In "Memory," a visual arts exhibit kicking off Westport Arts Center's new season, artists explore ways to connect -- and consequently bring meaning to -- the past. This theme is intertwined with performing, literary and fine arts programs offered in the community in the upcoming months.

WAC's Director of Visual Arts Helen Klisser During, and curator of "Memory," invites everyone to experience the eclectic media mix of drawings, paintings, lithographs, film and sculpture on display at the Riverside Avenue gallery. An opening reception will be held tonight from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The show will run through Nov. 28.

"This is a thoughtful exhibit; it's also about discovery," said During. "The paradox of memory is the fragility of it all. In this exhibition, a number of artists confront and explore the paradox of memory. Each artist finds ways to make contact with the past, while bringing out the vulnerability and fragility of that contact."

Every Friday morning, During leads a roundtable discussion in the art gallery space about contemporary art. This week, as 25 artists and art aficionados munched on her homemade cranberry-peach muffins and sipped freshly brewed coffee, During shared some personal connections she had with "Memory." She told those gathered that one of the artists, Leo Kok, is her father's cousin. Both men were prisoners during the Holocaust. Kok, who was sent to Westerbork concentration camp at age 19, perished in Auschwitz three years later. While he was there, Kok sketched detailed renderings that depicted what life was like in the prison camp. In circumstances paralleling those described in "The Diary of Anne Frank," opening this week at the Westport Country Playhouse, During's father, Johan Klisser, now 83, also hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam when he was only 12.

"This is most definitely a personal response that I have," During explained.

Westporters will undoubtedly have their own personal, unique responses to both the play and the visual arts exhibit. She said that both "Memory" and the Playhouse production emphasize a need to document one's past in whatever manner speaks to the individual. "This is the end of a generation to bear witness to this time," she added, referring to the Holocaust.

Mayer Kirshenblatt, a Polish artist featured in "Memory," didn't even begin to paint until he was 73 years old. And, yet he beautifully captures the quaint and even innocent lifestyle found in Poland's small towns and villages prior to World War II.

"He lived in shetl in Poland and his daughter said that he couldn't describe it with words but he could paint his experience," During said.

The "Memory" exhibit is deliberately timed to coincide with the Westport Country Playhouse's production of A Diary of Anne Frank debuting on Tuesday, Sept. 28. The Tony-award winning play poignantly describes a young Jewish girl's experience of living in a tiny attic in the early 1940's. Most people are familiar with the tragic story that ends in the death of her entire family except for her father, Otto Frank. He, in fact, discovers her diary after she dies in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Mr. Frank published the personal journal initially as a book, which was later turned into a play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.

Along with Kok and Kirshenblatt, other artists represented in "Memory" are Christian Boltanski, Sophie Calle, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Charla Boteler, Nina Bentley, Larry Silver, D. Dominick Lombardi and Tracy Sugarman.

To further complement the discussion on memory, the Westport Arts Center partnered with Ina Chadwick's Mousemuse Productions in sponsoring a memoir writing competition. The winning essays will be published and read aloud by professional actors.

During's overall mission is to get the Westport community thinking about this topic from a variety of angles and to inspire stimulating discussions about the different art forms. The public is invited to bring a brown bag lunch to WAC's Wednesday Artist Lunch Talks from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

"We guarantee to have something exciting going on with a different artist talking about his work," During said. "We want to strengthen, as a community, all of the arts. We plant a little seed here, a little yeast there, to spark things off."

WAC's Marketing and Communications Manager Alyssa Crouse said that both the Wednesday and Friday group discussions have become a "destination for people to gather." The arts center's education program also continues to grow and expand its offerings.

She said that last year 4,000 youngsters were enrolled in its programs. "We have about 500 students come through for school group visits during each show," Crouse added. .

Danielle Ogden, director of WAC's education wing, is responsible for rolling out the children, teens and adult programs.

For example, as a tie-in to The Diary of Anne Frank, children will have the opportunity to meet Molly Ephraim, the actress portraying the title role. After reciting some excerpts from the play, they will make their own mixed-media diary. The family workshop is recommended for children ages 6 to 12.

WAC's popular WACky Family Sundays will have its inaugural meeting on Sunday, Oct. 24. Children -- who may come in costume -- and their parents, grandparents and caregivers are invited to sign up to create haunted houses and Halloween masks. Tickets are $10 for each child, and adults and children under 2 are free.

Tours to the Philip Johnson Glass House and the Brant Foundation, led by Ogden, are also part of this season's highlights. For more information, contact WAC at 203-222-7070.