Society has long understood that the arts have the power to touch the heart and cradle the soul -- to bring joy and to ease pain.
Nowhere is that concept more cherished or celebrated than in Newtown, a community attempting to cope with the horrific grief caused by a shooter who killed 26 children and adults in a Dec. 14 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Earlier this month, residents and visitors from throughout the state attended the opening of the HealingNewtown Art Space, a 3,000-square-foot facility dedicated to "healing through the arts."
The space, a former hardware store, was transformed into an art gallery and performance space where Newtown residents and visitors can come together in the long-term grieving process.
The center is open Mondays and Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Wednesdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays, noon to 9 a.m.; Sundays, noon to 4 p.m.; and closed Thursdays.
According to Jennifer Johnston, a Newtown teacher of ballet and group spokeswoman, more than 400 pieces of art and art services have been donated from around the world -- all unsolicited.
"Art is an expression of love, support, grief -- it's pretty simple," she said. "So many people were touched by this -- and for artists, the natural way to express their feelings is through their work. And we're so grateful for their support."
Johnston said the inaugural exhibition -- hung by Suzanne Kachmar, executive director of Bridgeport's nonprofit City Lights Gallery -- will include information on each of the artists and their motivations for donating work.
Johnston said HealingNewtown was created to share "information about arts healing" and to accept, record and catalog submissions.
It is a project of the Newtown Cultural Commission and supported by the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut and the state Department of Economic and Community Development/Connecticut Office of the Arts.
In addition to artwork, donations of services also have come to the group in the form of plans for workshops, performances for children and adults and other therapeutic endeavors.
Sculptures from Colorado, folded paper cranes from Oregon and a mural devoted to "Community," contributed by a group of motorcyclists, are among the items to be displayed, according to the group's announcement.
"Creations in all media and sizes, from paper snowflakes to bronze sculpture continue to arrive from around the country and the world, made by artists of all ages and abilities."
A HealingNewtown website is being created and will be updated frequently to include information on upcoming events, Johnston said.
The space is being donated by Brause Realty, she added.
Lisa Scails, executive director of the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut, said "the space is home base (for) the HealingNewtown organization. This space will be used to field calls related to the arts, organize contributions, meet with community members, facilitate contributed arts programs geared toward arts healing."
"(Further it will be) a co-work space for all people working on this effort, a place for parents to meet over a cup of coffee and to get online, to display artworks from around the state and around the country. (And it will be a) safe meeting place for children and families during the long process of healing." Scails said.
Among the volunteers with the program are Scails, Karen Pinto, Ros Liljengren, Pam Church, Joan Zagrobelny, Kate Katcher, Steve Gerber, Donna Magnafico, Laura E. Lerman, Robert Rabinowitz, Nancy Depuy, Jackie DeFlumeri and Denise VosWinkel.
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