History at Real Art Ways

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Historic photo of an early outdoor live concert at Real Art Ways

Real Art Ways is committed to artists and to community. We have built a national reputation for supporting innovation and for connecting people with art and ideas. We work with emerging and established artists, and we have a diverse and dynamic audience. All are welcome here.

Real Art Ways began in the fall of 1975 when a group of visual artists and musicians took over a rambling upstairs space on Asylum Street in downtown Hartford and created a bare bones salon in which they lived, worked and presented the work of others. Across the country alternative ideas were being explored and developed – and that idea of alternativity to the mainstream remains central to Real Art Ways’ work.

Under the leadership of director Joseph Celli, RAW incorporated as a non-profit organization. Concerts, exhibitions, and performances brought RAW national attention. Early highlights included the Ornette Coleman Festival, a John Cage premiere with a national broadcast, and the New Music America Festival. Real estate development led to the loss of three locations in ten years. In 1989, on the edge of going out of business, with interim leadership and little money, the organization landed in a small space at 56 Arbor Street in the culturally mixed neighborhood of Parkville.

Under new director Will K. Wilkins, Real Art Ways regrouped. The organization commissioned a series of vigorous public art projects, and took strong stands in the raging culture wars, including presenting the “NEA 4.” In 1994, Real Art Ways obtained a 30-year lease on an empty warehouse space in the Arbor Street building, and began developing a unique center for arts and culture.

The Real Art Ways Cinema opened in the fall of 1996. The galleries were renovated and re-opened in 1999, and the Real Room and Loading Dock Lounge were renovated and opened in 2002. The space is still thriving and evolving, as evidenced by its most recent triumph: a complete a digital cinema conversion in 2014.

Today, Real Art Ways is widely regarded as one of the country’s outstanding contemporary art spaces, one that has a special link with its own community. With films, concerts, performances, readings, exhibitions, and a space where people gather before and after events, Real Art Ways is a unique meeting place for people to come together around art, ideas, and conversation.