Schlumberger solution? Arts groups pitch sculpture garden

Sculptures amid green grass, with walking paths and maybe some gardens.

That’s the idea Allison Stockel, executive director of the Ridgefield Playhouse, is offering as a solution for what might be done with a few prime acres of the former Schlumberger property — one that she and other leaders of performing arts organizations could get behind with some enthusiasm.

“The sculpture garden fulfills a need,” she said.

“Here’s a location that puts together recreation and arts, and it works, it’s a win-win for everyone.”

It starts with the fact the town is going to be landscaping the area, anyway, as part of its obligations to its tenants in two buildings there — ACT of Connecticut in former Schlumberger Theater, and BassamFellows design in the Philip Johnson building.

“Right now, without a shadow of a doubt, 100%, they have to grade and seed and lawn the property — that’s the first step,” Stockel said. “While they’re grading and seeding it, it makes sense to create walking trails.

“In addition to the walking trails, we’re going to put out sculpture from local artists to display their works,” she said. “There’s talk of getting the garden clubs involved. There’s talk of getting the schools, and the students who study art, involved.

“But really making it not a community space,” she said, “a community arts space, for everyone to enjoy.”

Stockel said the idea came out of discussions at the June 15 “executive directors roundtable” — a quarterly gathering of leaders of a wide variety of arts organizations in town.

The group thought the Ridgefield Guild of Artists could oversee periodic changes in the sculpture displayed — every six months, perhaps.

Stockel said she wanted to advance something positive, after performing arts groups had expressed concerns about a plan for an outdoor performance venue on site — a concept put forward by Dick Larson, former chairman of the Schlumberger Citizens Committee, which had done surveys of what townspeople might like to see on the property.

“Everybody felt that would be a perfect way to address what the town committee came up with in terms of recreation and arts,” she said. “They felt it satisfied a need that there is — a need and want on behalf of local artists to be able to display their artwork.”

Concepts should be expected to evolve with public discussion, Stockel said.

“Dick had an idea: now it’s being massaged into something else — it’s a process."

“...What’s the best process, that will work for the town, work for the arts organizations.

“This should be a win-win,” she added. “It shouldn’t be negative in any way, shape or form. It’s not.”

'Time to breathe'

She agreed that many of the arts groups had raised concerns that another venue end up duplicating what they offer, and could draw both fundraising dollars and audience share from existing organizations.

“It’s all a concern,” Stockel said. “When you’re a nonprofit living in a small town, it’s all a concern. The big thing is: What is the need? We have some wonderful venues, CHIRP does a great job. Everything works, now. So there’s not really a need there.

“It has to do with long term sustainability. I’ve been at The Playhouse for 17 years — 17 years!” she said. “I’ve seen the growth of this town and I think it’s amazing. You’ve got to take steps. ACT just opened: Give it time to breathe. We should all be breathing together as one unit. We work together really well, it shouldn’t be perceived otherwise.

“There’s a lot in this town and it’s great, it’s thriving,” Stockel said. “We don’t want to upset that balance.”

77 Sunset Lane

Stockel also thought the relatively passive use would be appreciated by the new residents of townhouse and coach homes at 77 Sunset lane, on the 10-acre the town sold off.

“It would be wonderful for the people who just bought houses,” Stockel said. “ have this because space.”

Stockel spoke to The Press on Monday, June 18, after having discussed the idea with First Selectman Rudy Marconi and Selectman Steve Zemo, in advance of the Board of Selectmen’s meeting Wednesday night, June 20.

“Rudy and Steve Zemo met with me, and they’re bringing it to the Board of Selectmen,” she said. “...My understanding is it will be advanced through the town.”

“Rudy mentioned he’d love to put some picnic tables out,” she added. “...It would be a great place for people to come prior to a show at ACT.”

Community participation

Zemo told The Press the selectmen were open to hearing a broad range of ideas for the property.

“Right now, we clearly have a lot of passionate talented people who have different ideas about the use of a community asset, and I think it’s important to hear the ideas and make sure that the community gets to participate,” Zemo said.

“The current idea of the sculpture garden and recreational use, giving visual arts people a shot at this site, in addition to the performing arts people, is worthy of consideration,” Zemo said.

“I think we all just want to get it right.”

Stockel said the sculpture garden with walk paths and trails would be a positive addition to the town, and would fulfill some of what people had said they wanted in the surveys, without sparking the concerns the proposal for another venue had aroused.

“It satisfies a need, it satisfies what the committee has come up with — people want recreation and arts. This does that. There is a need for local artists to display their work — this satisfies that. There is inherently no fund-raising that will overstep other arts organizations.

“And, it helps The Guild expand what they do — how great is that?

“It’s a solution that works for everyone across the board.”