Art Town: Westport Public Art Collection grows with 135 new pieces

"Don't Judge Me" by Christa Forrest, oil 2021

“Don’t Judge Me” by Christa Forrest, oil 2021

Contributed photo /

Westport has a dynamic arts history and this summer marks the 110th anniversary of the first art exhibition held in Westport. Organized by the first generation of artist residents, it took place at the original Westport Library in 1911.

In 1964, Art Educator Burt Chernow initiated the Westport Schools’ collection, believing in the visual education of our students by introducing them to original examples of well-known artists’ work in every school. This continues to be the mission and vision for the Westport Public Art Collections (WestPAC, for short.)

Westport’s cultural past is represented by this extensive collection in four significant categories: town, school, bicentennial and WPA art. These collections are distributed throughout all the schools, our municipal buildings, the Center for Senior Activities and the parks and rec offices. WestPAC boasts over 1,500 works of art. It is one of our town’s most valuable assets. These collections enrich the academic and daily lives of Westport’s students and residents.

Artworks offered for donation are first submitted to, and then reviewed by the WestPAC committee and the town curator, Kathie Bennewitz (who has kindly shared the information given in this article) to determine if a proposed accession fits WestPAC’s mission/vision and criteria, can be cared for and displayed properly, reinforces a collection strength or helps address a deficiency. A proposed work may also relate specifically to Westport’s history and art heritage. Next, the offer goes to the Arts Advisory Committee for approval. Then, in keeping with the policy on gifts, artwork is proposed to the Board of Education or Board of Selectmen for final accessioning.

New works of art have not been submitted for acceptance since 2016 due to policy, procedural and pressing district matters. But in May, after a long hiatus, acceptance of 135 works of art was completed.

Included in these works were pieces created by artists of color and other under-represented groups — a beginning diversification that addresses a deficiency of minority artists in WestPAC. Thirty works by Black artists were accepted, including Staples alum Charles Joyner (North Carolina), Jerri Graham (Westport), Christa Forrest (Stamford), Richard Hunt (Chicago), and Adger Cowans (Bridgeport). These, and other new additions to the Collection will be discussed in our next Art Town column.

Over the decades, the collection’s growth has been driven by phenomenal public and private gifts to the non-profit arm, Friends of WestPAC. WestPAC and Arts Advisory are working together.

To increase Westport’s vitality in the arts, the committee is expanding “Learning Galleries,” supported by Drew Friedman Community Arts Center, at each school to use art to supplement curriculum.

The shared intent is for students, town and school staff and residents to be inspired by the diverse range of original art — “a museum without walls” — that can be readily accessed. Recently, they have installed an exhibit in the Town Hall lobby of drawings by Westport artist, Tracy Sugarman. You can see and learn about his work done in Mississippi during the “Freedom Summer” of 1964.

Miggs Burroughs is a lifelong Westport resident and full-time graphic artist since 1972. He is co-founder of The Artists Collective of Westport and a member of the Westport Arts Advisory Committee, among other accomplishments.

Ann Chernow has been a Westport resident since 1968. Her artwork has been exhibited locally and worldwide. Chernow is an honorary member of the Artists Collective of Westport, member of the Westport Museum Committee and other arts organizations.