The Community Renewal Team (CRT) is a non-profit organization located in Hartford, CT that's primary focus is on helping their community overcome life’s challenges. CRT strives to provide tools and skills needed to become self-sufficient and meet the challenges of their daily lives and art is one of these tools. Lena Rodriguez, President and CEO of CRT, says it best, "We believe that art can help us reach our mission. We are more convinced than ever that our 22nd National Arts Program® exhibit can be a means of reaching children, rewarding creativity and allowing people the confidence and pride of seeing themselves as artists. The arts have the ability to lift people up and expand their horizons."
Nancy Shapiro is the Eternal Affairs/Marketing Specialist for CRT and has been coordinating the NAP exhibit for Greater Hartford and Middlesex County residents for a number of years. The success of the program is strongly credited to the amount of passion Nancy displays for not only the NAP, but for the ability the arts have to help create a better life for those within CRT's service area.
Here is what Nancy had to say when we asked her about the process ...
Q. What makes the National Arts Program® different than any other art exhibit put on by CRT?
A. CRT’s National Arts Program Exhibit is different from any other program put on by CRT. As a not for profit community action agency, our programs are focused on changing lives and creating opportunities for the economically disadvantaged throughout Greater Hartford and Middlesex counties in Connecticut. Participation in the National Arts Program® brings together people from all walks of life – from professional artists to very young children with previously limited access to the arts. The idea of a grassroots arts competition fits comfortably with our mission of “preparing our community to meet life’s challenges” and I look forward to our participation each year. Building on what we learned from the National Arts Program®, we have organized competitions for youth to design posters and billboards on the dangers of tobacco, marijuana and underage drinking.
Q. Why do you feel that displaying employee artwork is important?
A. We do not limit participation to our employees, but instead invite people from throughout our service delivery area to enter the competition. This is one of the few opportunities for artists with limited economic resources to enter work without a fee; Artists are particularly thrilled with the idea that everyone’s work is hung and is shared with hundreds of visitors to our local community college each year. The exhibit has become so popular at the college that many of their staff and students are disappointed that it is not hung for a longer period of time.
Q. How have participants responded to the opportunity to display their artwork?
A. I have had the privilege of running the National Arts Program® at CRT for a very long time. It is truly a labor of love for me as I get to meet wonderfully talented people whose passion for their work is truly a testament to their creativity. Each year, we try to bring a unique twist to the reception and awards ceremony and this year was no exception. We always provide youth entertainment and this year enjoyed the smooth jazz performance of the Youth Ensemble from the Academy of the Performing Arts in Hartford. In addition, we were recently approached by the Free Poets Collective whose members created original poems about each of the winning selections. The result was a beautiful connection between poetry and the visual arts.
I recently received a letter from one of the artists who said “having poets give their impression of pieces of work through the spoken word was an exceptional idea and really brought something special to the presentations. Although I liked each poet’s interpretation of the first place winners’ work, the young woman whose poem was matched with the art entitled ‘Wave’ absolutely overwhelmed me.”
Q. Do visitors to the building respond to the exhibit?
A. CRT hangs work at Capital Community College, a school with a total student body of 4500, located right on Main Street in the heart of downtown Hartford. While we display work throughout the building, the most visible galleries are two glass storefronts that were once the show place of an old department store called G. Fox. Having this level of visibility for the thousands who pass the windows each day calls attention to the importance of art in a city’s daily life.
Q. How has utilizing online registration made the process easier for you?
A. The on-line registration process has really simplified participation for both the artists and for CRT. Years ago, the lack of a pre-registration process meant late nights in the office as the art was delivered and no hint as to the number of entries we could expect.
Q. Can you tell us how art has had a positive impact on your personal life? How did you get started in the art field or have you always been involved in the arts? Are you an artist yourself?
A. I am not an artist and art is not the primary focus of my position here at CRT. We are a large organization and much of my work is focused on the many special events that occur throughout the year. The National Arts Program® is by far the most enjoyable program I run as it allows my limited creative juices to flow in a way I never before thought possible.