Survey results prompt regional arts agency merger

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Thu., Dec. 20, 2012
Assessment coordinator Ellen Silbermann presents the results of a region-wide arts survey at the Donald Oat Theater. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

A merger between arts organizations in northern and southern New London County should strengthen and enhance arts growth and development, according to recent survey results. The Greater Norwich Cultural Alliance presented the results of its month-long arts assessment Dec. 11 at the Donald Oat Theater. The top recommendation was a merger between the GNAC and the Southeastern Connecticut Regional Cultural Planning Group, which cover the southern part of New London County.

“One source representing all sectors of the creative economy would be a tremendous benefit to the region,” said assessment coordinator Ellen Silbermann. “We all see not only profitability, but a sincere need to cross these borders that don’t exist. I don’t see the divisiveness I used to see.” She said that the SCRCPG’s goals “do align with ours absolutely.”

John Cusano, community development coordinator for the Connecticut Office of the Arts, said that the region looks to benefit from the merger, as have other regions that have completed similar assessments. “”This is really about cultural enterprise connected to everyone’s life in ways that are very meaningful,” he said. “There’ll be some grant money flowing this way at the beginning of the year.”

Elanah Sherman, chairman of the GNAC steering committee, said that the two groups will be forming a common board of directors in April.

The survey, which was completed in early October, was geared toward identifying the needs and concerns of artists, arts organizations and the general public across the Greater Norwich region. “We made a concerted effort so that our survey went to a very, very broad swath of our area. We took every single person’s opinion seriously,” said Sherman. The full results of the report will be available for public viewing after the first of the year, she said.

Among the concerns expressed was disability access to arts events, she said. “It’s not just about ramps and door clearance - it’s attitude,” she said. Making more events accessible is “both an opportunity and a challenge,” she said.

Other respondents to the survey reported lower attendance at some cultural events, such as fairs, festivals and performance events. “A lack of awareness was something I heard repetitively,” said Silbermann. “The word is sometimes not getting out about these events.” Other reasons given for a drop in attendance were cost of admission, lack of time and schedule conflicts with other events.

Transportation is also a problem, she said. “This region is simply not navigable without a vehicle,” she said.

Among artists, the most pressing reported needs were marketing and promotion skills, funding and time to create and to network. Surprisingly, said Silbermann, 81 percent of artists surveyed said that they had never received a grant or fellowship to develop or promote their work. “That’s an extremely high number,” she said.

Arts organizations reported needing more volunteers, funds for programming and operating expenses, and improvements to existing facilities.

Silbermann said that an enhanced arts scene in the region would also boost business by creating more networking opportunities, new businesses and greater name recognition for the area.

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