Exploring the work experience: New Haven hosts Connecticut at Work

3-15-13PMDL-Smithsonian-Exhibit

Photos from the national archives are part of the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibition,
The Way We Worked

Today, Connecticut Humanities, the state National Endowment for the Humanities affiliate, will host a daylong conference at Wesleyan University in Middletown to kick off its statewide Connecticut at Work initiative. Inspired in part by the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibition The Way We Worked, the Connecticut Humanities program has been designed to foster regional dialogues about what work means and has meant to the residents of Connecticut communities.

Those conversations will be stirred in part by book and film talks, exhibitions, and performances designed to share more widely what are oftentimes more academic discussions.

“Work,” in other words, Cindy Clair, the Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s executive director, said, “is a common denominator,” something that “most people can relate to, even if their personal experiences are very different.”

Each of the seven Connecticut towns that will host the Smithsonian’s exhibit over the course of the next year — New Haven, Torrington, Hartford, Waterbury, Coventry, Stamford, and Groton — are working to create programming that will explore the history and future of work in those areas. The Arts Council of Greater New Haven, in partnership with the New Haven Free Public Library, is organizing Connecticut at Work programming in that city.

Brett Thompson, deputy director of Connecticut Humanities, pointed out recently that there are “lots of social issues attached to work,” as well as “lots of personal issues … (and) lots of economic issues.”

ctworkThe Connecticut at Work initiative “is meant to look backward only inasmuch as there are tremendous … traditions of work in Connecticut (that) have left a tremendous legacy,” Stuart Parnes, executive director of Connecticut Humanities, said.

Parnes talked about the work opportunities that brought immigrants and others to various parts of Connecticut, and how local and global changes in industry, infrastructure, and technology have changed the employment landscape.

The arts sector is one that has have long provided employment opportunities in Connecticut.

“There’s a tradition of creative arts in Connecticut that has been an important part of economy for a long time,” Parnes pointed out.

The Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development Office of the Arts’ recently launched Arts Catalyze Placemaking program, he said, is evidence of how important the arts are to the state’s economy.

Still, Parnes said, Connecticut at Work “is not about economics, it’s about people … it’s about people’s lives.”

“Work is a huge part of our lives,” Parnes said.

And it looks – and has looked – different, depending on where one is and has been.

Because of that, Parnes and his colleagues at Connecticut Humanities are taking a broad approach to framing the Connecticut at Work initiative, so that as the Smithsonian Institution’s The Way We Worked moves from town to town, local programming will provide regionally specific insight into what work has meant and means today to the folks who live in those areas.

“Each region,” Parnes said, “is going to (tell) its own story.”

In addition to the Smithsonian Institution exhibition The Way We Worked, which is on view at the New Haven Free Public Library through Jan. 19, 2014, New Haven will host region-specific art exhibitions, author talks and oral histories, a film screening, and a theatrical production.

Learn more about Connecticut at Work at CTHumanities.org and about New Haven area programming at NewHavenArts.org.

Connecticut at Work is an initiative of Connecticut Humanities, a non-profit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the New Haven region, Connecticut at Work is a partnership of the New Haven Free Public Library and the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. The tour of The Way We Worked is made possible by Connecticut Humanities and Historic New England.

Article by David Brensilver, Editor for The Arts Paper

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