A conversation, some real and some imagined.
Me: I’m writing an article about Norwalk Art Space. I can’t figure out where to begin; I need a hook.
Friend: What’s Norwalk Art Space?
Me: A museum. It’s only been open for a few weeks and it’s fabulous! It’s for underrepresented artists and has mentorships and free art classes for high school students. A Westport woman, Alexandra Korry created it - she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died halfway through its creation -
F: That’s sad. Don’t write about that.
Me: I have to - it’s an important part of what it is. I mean it’s upsetting, but she made this gorgeous space! It’s the food issue and Bill Taibe’s café there - it has this eclectic menu - I mean eclectic to me, not to him because he’s a professional chef. There’s beet salad with coconut, turkey sandwich with kimchee. I had a matcha latte with cappuccino and pistachio and cherry.
F: Then you have to write about the café.
Me: I know, but I can’t just write about the café! Maybe I don’t need a hook. Maybe I just write.
F: Sure, you could write it reportorially. That’s what everyone else will do.
Me: You think I should write it like everyone else?
F: Well, if that’s what you want to do.
Me: Why would I want to do that?
F: You wouldn’t. I apologize. I wasn’t being helpful.
Me: I forgive you.
F: Please tell me about the founder, Alexandra.
Me: Well, her dad was an ambassador and her family lived in both Ethiopia and Chile. She straddled these two worlds of privilege and leper-level poverty, realizing the “huge advantages of being American.” She later became a successful Wall Street lawyer and was involved with the Harlem Education Activity Fund. Oh - and she was also instrumental in the elimination of solitary confinement in New York.
An amateur art collector, she noticed - surprise - that 90% of the paintings on museum and gallery walls were by white men. So she took these two things - white privilege and minority underrepresentation - and, according to her husband, Robin Panovka, concocted an idea to give opportunity to artists who, most likely, wouldn’t have one. To create for them “a vibrant art space, with bright beautiful light,” evoking the galleries she loved in New Orleans. Admission would always be free, of course, and it would have artist mentorships and artists-in-residence who would get a free studio and teach free art classes to high school students. And it had to have a café, so people could enjoy wonderful meals while viewing the museum.
So she bought an old church in Norwalk with fantastic windows and overhauled it.
Okay - here’s the upsetting part. Ready?
Me: She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and halfway through the project she passed away. But the wonderful part is she assembled a crew of people who adored her and were determined to realize her vision. She was light, enthusiasm, and strength for so many people. Robin says, “At the hospital I asked her, ‘Write down the business plan for me’ and she said ‘What’s the fun in that?’”
I mean, if you could see how happy everyone is there. Her legacy is this joyous -
F: Isn’t this the food issue?
Me: Which I’ll get to! Seriously! But it’s about the whole thing, the beauty and spirt, not just the eating.
Me: Her husband and daughters love Bill Taibe’s restaurants so they asked him to create this tiny super-cool eatery at the back of the museum. Now, we all know that Bill juggles seemingly dozens of restaurants already, but when presented with this project all he could say was “Yes.” Why? He loves the vision and thought “It’s a good experience for me and my ADD. Also, the karma if I said no…” Smart guy.
F: Aren’t his restaurants kind of upscale? I mean, isn’t it ironic, having a tony café in a non-profit space?
Me: Excellent question and one that I, myself, asked Canyon Sharits, Communications and Space Manager. “We hope people come in for lunch and see how wonderful the art and the space is.” Not only does the café make everything lively, part of Alexandra’s vision, but it raises money for the museum. It’s also the only eatery in the little “Museum Mile” of the Stepping Stones Museum for Children, Center for Contemporary Printmaking, Lockwood Mansion Museum, and Mathews Park where Norwalk Conservatory just launched an excellent Broadway in the Park series.
F: What’s the menu -
Me: I was - just - shh. Bill created this menu that so beautifully reflects the spirit of the Space. It’s whimsical and full of fresh, unexpected flavors. He sources most everything locally, like veggies from the Farmer’s Market, HooDoo Brown turkey from Ridgefield, bread from Flour Water Salt in Darien -
F: Are you going to rattle off all of them?
Me: Oh, that’s polite. Maybe I want to.
F: Please don’t.
Me: Uch. Fine. So, here’s where it gets super-immersive. So, they select a group of Korry Fellows who are more experienced artists. They mentor the local, younger resident artists who in turn “mentor” the students. Now, cooking is an art, so Bill is planning to teach… try to guess…
Me: YES! Can you imagine how amazing that would be?? And this brilliant saxophonist, David DeJesus who’s a professor of music at Purchase College started a Jazz band that plays during Sunday brunch and practices at lunchtime on Saturday. And they’re good at practice, not just a bunch of atonal ear torture. Actually, it’s full of smart artists. Oh - there’s a quilting bee on Saturdays, I mean, there’s so much going on at that place! They’re all so excited about the possibilities of the Space and it’s totally infectious!
F: You sound completely infected.
Me: Oh - ask them if you can teach a class on being a jerk.
F: So clever.
Me: We should go sometime.
455 West Avenue, Norwalk