Industry and arts grow together in Connecticut

If business is becoming the new patron of the arts, southern Connecticut is a good place to watch it happen. Over the past few years, transplanted home offices have been sprouting here, and arts organizations have been blooming.

This double-barreled growth, which has seen the Greenwich-Stamford area become the country's top bracket for corporate density, has helped business and arts pull away from long dependence on New York City, to establish a growing interdependence.

Not only has business helped Shakespeare survive in Stratford, but closer to New York such companies as Champion International, Chesebrough-Pond, Pitney Bowes, Kennecott Copper, and Xerox (one of the pioneer patrons), have gone to the theater, the symphony, and the opera and have brought the visual arts into their corporate homes.

Art contributions by business are still on a modest scale, averaging (among major companies) about 10 cents of the contribution dollar, as compared with 74 cents for education, health, and welfare. But two encouraging tendencies are seen.

One is the growing idea among executives that a strong cultural life is not just decorative, but is central to their community's well-being. Richard Troxell of General Reinsurance Corporation, a supporter of Greenwich's prestigious Philharmonia and Choral Society, insists, "We don't see this as a commitment to the arts as such, but to the community."

The other tendency is to go beyond the money sums to an exchange of services. For instance, the Silvermine Guild of Artists in the back country of New Canaan has had to keep its collection of contemporary prints in storage for years due to lack of funds for matting, framing, and cataloging for circulation. Barbara Lifflander of Kennecott Copper this summer worked out a grant to the guild to pay for this work. In return, Silvermine will decorate the public areas of Kennecott's home office in Stamford with changing exhibits of prints. These will then be available for showing elsewhere.

"It's a quiet revolution," contributions official Carmella Piabentini of the Olin Corporation says of the growing links between the arts and business. She embodies some of these links herself -- as a conservatory-trained pianist and a prime mover of the Stamford State Opera.

Until recently, the ties between business and the arts depended upon certain wealthy businessmen and their families such as the Morgans, Vanderbilts, and Rockefellers to bridge the annual deficit of an art museum, an opera company, or a symphony orchestra. Many of these patrons may not have actually enjoyed the opera and the paintings, but they did keep them going so others could enjoy them.

Most of these entrepreneurs, however, are gone, their huge fortunes dissolved.

One of the more recent patrons was diplomat Joseph Vernor Reed, who enabled the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn., to open its handsome theater and grounds to summer visitors and school groups. In 1973 Mr. Reed passed on, and without his support the festival's continuation was in doubt.

When Conrad Matthaei was brought in to salvage what he could, he not only found the theater's finances close to ruin but its policies "inbred and narrow." Backed by CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act) funds, and by a motivated staff, Mr. Matthaei turned to business leaders such as Theodore Brophy of GTE in Stamford and Edward S. McCawley of the Remington Arms subsidiary of Du Pont in Bridgeport. With their advice and encouragement he worked out some changes: a year-round operation to maximize use and a mixing of popular musicals along with the Shakespeare repertory.

Support came in from a growing list of companies. New audiences and new affiliations are now putting what is now called the Connecticut Center for the Performing Arts on a sounder basis. A late-summer staging of Shakespeare's "Richard III" will go on to the Kennedy Center in Washington, and a student production of "Macbeth" will tour the country.

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