an arts czar could revive Danbury town center and bring the city’s culture back to life

DANBURY — A sober discussion about preserving Danbury’s history before more is lost came alive this week as leaders agreed on the need for a new cultural affairs department to spearhead a renaissance of the city’s heritage.

“It’s a recognition of arts and culture and their importance in our community and their influence on who we were, who we are and who we will be,” said Sharon Calitro, the city’s top planner and member of a task force drafting a blueprint for the next decade. “With all due respect to volunteers, there should be someone at the city level coordinating public art.”

Calitro was referring to a palette of ideas related to the protection and promotion of Danbury’s cultural resources which includes suggestions for a downtown artists’ quarter, the creation of a public art policy at the city-wide, a requirement for large-scale developers to provide public art as a condition of approval, and a Danbury marketing campaign to make Danbury a venue for festivals and events, among other proposals.

The task force has focused largely on reviving a long dormant town center that is the traditional civic and cultural center of Danbury, and stimulating commercial investment in a Main Street corridor that has taken lagging behind the economic development of the east end and the booming west side.

“To attract business to downtown Danbury, we need to provide over 15,000 square feet in a commercial district,” Paul Rotello, councilor and member of the master plan task force, told a meeting. this week. “(Companies) need more than that.”

Brigid Guertin, a member of the working group, agreed.

“It reinforces the economic viability of arts and culture,” said Guertin, a city historian and school board member. “Putting (a new Department of Cultural Affairs) in City Hall makes a lot of sense.”

Without a plan to protect and preserve the city’s cultural resources, Danbury can expect more losses such as Hearthstone Castle, the beloved 1897 hilltop attraction in Tarrywile Park on the National Register of Historic Places that has deteriorated so badly under decades of city ownership that restoration is cost prohibitive.

“I hear a lot of people say that we’ve lost a lot of our architectural significance and our history in the city,” Rotello said during a meeting on Tuesday. “We just didn’t pay much attention to it.”

The solution is not just to protect historic landmarks and cultural attractions, but also to bring them to life through promotion and programming, said a task force consultant.

“I just have the general feeling talking to people that they think Danbury was a more active and hectic place 10, 20, 30 years ago,” said Francisco Gomes, who guides the task force through a two-year process that will end in November, when a master plan for the next 10 years is expected to be adopted. “And they want to bring it back to life.”

The master plan, required by the state every 10 years, is the basis for land use planning decisions in the city. A draft plan is expected to be completed in August. The city council plans to hold a public hearing on the plan in October.

Other ideas supported by the task force include:

add recreational facilities – especially on the west side where population has outpaced new playgrounds and parks

promoting the two most famous musicians in town – Marian Anderson and Charles Ives

reinstate the city’s architectural review board

All in all, the Danbury of the future needs more coordination and strategic planning when it comes to arts and culture, Calitro said.

“It should be linked to a plan of what we want downtown to look like so that we don’t have this hodgepodge and we open our eyes one day and say, ‘My God, how did we let all this happen? “” Calitro mentioned.

Guertin accepted.

“Smaller towns than us are doing it. Danbury is a bit behind the curve,” she said. “It catches up with us with modern public policy regarding public art.”

[email protected] 203-731-3342

David H. Henry