The Westport Arts Center (WAC) has been working to foster the arts in Westport for over 43 years, commented Peter Van Heerden, Executive Director of the WAC. It currently has over 200 programs in the areas of visual arts, performing arts, education and film. These programs include art classes for kids through teens, family art events, exhibitions for local artists, Art Café discussions about what’s going on in the arts world, art appreciation such as the upcoming Chuck Close exhibition, jazz programs (aided by our own Arthur Ashman), chamber music, the therapeutic arts program, film workshops and the Westport Youth Film Festival run by high school students. There is a lot going on.
Danielle Ogden, Director of Education at WAC, spoke on the arts as healing. She began by noting that WAC has over 31 educational programs. WAC is here, she said to connect the community through the arts, so that young and old learn analytical approaches and gain a greater understanding and feel for the arts. The Westport Art Center Gives Back program provides therapeutic art experiences to specific groups including the elderly, hospital patients, children and adults with developmental disabilities and veterans. One program helps children with such disabilities as autism and Down Syndrome by creating an environment where they feel safe and secure and can learn to express themselves through art. WAC believes in art as healing, not just learning. With the help of experts in such fields as art education and clinical art therapy, they have developed five-week artist in residency programs at hospitals (such as Yale New Haven-Smilow Cancer Hospital, where they strive to make the hospital a more colorful place), elder care facilities such as Meadow Ridge, and veterans institutions to encourage self-expression and accomplishment.
Home for the Brave is a Bridgeport-headquartered organization that provides safe housing, vocational training job placement and mental health and addiction services to help homeless veterans find their way. 47 veterans live at their shelter. WAC is developing a new program to add art therapy to the mix at Home for the Brave. Ms. Ogden said that when they first discussed the program in a room of 55 veterans, they did not know what to expect, but they found that the veterans were responsive and ready to dive in. They now have 25 veterans in a graffiti art program that emphasizes social interaction in developing their art. She mentioned one illiterate 58-year old veteran who uses simple graffiti art as a first step to gaining literacy.
Ms. Ogden finished her talk by encouraging Y’s Men to learn what WAC offers, check out the website, join WAC and get more involved in art.
In the Q and A, Ms. Ogden and Mr. Van Heerden noted the following:
1. WAC is considering the possibility of relocation to a larger downtown center. Right now, it is only in the discussion stage.
2. Homeless vets have had a hard time adjusting back after their experiences overseas, falling into homelessness, drug addiction and psychiatric problems such as PSD. Home for the Brave is trying to get them back into society.
3. Y’s Men can support WAC by financially supporting our programs and getting involved with WAC activities. WAC offers a lot and there may very well be something there for you.
4. WAC is not a museum bringing in outside art for display, its purpose is to interact with the local community to make it a culturally richer environment. WAC has art shows for local artists and solo exhibits for individual artists. It also brings together art lovers with local artists at casual brunches.
5. WAC works with other local organizations to promote the School Collection, the art works by local artists that have been accumulated for display in local schools.