Get to know... Micaela Porta
NEW CANAAN — Seated at a rectangular table on a recent Thursday morning toward the back of the New Canaan Library Curtis Gallery is a group of two, talking audibly, though not disruptively, as they work. For Micaela Porta, who sits two tables away nearer to the entrance of the gallery, the group work is a happy sight.
Porta, who goes by Miki, is co-chairwoman, with Mary Moross, of the New Canaan Library Art Committee. Together, Porta and Moross have striven to cultivate a gallery with a particular aesthetic without losing functionality. She’s thrilled she said, when she sees people utilizing the space — which sits just 20 or so paces from the library’s front door — as they would any other section of the library.
As Porta spoke about her art world experience, her goals for the gallery and the specialness of the space, the pair at the back of the gallery continued to work, surrounded by, but at that moment unaware of, a striking exhibition of American Impressionism.
A: What’s neat about our gallery is that some of the libraries in the area have art which they’ll place wherever they can. You have a library like Darien, which is brand new, but the art is in the basement. And then you have a library like Greenwich which has a fabulous art gallery that’s on the second floor, but it’s separate. So it’s easy to miss. You can actually go and not be in the gallery or walk right by and not really notice that this is art.
This gallery, it’s very much it’s own gallery space, but everybody walks through here. So it’s not for the self-selecting art crowd that necessarily wants to go to a museum or an art gallery in Chelsea.
A: I’ve seen people bring in screens and leading classes. There have been receptions. Tutors like to come after school. In the morning, it’s more people with their laptops and cell phones working.
One day, I bought a collector who came to see some work in a show. She ended up buying six pieces, but while we were walking, the tables were pushed together and there was a teen after-school knitting group happening, with music playing. So it was unlike any kind of situation I had ever been in. I was showing a collector art for sale and there were these kids knitting to music. It just worked.
It’s very unusual, but it’s special what we have here. Maybe it’s a happy accident. Maybe that comes of not having all the space that you could dream of ever having and having to sort of make do and repurpose and do double duty.
A: I studied art history in college. But my career actually was in book publishing. I specialized in architecture and design, but, on the side I did some curating and cultural programming and a little bit of art consulting, just for fun because I happen to know a lot of artists. At one point in my life I was dating an artist and sort of doing that whole trip. So i just fell into that. I never did it professionally but loved it
A: Mary Moross and I took over maybe three or four years ago. Before that the chair had been Susie Salomon, who is a woman very heavily involved with the library, a patron of the arts and just in general a really wonderful philanthropist. She just sort of retired and at that point handed it down to us. There was nothing really broken when we took over. There’s no turnaround story here.
But Mary is an educator, artist and designer and she and I work really well together. Instantly there was a really good synergy and we started changing things up a bit. The gallery used to do more one-person shows. She and I wanted to do more dual shows and group shows because they are more fun to curate. They’re more challenging for the curators. Plus we have a very good committee. We have academics, architects, artists, writers, a graphic designer — real creative professionals. It’s not just sort of sitting around and having coffee cake and saying, ‘That looks pretty, let’s put it on the wall.’ There’s real thought and rigor that go into this. And so we wanted to enhance the programming around the shows that are in the gallery and the library was very keen to work with us on that.
A: We do seven shows a year, all year long. We don’t take the summer off. We just keep going all the time.
But we strive for variety. We strive for the finest art we can possibly get. So we focus on people who are career artists, and by that I don’t mean people who can support themselves solely through their art, but people who are dedicated to their art. Even if they teach during the day, or do something else in their daily life, these are people who have been working at art for their whole lives and take it really seriously.
A: Because we’re in a library, there’s real opportunity here to bring that educational piece. Bring fine art to people who aren’t looking for fine art and program around that in a way that’s appealing to the community.
We really, really want to underscore that art is important in life and we want to show how, because schools don’t do a good job of teaching art literacy. You can graduate knowing who Monet is but you don’t know why that matters. Because, honestly, when the world is in flames, it’s easy to think that art is an extra. A nice-to-have, not a need-to-have. So we want to connect people to what art brings to the world and make it palpable.
A: We’ve had a modern dance piece in here around a show of photography and sculpture. We’ve also had demonstrations in here with artists.
One was a textile artist who makes her own paper. So she came in in the middle of a snow storm. We thought, ‘No one is going to show up for this.’ And like 35 people were here to look at her make paper. So it’s really alive. It’s an alive place. We’re proud of it.