Creative people in town have Bethel Arts to help bring attention to their work.
Art sales through paintings displayed at the Bethel Public Library and in town businesses, an ongoing drum circle, and a current holiday pop-up market at a gallery featuring works by 12 artists are among ways the nonprofit helps creative professionals gain notice.
Events like the market also provide networking opportunities to the artists.
The non-profit, run by a six-member volunteer board, can help an artist run a show or event by helping them find locations to exhibit and sell their work.
Bethel Arts states its focus as "building, promoting, and supporting Bethel’s arts and creative community.”
Painter Dave Daignault’s large landscape with duct tape of the Hollywood Sign currently hangs in the lobby of Greenwood Features and some of his other paintings are on display at Edison Kitchen. He is one of the artists featured in the Popup Holiday Market at his gallery Big Bunny Bethel Art Studio.
Among the other artists are Frank Kara, Jim Felice, Diana Gubbay, and David Gesualdi, the sculptor of P.T. Barnum displayed at the library which was commissioned by the town for Barnum’s 200th birthday.
Daignault credits Bethel Arts with helping bring eyes to his paintings in town.
The market is part of their Arts in View program and exemplifies their mission. So far it's been, “very successful,” according to Daignault. Visits to the gallery by walkers-by and out-of-town visitors have increased since the program began.
Each of the artists are taking turns at the gallery to interact and be available to anyone who stops in. In December only, the market is open on Saturdays and Sundays (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at 155 Greenwood Ave.
The effort has led to more conversations between him and Bethel Arts about finding other ways to merge local talent, Daignault said. Ideas discussed include showings or studio space at his own leased gallery, drawing classes, readings, and other uses.
“Once we started the popup arts people have been coming out of the woodwork.”
Janice Chrzescijanek works as the director of Economic Development for the Town of Bethel and chairs the Bethel Arts.
She said the gallery wasn’t getting much traffic before the pop-up.
“People didn't didn’t know [Big Bunny] was there... [We said] let’s have a bunch of artists in here. It will give visibility to the space, and give visibility to you….to bring activity to the space."
She noted that all the art at the market and hung around town are for sale via the artists. Individual works have contact information for the artist, some with a QR code.
Bethel Arts’ role in working with artists is to help them organize and pitch ideas for how artists can market themselves; the artists take the lead on bringing the plan to action.
Chrzescijanek is one of the founders of Bethel Arts, first as a committee of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, and then for two years under sponsorship by the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut.
“It’s a system for the arts in Bethel. We just actually went through a strategic plan. It’s about facilitating, instead of doing everything. Before we were more events and programming-driven, but now we’re looking to pull people in. It’s really about building, promoting, and supporting the creative community that’s already here.”
Artists seeking support may contact Bethel Arts. “What we’re trying to do is have them come up with an idea then provide some guidance and support to get the program started, then they take it from there.”
For example, they helped the Bethel Seasonal Drum Circle get off the ground this year by helping with logistics for holding the events. One is coming on Dec. 23 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at Bethel Municipal Center (1 School St.)
Chrzescijanek emphasized the importance of Bethel Arts’ role in promotional activities around events and in helping the artists network with one another.
“We promote the organizations and individuals in town but also get them together because that’s a big piece of it too. They collaborate and learn from each other, and what each has done to promote their arts. It just makes a bigger community,” she said.
“I think everybody has historically been working very independently. And part of our goal is to get them all together.”
Chrzescijanek said the arts are essential to the financial health of the town.
“A big part of economic development is the arts,” she said.
When she started her job in the town, there were a lot of artists but not a lot of organization or collaboration around the arts.
“That was kind of my goal, to help to help grow the arts and so on, which in turn, you know, economically helps the town as well as helps bring people in. It helps businesses.”
The local businesses benefit, she continued, by having artists hang in their space. “It helps businesses because it draws people in.”
Bethel Arts has received a few grants over the past couple of years, one that helped fund the strategic plan recently and some that helped fund operating costs. Donations are welcome.
“America of the Arts just did a whole survey on the impact of the arts on communities. They surveyed western Connecticut specifically. It's incredible the amount of money that the arts brings into an area.”
Currently, Bethel Arts and Greenwood Features are looking at ways to collaborate.
“They're looking to do events. We're working very well with them and the businesses have always been very open. One of our goals is really to get the artists together. So this is kind of a first step and we were just talking about bringing all those artists in again. "
Bethel Arts is going strong and has good things in store for the community in 2024 and beyond.