Ridgefield arts and culture district? Concept goes to Aug. 12 hearing

An arts and culture district with a variety of attractions all within a mile or so: Where better than Ridgefield?

Town officials believe Ridgefield is a strong candidate to be one of Connecticut’s first towns with an official arts and culture district, and members of the public may comment on the plans before the town proceeds with an application to the state for creation of a Ridgefield Cultural District.

Comment will be accepted at a public hearing conducted by the Board of Selectmen on zoom Wednesday, Aug. 12, starting at 7:30 p.m. A zoom link will be posted on the town’s website — www.ridgefieldct.org — under the town calendar listings. The hearing will also be streamed live on the town website Wednesday night, and be shown on Comcast cable television’s pubic access Channel 24.

The cultural district, as envisioned, would run from The West Lane Inn near the fountain at the sorth end, extend down Main Street to Ballard Park and the Library on the north end, and swing east to include the Ridgefield Historical Society’s Scott House on Sunset Lane, the ACT of Connecticut theater off Old Quarry Road, the Ridgefield Playhouse on East Ridge between Prospect and Governor Streets, and both the Ridgefield Guild of Artists and the Ridgefield Theater Barn on Halpin Lane.

One of the primary concepts of the new state program — created under a law State Rep. John Frey ushered through the legislature — is that the attractions within the arts and culture district are all within reasonable walking distance of one another.

The project is being advanced by the town Economic and Community Development Commission (ECDC). A map the ECDC created to accompany the application to the state lists a dozen arts and cultural institutions within the proposed district: Keeler Tavern Museum and History Center; the Aldrich Museum of Modern Art; the Lounsbury House, a historic building now used as an events venue and community center; the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance; the Prospector Theater movie house, the Ridgefield Library; Ballard Park, scene of free summer concerts; the Ridgefield Historical Society’s Scott House; ACT of Connecticut’s theater; the Ridgefield Playhouse theatrical venue, the Ridgefield Theater Barn, and Ridgefield Guild of Artists.

“It’s conceivable the Town of Ridgefield is going to be the first one to apply,” chairman Geoffrey Morris told fellow members of the Economic and Community Development Commission (ECDC) at their Aug. 3 meeting.

“Part of application is that we have a community input meeting before we apply,” said ECDC member Glori Norwitt. “That’ll be the public hearing prior to the Board of Selectmen’s meeting.”

Morris said that language State Rep John Frey put in the bill that passed the legislature, allowing towns to create culture and arts districts, was somewhat tailored to what Ridgefield has to offer.

“State Rep. John Frey is the one instigating this whole thing, and we’re just a natural to get it,” he said.

When Morris and Norwitt appeared before the Board of Selectmen July 15 — and got the Aug. 12 hearing set up — First Selectman Rudy Marconi acknowledged Frey’s key role.

“It was John Frey, our state rep, who presented the language to the state,” he said. “...We thank him for his efforts.”

“This is very exciting,” said Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark. “I had a question: Was there any grant money?”

“At this point there state said there’s no money allocated to this,” Norwitt said.

If Ridgefield does get a state-approved cultural district, it would be included in future efforts by the state to promote tourism in Connecticut, Morris said, and could also be of use in the town’s efforts to draw visitors.

“I keep talking about this like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” he said. “…There’s no money involved, but it’s going to bring more tourism.”