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The Loft Artists Association Bridges the Gap between Arts and the Community

By Alaina Leary

The Loft Artists Association in Stamford, CT started in 1978 as the dream of three artists - sculptor James Jackson Burt, painter Sophia Gevas, and folk art curator Dan Prince - who lived and worked in the Yale & Towne lock factory. They created an artists' colony in the factory they called their home so they could bring "creativity to life." The Association became known as Stamford's premier arts organization, and has been supporting local artists ever since.

The Association was created with a goal in mind - to create communication between artists and the surrounding community. It also became known for being a place of support for newer artists, who have the opportunity to be mentored by established, seasoned artists through the LAA. President Ellen Gordon says, "The more experienced artists often guide, critique and mentor artists who are newer to the association as well as to exhibiting."

The LAA hosts many unique member-only events each year. At the end of this year Loft Artists Association will be showing the Lineal Investigations Juried Exhibition, which focuses on different interpretations and portrayals of lines in all mediums. "There is always something new going on," says Gordon.

The Association also participates in Stamford's downtown ARTWALK, an annual event that showcases the growing local art community and collectors market. The event welcomes artists, photographers and sculptors from the Stamford area, giving patrons the opportunity to appreciate 125 different artists' work. Gordon says, "Programs like ARTWALK provide a way to connect the public with local artists in retail establishments, bring foot traffic to both the [retail stores] and artists alike."

Events like ARTWALK help further the Association's goal of encouraging open communication between artists and the community. That's why LAA is involved in the community in many ways - from their open studios, which offer a weekend-long chance to view artwork, to their extensive community outreach.

The Association believes it is crucial to be actively engaged in the community. They refurbished the window motifs at St. Luke's LifeWorks Church for the Homeless, had an Art Tent at the multicultural diversity festival WorldFest, and helped restore the outdoor mural at CTE. The LAA also offers studio and lecture tours for interested high school students who want to learn more about how the arts can positively transform a community.

The LAA has taken the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum's initiative "Draw On!" and used it to support their spring workshops - including 8-week-long free classes in painting, sculpting, pottery, collage, and beading that were offered to children every Saturday throughout July and August. They also teach art programs after school to students at the Lathon Wider Child Development Center, a local daycare facility.

The annual Open studios Event takes connecting the community to the arts literally by inviting the public in to see the gallery exhibits. Known as an "art-meets-life" event, it offers the community a firsthand look at what the LAA and the arts are all about. The Association also hosts walk and talk events where artists walk with the guests to discuss gallery exhibits, thus opening a direct dialogue between the artists and the public.

"As many as 4,000 visitors have come over a single Open Studios weekend to roam through the lofts, meet the artists and observe them at work," says Gordon. The Open Studios is only one of the many ways that the Association creates a bridge between artists and the community.

Gordon sums it up perfectly: "The LAA supports the community as its hub for fine arts."

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