A venue that had opened its doors to help, to heal, and to make a home for donated artwork and sculptures in the wake of 12/14 may soon lose its storefront space.
“I run on the notion that we may have only two weeks from today to leave,” said Robert Rabinowitz, a volunteer director for HealingNewtown, on May 1.
Brause Realty Inc, which made the former Ace Hardware location next to Caraluzzi’s available for free to the Newtown Cultural Arts Commission’s HealingNewtown Arts Space, has a new tenant. Mr Rabinowitz said the real estate office will give them two weeks notice to clear out of the location — a notice that could come at any time. HealingNewtown was “created to facilitate, support, and coordinate all arts-focused efforts made on Newtown’s behalf today, tomorrow, and into the future,” according to its website.
“First, we are grateful for having the space for this long, but it’s a business and they have found a tenant,” he said. Of the programming and activities that have taken place at HealingNewtown since it opened its doors in the wake of 12/14, he said, “We could not have done this without their help.”
Cultural Arts Commission Chairman Jennifer Johnston said, “We want to continue these great programs. We knew space was temporary, but I didn’t think it would be this soon.”
First Selectman Pat Llodra is also grateful to the realty group, but feels the struggle HealingNewtown faces.
“It’s sad that they do not have another space to go to. It’s a question of resources. I don’t see any avenues that we have not pursued,” said Mrs Llodra. The community’s ongoing struggle for resources in general is “hard to confront because you have to set aside dreams and hopes a bit; it wears on our spirit. It’s hard to keep people energized when we can’t help them.” Mrs Llodra sees no immediate or easy solutions. “We need a space,” she said. She also stressed that the community “needs a break.”
Speaking about more than just the needs of HealingNewtown, she said, “We have worked so hard, but the curveballs are wearing at our spirit. We are all trying to do the right and best thing for this town, we are all struggling because our options and resources are limited.”
Despite communitywide struggles and setbacks since December, Mrs Llodra is determined to remain positive.
“I have confidence that our best days are ahead of us, we are being challenged and we have the grit to pull through. I have to believe that or else I could not work as hard as I do,” said the first selectman.
Facing The Challenge
In addition to it programming, the facility also houses “hundreds of thousands” of letters sent to the community, and all of the donated artwork and sculptures sent to town since December.
Where will the items at HealingNewtown go? Mrs Llodra said, “Maybe in the basement [at Newtown Municipal Center] or another storage area. We will have to find a way to store it. We will have to preserve in some way. We made a commitment.”
HealingNewtown volunteers have talked to the town about possible locations for artwork and sculptures, but have no definite answers yet.
“We have not given up hope of finding another space; ideally we would like to move right into another space,” Mr Rabinowitz said, adding, “All the hundreds of thousands of letters that came to the town are in our care. There is a group of people there everyday scanning and archiving and sorting the letters and respond to what they can. They have a place to do that because we have a place.”
HealingNewtown programming “covers all the arts — guitar lessons, pottery, open mic nights,” he said. “Many of the victims families have used the space, or come to our events. We never expected this to be our job … we have gladly taken on what we can do to help the town.” There is “so much of the outpouring and the offers are demonstrations of art. The world reacts through art — that’s how people express themselves,” said Mr Rabinowitz. And what will become of the organization dedicated to healing through the arts?
Mr Rabinowitz said, “We have been talking to the town, everyone, and no one has a free space for us,” said Mr Rabinowitz. The organization is looking for a rental, “hence, the fundraising campaign.” In late April the HealingNewtown team launched a Crowdtilt website effort. They have raised less than $1,500 since April 25. HealingNewtown also has a page on its website that accepts donations and financial support.
With other big fundraisers planned, including a concert in July at City Center of Danbury, he said, “We have to survive between now and the summer.”
He mentioned the money that has come into the town since 12/14, hoping that “some will come to us. But we have no control over where that goes.”
Despite the multiple funds started since December, and the money coming in through donations since then, Mrs Llodra does not see anything that is readily available for the arts commission or HealingNewtown.
“Money coming into town in response to 12/14 is not under jurisdiction of the community. Every one of those funds are private,” she said. “I do not have authority to use or access that in any way.”
Other funds are coming in “specifically for” school purposes, or for the police or the Parks and Recreation Department, etc, she explained. Certain donations “were designated for a specific purposes.” Mrs Llodra warns against the misperception that with “so much money coming to the town, why can’t it be used for [any purpose]? Because, it came into town for specific purpose or to a private fund,” she said.
Art therapy instructor Joy Hoffman of Fairfield stood in the HealingNewtown space Wednesday afternoon and said the loss “is heartbreaking.” The well lit, artistic atmosphere offers a “safe environment where students can succeed.” She teaches an acrylics class for kindergarteners from Sandy Hook School. She has seen them change. While at first dealing with sadness and the loss of teachers or friends, she said, “If they can’t talk about trauma, we paint our way through.” With “all the healing,” she sees a huge difference, she said. At first sad, she now sees how proud the children are of accomplishments. “They feel successful and always come back.”
As organizers struggle to keep HealingNewtown’s efforts alive, Mr Rabinowitz said, “It’s not forever, but there are different opinions about when we should migrate into something else.” He said that although some people “are done healing, some are not.” While Newtown Cultural Arts Commission is currently focused on HealingNewtown, members also look forward to an eventual Newtown Cultural Arts Center, possibly located at Fairfield Hills.
“People may come into HealingNewtown to participate in an event to take their mind off their worries for a while. At some point we will move past that and turn into the NCA Center,” Mr Rabinowitz said.
People ask how long the Newtown Cultural Arts Commission will be around.
“We hope forever,” he said.