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Connecticut Arts Day Features Performances, Speakers, Panels

The theme of Connecticut Arts Day 2018, celebrated on April 25 in Hartford, is resiliency. Keynote speaker Bettina Love fits right in. Love has made her name theorizing on a new approach to education of urban youth: by embracing hip-hop not just as a genre of music but as a distinct culture, and using the norms of that culture to reach kids who can’t relate to traditional teaching methods.

“These kids come from a beautiful culture that prepares them for education. There is resistance and there is resiliency in this culture,” Love says. “Hip-hop comes out of African-American culture, the civil-rights movement, which is all about people resisting and fighting. It comes out of the black power movement. It’s all about getting knocked down and getting right back up again.”

Focusing on hip-hop culture opens up multidisciplinary fields of study, Love says.

“The subject matter of hip-hop comes out of historical context. You don’t get hip-hop in the early ’80s if you don’t get the defunding of education, the crippling of our inner cities, the globalization. The elements of hip-hop can be used in the classroom regardless of what the latest artist or the latest song is.”

Love began to think a whole curriculum could be built about the history of hip-hop. She didn’t know that others were having the same thoughts and establishing hip-hop studies programs in schools around the country. One of those schools is Trinity College in Hartford, which is the site of the annual Trinity Hip Hop Festival.

“I wasn’t doing it on my own. It is a culturally relevant pedagogy and field of study,” she says.

Love helps kick off the day at 9 a.m. at Hartford Stage. The annual event gives artists, arts administrators, educators and potential funders the opportunity to meet, share ideas and possibly form collaborations that will take arts in new directions and drive participation throughout the state.

Love, a native of Rochester, N.Y., and associate professor of educational theory and practice at the University of Georgia, says when she started as an elementary-school teacher in Miami, she considered herself a failure until she started to “be authentically myself” in the classroom.

“The kids found out I listened to hip-hop. That created a huge bond. The kids wanted to know who I listened to. We had debates. I started seeing them open up like I hadn’t seen them open up for the last two or three months.”

CT Arts Day

Kristina Newman-Scott, executive director of the Connecticut Office of the Arts and the state historic preservation officer, said the theme of resiliency was chosen because “art makes people and communities more resilient.” She especially pointed out the work by dancer-choreographer Judy Dworin, who founded Judy Dworin Performance Project in 1989. Dworin will receive a lifetime achievement award on that day.

“She worked with prison groups before it was popular to fund that kind of work, and it’s been transformational,” Newman-Scott said.

Connecticut Arts Day begins at 8 a.m. in the lobby at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., with live music by the Sarah Hanahan Trio and breakfast by the Kitchen at Billings Forge. Love’s talk at 9 a.m. is preceded by performances by DBR (Daniel Bernard Roumain), Chad Browne-Springer, Zulynette and Los Gigantes de la Plana. Other speakers that morning include musician Doug Wimbish, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and State Rep. Matt Ritter, as well as Catherine Smith, commissioner of the Department of Economic & Community Development, Cheryl Schiele of National Endowment for the Arts and Cathy Edwards of New England Foundation for the Arts.

At 11 a.m., four panel discussions will begin at Hartford Stage, Upward Hartford and the Hartford Hilton. The subjects are “Advocacy to Activism” (Hilton Ethan Allen Room, third floor) with a poetry reading by Bessy Reyna; “Artists and Resiliency in their Practice” (Upward Hartford, 17th floor) with a spoken-word performance by Kimolee Eryn; “Talent is Universal, Opportunity Is Not” (Hartford Stage, main stage) with a monologue by Alicia Thompson; and “Arts, Education and Resiliency — Igniting the Process” (Upward Hartford, second floor) with a performance by Hartford City Ballet.

The panel discussions will be followed by an outdoor hip-hop dance and Afro Beat performance by Michael Raymond Okasia and lunch at the Hilton ballroom, which will feature a performance by Bravo Waterbury!'s Bucket Band & Choir.

Lunch will be followed at 12:30 p.m. by the presentation of the award to Dworin. The ceremony will include a speech by Greg Galle of Future Partners. Galle is offering all participants a $100 discount to access his Think Wrong online lab. Also, talks will be presented by Mohamad Hafez and Ahmed Badr of Unpacked: Refugee Baggage; Dee Schneidman of New England Foundation for the Arts; Jaclyn Rudderrow of VH-1 Save the Music Foundation; Sunny Widmann and Taneisha Duggan of National Arts Strategies; and Dave Ruder of Make Music Alliance. Students from Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts will perform, as will Mike Casey. A performance by the Chamber Singers of the Connecticut Chorale Society will follow.

Three brief presentations will take place at 1:45 p.m., on existing arts programs in the state, with performances by Abioseh Joseph Cole and Mariachi Mexico Antiguo.

The day will end with the presentation of the Connecticut Arts Hero Awards, which begins at 3:15 p.m. That ceremony will include a presentation of the University of Saint Joseph's Healing World Project, an appearance by Connecticut State Troubadour Kate Callahan, a poetry reading by John L Stanizzi and a performance by Hartford Stage’s Breakdancing Shakespeare. Richie Smile’s "Nigerian Sounds" will accompany the closing cocktail reception.

Ticket sales end on April 20. Admission is $25: eventbrite.com.

Arts Heroes

The Connecticut Office of the Arts announced the nine people who will be honored on CT Arts Day as Connecticut Arts Heroes. They are

Waterbury Region: Calida Jones of Hartford, artistic director of Waterbury Symphony Orchestra -- Bravo Waterbury.

New Haven Region: Mohamed Hafez of New Haven, architect and sculptor.

Western Connecticut Region: Mark Aldrich, facilitator of “The Garner Players”, a theater program at Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown.

Greater Hartford Region: Kim Stroud, dance educator.

Fairfield Region: Shanna Melton, poet and leader of the Writer’s Group at City Lights Gallery in Bridgeport.

North West Connecticut Region: Leslie Elias of Cornwall, artistic director and co-founder of Grumbling Gryphons Traveling Children’s Theatre.

Shoreline Region: Elizabeth Morgan, a former board member and former volunteer executive director of Oddfellows Playhouse in Middletown.

South Eastern Connecticut Region: Dr. Jose Gonzalez of Quaker Hill, a poet and writer.

Windham Region: Kerri Quirk, founder of Kerri Gallery in Willimantic.

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