Ridgefield nonprofits seek $740K in American Rescue Plan funds to support arts, cultural ‘movement’

RIDGEFIELD — Representatives from the Ridgefield Arts Council and Economic & Community Development Commission want some of the town’s American Rescue Plan monies allocated toward its arts and culture organizations.

Of Ridgefield’s roughly $7.4 million federal stimulus, the groups are seeking 10 percent of the total — or $740,000 — to be distributed among 24 nonprofits to help cover COVID-related losses and expenses.

Colleen Cash and Glori Norwitt, the new chairs of the RAC and ECDC, respectively, will attend the Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday, March 1, to state their case.

They acknowledged that while the Connecticut Arts Alliance has recommended local municipalities reserve 1 percent of ARPA funding for arts and culture, “The movement is bigger in our town,” Norwitt said.

She pointed to Ridgefield’s status as the first municipality in Connecticut with a state-designated cultural district, and the widespread efforts of local nonprofit leaders to keep the arts alive during the pandemic.

While First Selectman Rudy Marconi has not yet seen the groups’ formal proposal, he believes the request is “a good step forward” given the “considerable” loss nonprofit organizations have experienced over the course of the pandemic.

“I don’t have an issue with it, but it would have to be reviewed,” he said.

Many organizations — including The Ridgefield Playhouse, A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut, Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center and the Ridgefield Theater Barn — pivoted to online platforms to engage patrons during lockdown and beyond. These programs attracted attention from all over the country, and even around the world.

The pandemic “led to a digital inflection point, and audiences have diversified because of that,” Cash said. “Digital programming … brought eyeballs from outside of Ridgefield to Ridgefield.”

Norwitt argued that this exposure also reaps economic benefits. “When people buy a ticket to anything, they’re also spending money (elsewhere) in the town,” she said.

According to a 2015 Americans for the Arts study, when someone attends a show or visits a museum in Fairfield County, they spend more than $34 per person, per event (beyond the cost of admission) at restaurants, shops and on lodging.

“Arts and culture drive our economy, and they’re a big part of why we’re a unique, special and wonderful community,” Norwitt added. “We have such a tight-knit expansive downtown area with so much to do. If you took that away, we would be a very different town.”

The chairs argued that the town must invest in its arts and culture organizations to ensure they not only survive, but thrive, Norwitt said.

The town has largely used its ARPA monies toward COVID-19 related expenses, lost revenue and an infrastructure project, according to a recent analysis. With all uses considered, it has about $3 million left to spend.

Cash encouraged residents who felt supported by the arts during the pandemic to show their support for the funding request at the March 1 meeting.

“This is a town that rallies around its cultural pillars and the opportunities they provide,” she added. “There is nothing more powerful than a testimonial (of) how the arts and culture in town supported someone in a tough time, or gave them joy.”