Arts and Cultural Council a reality — at last
By Phyllis A.S. Boros,
Staff Writer, CT Post
Published: 04:53 p.m., Sunday, January 24, 2010
Bridgeport, long devoid of a marketing arm to promote its quality-of-life
assets, finally has an Arts & Cultural Council -- and a Washington,
D.C., marketing veteran to head the fledgling organization.
Penny Harrison, who for more than 25 years has specialized in the
management of nonprofit agencies, has been chosen from among 40 candidates
to lead the council, according to Robbin Zella, director of the Housatonic
Museum of Art and one of the community activists instrumental in the
Ripe for development
The appointment -- made by Zella and other members of the council's
steering committee -- is effective immediately. Contacted in Virginia,
where she has homes in Charlottesville and White Stone, Harrison said
her primary responsibility as executive director will be to organize
and enlarge the city's arts and cultural community so that it can play
a larger role in the city's economic growth and renaissance.
The part-time position comes with a $30,000 salary; Harrison has a
one-year contract that is renewable.
"There is so much potential here; it's so ripe for development.
In fact, anytime you have a community located on the water, it should
be the focus of a lot of tourism."
Jump-starting Bridgeport's economy through the arts will be "a
big challenge . . . and I want to be a part of that."
Harrison said that she is aware that Bridgeport has had to deal with
corrupt public officials, empty promises and bad luck, but does not
intend to dwell on the past.
"There are enough good people here to make this work. I'm going
to keep the blinders on and concentrate on moving forward. I'm starting
out with a blank canvas."
Her appointment follows more than four years of planning, during which
a cultural assessment was completed, in part, with U.S. Small Business
That study, done by Massachusetts-based community planning consultant
Dr. Craig Dreeszen, determined that the city desperately needed to
better promote its individual artists and nonprofit groups, noting
that a vibrant arts/culture scene is important to any community as
a economic engine and is essential for Bridgeport in particular as
a draw for investors, developers and young professionals.
Housatonic Community College President Anita Gliniecki will formally
introduce Harrison to Bridgeport at a free, public reception Feb. 10
at 6 p.m. at the college's Housatonic Museum of Art. HCC is serving
as the fiscal agent for the council and is donating office space for
Providing the first-year funding
Securing start-up monies, especially with the implosion of the economy,
was especially challenging, Zella noted, but was made possible because
the funders "understand how important this is to Bridgeport and
its future." Providing first-year funding are the Fairfield County
Community Foundation, $25,000; the Werth Family Foundation of Woodbridge,
$15,000; the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, $5,000;
and the City of Bridgeport, $2,000.
Harrison, who is a self-taught mixed-media artist, will continue to
live in Virginia with her husband, Joe Latham, a maker of stringed
instruments -- and their chocolate Labrador, Indie.
The couple have two sons in their 20s who are both musicians. In Bridgeport,
Harrison is renting a furnished apartment from a friend; she plans
to spend a minimum of 10 days per month in the Park City and to "also
will work remotely" from Virginia.
Her first and most pressing job will be to secure nonprofit status
(tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue
Code available to religious, educational, charitable, scientific and
literary groups among others), which would aid the group in its fundraising
goals, she said.
Not a cultural wasteland
As executive director, Harrison said she also will work to combat
the notion, rife in suburbia, that Bridgeport continues to be an arts/cultural
wasteland, when in fact the city boasts several nonprofits that many
American cities of similar size would be overjoyed to have -- gems
such as the Barnum Museum, Housatonic Museum of Art (with one of the
largest art collections owned by a two-year college in America, valued
at more than $11 million); Discovery Museum, Greater Bridgeport Symphony,
the Klein Memorial Auditorium, Playhouse on the Green, City Lights
Gallery, Downtown Cabaret Theatre, Bridgeport Public Library and Connecticut's
Beardsley Zoo. And given its proximity to Manhattan, the Park City
is home to numerous individual visual artists, musicians, dancers and
actors as well, she added.
Harrison pointed out that she has worked in nonprofit management in
various capacities -- such as president, executive director, senior
manager, project director, fundraiser, event producer, writer and public
speaker -- and has produced arts events at the United States Capitol,
Smithsonian Institution, Kennedy Center and National Science Foundation,
all in Washington, D.C.
Her resume also notes that she is the founder of Hispanic Designers
Inc., a national nonprofit that she managed for 18 years, where she
was responsible for raising hundreds of thousand of dollars, providing
scholarships for young clothing designers and producing live runway
She also ran a $7 million public service campaign for the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, developing a campaign for AIDS
education. She also is an Emmy Award-winning creative director for
more than 50 public service announcements.
Harrison's professional certificates include those from the Fund Raising
School at Indiana University. She received an associate's degree from
American University in Washington, D.C., and also studied at George
Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
She is now completing her bachelor's degree at the University of Massachusetts
at Amherst, where she intends to pursue a master's degree in arts administration.
Tapping into the `creative workers'
"I believe the arts can mean prosperity for Bridgeport," Harrison
According to Harrison, author Richard Florida points out in his book, "Cities
and the Creative Class," that more than 5 million "creative
workers" live in the Boston-to-Washington D.C., corridor.
And Bridgeport, she said, is becoming well-positioned "to draw
some of those workers to our city with reasonable rents, condo sales,
factory space, studio space, tax credits" and a host of other
"Maybe I'm being very naive, but I think it's time that we go
Harrison may be reached by calling 203-505-0200 or via e-mail at .
The council's mailing address is Housatonic Community College, 900
Lafayette Boulevard, Room C 108/Mailstop 161, Bridgeport, CT 06604.
A council Web page is expected to be launched next month.