Art on the streets

Hartford, CT

Contact Name
Kate McOmber
Project Dates
May through June, annually
Art on the Streets was developed by the Greater Hartford Arts Council in 2016 as a way to engage a transient downtown Hartford population with the incredible arts and cultural resources our community offers. Hartford has long been thought of as a commuter city with thousands of people coming into the city Monday through Friday for work and fleeing back to the suburbs each evening at 5pm. Now some of that is changing as our beloved city is seeing a downtown development boom, but the Arts Council wanted to find a way to connect commuters, visitors and residents alike with the arts, give them a moment to tap into their own creativity and experience the incredible benefits of the arts. Thus, Art on the Streets was created.
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:
Art on the Steets has 3 major goals: Engaging the downtown community, particularly the corporate community who make up a large share of our donors, with the arts; promote the connection between the arts and health through interactive arts experiences; and downtown activation through the arts.

Our project was designed to address the challenge that our community has so many who come here during the day for work, but are completely disengaged with the city and do not know that there is a world class art museum or Tony-award winning theater across the street from their office (literally!). Art on the Streets was designed to capture the natural traffic that ventures out for lunch, but also to encourage people to come out onto the streets and experience the city.
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):
Aetna - funder and planning partner
State House Square - venue and promotional support
Hartford Business Improvement District - venue and promotional support
Artists - designing and implementing engaging arts activities
City of Hartford - permitting for year 1
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Art on the Streets is at the root of the Greater Hartford Arts Council's mission and vision.
The mission of the Arts Council is to inspire all people to participate and invest in the arts. Through quick, interactive arts experiences during Art on the Streets, people who may not have engaged in a creative act that day get an opportunity to slow down and experience something outside of the monotony of their day. Many people tell the artists that these experiences change their attitude or relieve the stress they are feeling. This experience encourages them to seek out additional arts experiences in the City and to continue to explore their creative expressions as an outlet.

The vision of the Arts Council is to create a vibrant, thriving community that is united by art. The vibrancy of downtown can be felt through the energy radiating from Art on the Streets, but not only is it felt that day. That energy is remembered by people who come back year after year excited to engage in the activities and it has rippled into additional arts experiences across downtown outside of Arts Council organized events. Salsa Socials, author events, and a spin off of Art on the Streets called Poetry on the Streets can be found activating downtown in the spring, summer and fall.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Art on the Streets was originally inspired by classic street performers and buskers. Artists who practice street performance are seen in every major city, but had been lost to Hartford decades ago.

Also, in the 1970s a group of artists created a series known as Thursdays are a Work of Art. This series included avante garde street performances and art installations that would pop up downtown on Thursdays. Most of the installations were interactive and were intended to catch downtown workers and community members off guard. Individuals who have been in Hartford since the 1970s still talk about these performances and shared with Arts Council staff that they have seen nothing like it since the program ended after only 2 years. Art on the Streets, though rarely considered avante garde, is the first engagement of that kind since Thursdays are a Work of Art.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
Thanks to funding from our program partner, Aetna, this project was implemented in 2016. The Arts Council developed the outline for the program and put out a call to artists for proposal submissions. We then had an internal committee review proposals and invite artists to participate.

In the years since, we have honed the program based on program participant and artist feedback. We still select artists based on a call for proposals, but we have also implemented other "crowd favorite" selection processes into the process to get participants more engaged in the program.

We continue to do annual program reviews to ensure a continuing evolution of the program.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
We have been fortunate that we haven't run into many major obstacles for the program. Since it's inception it has been well received by community members, we have been encouraged to continue the program by City officials and property managers.

However, in the first year of the program, we found that people were hesitant to interact with the art or artists because they hadn't seen that type of thing downtown before. They were wary of what the artists were doing and why they were asking them to participate in an art project.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
To overcome this issue, we try to be sure that the participating artists are outgoing and encouraging to all passersby. In the first year, many people were wary of interacting with the artists. Chalkboard signs were used by artists to say "MAKE ART WITH ME!" or encourage certain types of participation. As people become more familiar with the idea of artists being downtown they are more comfortable interacting. Year three saw the easiest interaction with individual yet, with many people remembering the event from previous years. Reoccuring venues may also be helpful for recollection.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Work with venues that are supportive and help promote the program. The two venues we have worked with for years two and three have been great. They provide access to electricity, are on-hand during the event to provide support, and promote the event to their networks.

2. Assure a variety of engagement opportunities. Each day of Art on the Streets includes one performing artist (dance, music, spoken word), one collaborative art project (something everyone contributes to that ends in a final collaborative product), and one make/take activity (visitors can make a piece of art and take it home immediately). This variety offers a little something for everyone and different ways to experience the vast arts community in our region.
3. Consider that it takes time. Year one was very new to the pedestrians of downtown Hartford. Artists did not see a lot of engagement, but there was potential. In year two people began to see that this was an event, thanks to venue changes and new signage strategies. In year three people were remembering previous years and participating because they had positive experiences and newcomers were more inclined to participate when others were too.
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?
Downtown Hartford continues to welcome new residents as apartment buildings open, businesses bring thousands of employees downtown, and major bus hubs bring in many individuals from Hartford's neighborhoods and beyond. Rarely did they have free outdoor entertainment showcasing the vibrancy of the city. Art on the Streets creates an energetic vibe that is critical to retain businesses, residents, and attract employees and visitors.

Since Art on the Streets began in 2016, the number of regularly scheduled outdoor arts activities has skyrocketed. More concert series are popping up, artists are performing or creating their own Art on the Streets-style activities, and more community engagement in general is happening such as Meditation Mondays. During months of general nice weather, you can find an engaging activity outside in downtown Hartford almost every day of the week.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
We consider this project successful because engagement with the program is growing and growing. We have more people participating in the art every time Art on the Streets happens.

We are also incredibly proud of the additional programming mentioned earlier that has come in the aftermath of Art on the Streets. Inspiring activation across our city is certainly success!
How did you measure this success or progress?
We measure success through program participation and additional programming.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
We didn't necessarily expect that new art programming would pop up around the City, we're excited it did! We're thrilled we could prove the model worked and encourage others to follow suit.

Quotes from Art on the Streets artists about the impact:
“Art on the Streets brings vibrancy to Hartford and most of all brings a creative hands-on experience to pedestrians who might otherwise not engage in a creative act that day. I found so many people positively responding and being surprised by how it relaxed and affected them.”
"An older gentleman staring at my flowers... When invited to create one he shared a story about how it reminded him of his wife, the flower was blue and her favorite flowers were blue hydrangea( she passed away four months earlier) I insisted he take one and I could tell that it made his day!"
"People of all ages and ethnicities and walks of life participated in writing poems and each expressed a similar feeling of well being afterwards. Strangers shared their words and expressions with one another, connecting for a moment before passing ways. This was a universal experience and I would've stayed there with my station all day if I could!”