Art Town: What is WAAC, and why should you care?

Former First Selectman Jim Marpe shown accepting retirement gifts from members of WAAC on his last day in office.

Former First Selectman Jim Marpe shown accepting retirement gifts from members of WAAC on his last day in office.

Contributed photo /

WAAC is the Westport Art Advisory Committee, and its mission, as established in 1994 by founder Burt Chernow is “To enhance the visibility of the arts in Westport... and to preserve Westport’s artistic heritage, and to perpetuate Westport as a thriving center for artistic and cultural activity.”

One of WAAC’s most significant roles has been to vet and approve additions to our nationally recognized Westport Public Art Collections — WestPAC. Last year, 20 works were acquired by WestPAC and added to the collection of almost 2,000 pieces of art. On Jan. 28, an exhibition from this collection will open at MoCA, Westport, providing a rare opportunity for the public to view these treasures. Most are in schools and buildings not easily accessible to the public.

For 28 years WAAC has honored distinguished Westport and Weston residents for their achievements in the visual arts, music, theater and literature, and a yearly “Horizon Award” has been given to an emerging young talent with a promising career. Among those receiving this award was the distinguished violinist, Igor Pikayzen — now a professor of violin at the University of Denver — and Lynsey Addario and Tyler Hicks, renowned photo-journalists, who were recognized for their searing images from war torn areas around the world.

In 2014, WAAC combined its annual awards ceremony with a series of topical, moderated panel discussions on the arts — named “TEA Talk’ for Thinkers - Educators - Artists Talk. Held at Westport’s town hall, members of WAAC interviewed distinguished resident artists and performers on topical art-related issues. Due to COVID, “TEA Talks” are on hiatus until further notice.

Expanding beyond the scheduled events, WAAC also develops projects which contribute to the historic and artistic fabric of our community. In October, 2021, “Westport Illustrated,” was unveiled in the passageway just past the Main Street entrance to Anthropologie. This exciting permanent mural project includes five original works of art by local artists Eric Chiang, Hernan Garcia, Jana Ireijo, Iyaba Mandingo and Rebecca Ross.

WAAC recently helped organize the first selectman’s effort to secure funds from the American Rescue Plan Act for the town’s not-for-profit arts organizations. As of this writing, funds were unanimously approved by the Board of Finance and are heading to the RTM for final approval.

The following Westport residents, appointed by the first selectperson, currently serve on the committee and contribute to the artistic vitality of our town: Kathie Bennewitz (town curator,), Miggs Burroughs, Eric Chiang, Frederic Chiu Nancy Diamond (chair,) John Dodig, Richard Epstein, Lee Goldstein, Jerri Graham, Diane Lowman, Shobana Mani, Charles Rosoff, Elizabeth Strick (secretary), Doug Tirola, Dina Upton and Kimberly Wilson.

WAAC’s meeting and agendas are posted on Westport’s Town website, and are currently scheduled for the second Tuesday of each month at noon. If you are interested in serving on WAAC, please contact waac@westportct.gov.

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.