I started with the social experiment and arts collective Bare Bones (part of the larger Bristol Rising vision) and writing a column on real estate for the Bristol Observer in 2011. I edited and designed the arts and literary publication for Tunxis Community College from 2008-2016. I wrote and edited for the Bristol Press. I joined the Young Professionals for United Way and helped found the Professional Young Visionaries of Tomorrow, best known as PYVOT, I did design and writing work for more local businesses than I can count. It led me through a parallel universe of beautiful exposure to the local arts and writing world, as well as launching my real estate career. In 2017, I briefly wrote a real estate column for the All Heart blog, but it was short lived between personal time constraints. So that brings us to new councilman Greg Hahn. Mark Thomas at the BDA (Bristol Development Authority) suggested he might be a good point person to help bring some positive light and a breath of fresh energy into the task of promoting Bristol as a place for growth, change, opportunity and culture. Greg was one of the initial folks at the table in conversations on creating the ACT Commission. If you guess that is an acronym, you’re correct.
The ACT Commission promotes art, culture, and entertainment programs and institutions of Bristol, as a path toward enhancing community pride and quality of life for Bristol residents. This will be done while working toward developing a synergy that not only showcases the cultural activities, resources and diversity of our city, but serves to propel positive economic development, community vibrancy and tourist activity. The ACT Commission came to light when a group of government and resident folks together decided to put all their ideas together and make an ordinance to create a task force, which in turn, as of this week, will begin to nominate a commission to begin this long-time-coming goal in Bristol and touching its surrounding communities. “Former artistic efforts didn’t have the official city support,” Greg said. “Newly reenergized support of the arts from within the City will help. Once a commission is formed, you can’t just get rid of it or let it fade like independent efforts have. I know a little (ok, a lot) about what Greg means. Small sole entrepreneurial upstarts or groups within the arts face a massive uphill battle without civic support. From finding sustainable rental solutions, to getting certificates of occupancy, to simply having enough people know about your cause … without a larger body of support and exposure, there can be quite a haze of doom and ultimate endings for these small groups. Greg was inspired to get involved with the new task force as a lifelong musician, to this day performing regularly with several groups. He was born and raised in Bristol, moved away and started a family as a young adult, as many do, and ultimately returned to Bristol. “I came back to fragmented arts organizations. Not anything cohesive.” Greg wanted to bring back the great success of the past arts council and have the arts be a central draw to Bristol. And why shouldn’t we? We still have so many of these outlets available… from thriving music and high school theater to surviving art spaces, museums and even the occasional guerilla-like art project popping up (I know you still see those traffic boxes, folks.) Once the nominations for the actual commission are complete sometime this month, there will be monthly meetings with lots to address as far as plans and goals. But make no mistake; ACT will have lifeblood of its own. It will not be heavily run or overseen by the City, but simply have a City liaison to relay communication and needs. With an official entity in place, the City will be able to procure and provide small grants to working artists with no conflict of interest. The commission will ideally be made from a good mix of business people, artists, arts businesses and newly-renovated art squads, or sub-groups, enlisted to address specific events, portions or goals of the commission. Outreach will be a big piece of the puzzle, according to Greg. The commission will want to identify people … have them identify themselves in fact . . . to be part of a resource guide and ultimately an interactive calendar or feature of the All Heart website to connect a variety of needs and ideas with the appropriate cultural aids, from artists to musicians to theater to writers groups. “What do you do?” Greg questioned aloud. “What can you offer that can help this commission see the broader picture of what’s available culturally in our area? Can we bundle performance artists with fine artists? Can we have another ‘Arts in the Park’ type event with music and art?” Greg and others want to see faces come to the table from all disciplines. Especially those who haven’t had a large vocal part in the recent years’ efforts. A fresh start with fresh perspectives. “Through the BDA and the All Heart website, we hope to have artists advertise and post schedules of cultural events going on,” Greg explained. “There are national grants available for the arts that we’ll now have access to. We can subsidize arts festivals, programs, and education and attract people from nearby areas to cool things we’re doing. What will attract them? We can ask those questions to have better-informed feedback. We can host open air concerts in the downtown that’s been striving to make a comeback.” I know after all the years and trials and tribulations… starts and stops in Bristol … I’m ready to see this become a fully realized, expandable and sustainable idea. Make Bristol a cultural destination, the place everyone comes back to, not just for necessity or family … but for fun, culture, food, art and community. The creation of the commission for Arts, Culture and Tourism has been passed by the Ordinance Committee and will be voted at the April City Council meeting. Greg hopes for a good attendance to show support and enthusiasm for the creation of the commission. “Let’s fill the room with member of the Arts and Culture community,” he said in a follow-up email. “Invite anyone that you feel will be excited to see this finally come to fruition.”
Sarah Johnson is a writer and REALTOR currently involved in several regional volunteer initiatives and practicing real estate under Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in Farmington. She also takes on freelance writing and consultant marketing contracts with local small businesses. She was raised in Bristol and is a 2002 graduate of BEHS.