Norwalk, CT

Contact Name
Susan O. Wallerstein, Ph.D.
Project Dates
Ongoing beginning in December 2013
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2017
Although Norwalk has one of the largest collections of restored WPA era murals in the country, few people knew about them, they were hard to find, and not viewed as relevant. This case study details the steps the Arts Commission and partners have taken to engage and inspire community members, improve way finding, and make the cultural asset meaningful and relevant to young people, Norwalk residents, the business community, and visitors. These efforts have contributed to an increase in community pride and leveraged cultural tourism opportunities.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
The goal was to execute a strategic plan designed to re-engage the community with an under appreciated cultural asset, and use this renewed interest to leverage and expand cultural tourism opportunities. The strategic plan included but was not limited to developing a logo for consistent identity/branding, recruiting and training docents - both adult and student, creating way finding resources both print and digital, and offering tours in conjunction with existing cultural tourism events (e.g., SLOW Art Day, CT Open House Day, Norwalk Preservation Trust tour, etc.).
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
While some specifics of the strategies changed over time - for example abandoning the idea of using QR codes - the overarching goals of re-engaging the community and expanding cultural tourism have remained constant.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
- Representatives from the Norwalk Department of Parks & Recreation, Norwalk Public Library, Norwalk Parking Authority, Norwalk Historical Commission, Norwalk Historical Society, and Redevelopment Agency: Served as members of an ad hoc leadership teams.
- Norwalk Preservation Trust, Norwalk Housing Authority Learning Center, Carver Community Center, Norwalk High School Freshman Academy: Provided opportunities to train docents and conduct tours.
- Norwalk Historical Society Museum: Provides initial contact point for cultural tourism, followed by referral to lead WPA docent coordinator.
- Center for Contemporary Printmaking: Sponsored an extension program for student docents.
- Tallmadge & Bloom Brothers Oyster & Shellfish Companies: Opened their businesses to visitors so they could compare oystering as depicted in the WPA-era murals with the way it's done today.
- Norwalk 2.0 - Wrote and produced video overview of the student docent program.
- Norwalk Community College, Maritime Aquarium, Norwalk Post Office, Norwalk Transit District, Norwalk Public Libraries - Partnered in increasing access to WPA/New Deal artwork at their locations.
- NEA: Provided grant funding for some aspects of the project.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Norwalk's Economic Development Action Plan identified as goal #3, the need to leverage the city's cultural, recreational, art and historic assets as economic drivers.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
N/A other than individual personal experiences of project team members who participate in cultural tourism programs when they travel e.g., Road Scholar, etc.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
1. Recruit leadership team made up of project partners.
2. Develop identity/branding
3. Recruit and train adult docents
4. Recruit and train student docents
5. Offer tours - stand alone, in conjunction with other events/activities, in response to requests e.g., Lifetime Learners, Women's Club, League of Women Voters, as well as two digital tours available online through YouTube.
6. Develop print and digital way finding resources.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
Expanded use of digital media
Application of the process to additional community cultural/recreational/historical assets beyond the collection of restored WPA murals.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
No major obstacles.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Partner organizations and members of the ad hoc project leadership team have been able to address any minor obstacles that surface.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Identify the right community cultural asset - something that is worth the effort required to leverage cultural tourism opportunities.
2. Recruit the right partners who are as invested as the lead organization in the project's success.
3. Be open to new ideas and ways of doing things along the way, in terms of executing the original game plan.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
More than 600 people have participated in docent led public art experiences, with the infrastructure now in place to be both pro-active and responsive in terms of promoting existing programs and developing new ones.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
With the infrastructure in place and a committed, broad-based group of partners, the project has proven sustainable beyond the scope, resources and timeline envisioned by the original NEA grant that supported many aspects of the program.
How did you measure this success or progress?
Number of docents recruited & trained, number of tours and tour participants.
Products: Logo, print and digital resources
Evaluations by tour participants
Increase in the number of requests for programming including but not limited to tours.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Nothing significant.
CCX Workshop Handout