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Norwich group sees regional promotion of arts as best alternative

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published December 12. 2012 4:00AM   Updated December 12. 2012 11:55PM

Norwich - The best way to promote the region's arts and cultural assets in tight fiscal times is for the northern and southern New London County cultural service organizations to merge and promote the entire region together, the Greater Norwich Cultural Alliance concluded after an extensive arts assessment survey.

The alliance steering committee presented a summary of the survey findings Tuesday before about 30 arts advocates, municipal officials and residents.

Ellen Silbermann, assessment coordinator for the greater Norwich alliance, said the 304 respondents overwhelmingly said that cultural events and programs are key to the region's quality of life, but attendance has been dropping at many such events. Public government support has dropped, and more than lack of funding, government officials are not seen as supportive of the arts.

Only 6 percent of respondents agreed with a question: "Do local governments support arts and cultural activities?"

The steering committee's top recommendation to help solve these and other issues is to form a Regional Cultural Service Organization and to merge with the Southeastern Connecticut Regional Cultural Planning Group.

John Cusano, community development coordinator for the state Office of the Arts, applauded both the greater Norwich and the southeastern planning group's decisions to form a combined organization.

He promised that grant money would be flowing to the region as early as January for a designated regional cultural service organization.

Members of the audience expressed some skepticism about a proposed regionwide arts organization, noting that greater Norwich organizations already have difficulty communicating and cooperating. Some joked that residents seem to need "a passport" to traverse from the shoreline to the northern region and vice versa.

Elanah Sherman, chairwoman of the Greater Norwich alliance steering committee, said the New London area group already has started a transition team for the proposed merger, and Norwich will add members to the effort.

The goal is to create a single regional board of directors by April.

"We're going to do great things here," Sherman said.

Greater Norwich steering committee member Marge Blizard said the group will repeat Tuesday's presentation Dec. 22 to the delegation of southeastern Connecticut state legislators to inform them of the merger efforts and results of the survey. The location for the meeting has not yet been set.

The full report and survey results will be published after Jan. 1 on the Otis Library website, at www.otislibrarynorwich.org.

c.bessette@theday.com

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