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 community. We work with emerging and established artists, and we have a diverse and engaged audience. All are welcome here.

In the fall of 1975 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.

In the late 60’s and 70’s, alternative ideas were being explored and developed in different ways – alternative schools, alternative newspapers, natural foods, alternative approaches to healing – and the idea of being an alternative arts center continues to be at the heart of Real Art Ways’ work.

Concerts, exhibitions, and performances brought Real Art Ways local prominence, and then regional and national attention. Early highlights included the Ornette Coleman Festival, a John Cage premiere with a national broadcast, and the New Music America Festival. Director Joseph Celli led the organization in its first decade.

But real estate development led to the loss of three locations within ten years. In 1989, Real Art Ways, on the edge of going out of business, with dwindling resources, landed in a small space in the front of 56 Arbor Street in Hartford’s culturally mixed neighborhood of Parkville.

Under new director Will K. Wilkins, the organization regrouped. Real Art Ways commissioned a series of vigorous public art projects, connecting with Hartford’s vibrant African-American, Puerto Rican communities and took strong stands in the raging culture wars, presenting many talented LGBTQ artists, including the “NEA 4.” Real Art Ways ties to community have been essential to its significance, and its growth.

In 1994, Real Art Ways signed a 30-year lease on an empty warehouse space in the rear of 56 Arbor, and began step by step developing our center for arts and culture. Working with architect Rich Charney, Real Art Ways opened the Cinema in the fall of 1996. The galleries were renovated and re-opened in 1999, and the Real Room and Loading Dock Lounge, with a
new entrance (and windows!) opened in 2002.

In the years prior to Covid, Real Art Ways attendance grew to record levels 5 years in a row. The organization purchased the 56 Arbor St. building in 2021, with big plans for an expansion that will play an important and unique role in the evolution of the state, region, city and neighborhood.

One of the things we are especially pleased with is the quality of the artists Real Art Ways work with. Real Art Ways has presented an astounding number of Macarthur Foundation “genius” awardees – 43 and counting! This includes visual artists, musicians performance artists, writers, filmmakers, most of whom we presented before they received the award!

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