I’ve been here, it’s been so inspiring. So many of the artists I’ve met are also people who went many years without making art and then got back into it.
Q: How did you find yourself on the administrative side of a gallery?
A: I worked after college in a gallery, the Museum of Modern Art and then a nonprofit that was all about getting art into public spaces. And then I got into publishing and marketing and that’s where most of my career was. So this was kind of an opportunity to bring those two together.
Q: When did you start? Are there certain goals that you’ve set for yourself that you hope to accomplish?
A: I came on September of last year, right about when we were opening for the last season. But the member show was already kind of in process. This season I’ve been able to have a little more input and planning going into the season.
Definitely my main goal is bringing more people in here through different kinds of programming and events. I’m trying to do more programs that will appeal to a wide range of people and also working with more local organizations to create partnerships that make people more aware and make them feel like this is a place they can be a part of.