I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, where I completed my undergraduate degree, but ultimately moved to Connecticut for my MFA in studio art at UConn. Through my studies I was introduced to Real Art Ways, a nonprofit arts organization in Hartford, and immediately knew I wanted to be a part of it. Here we are four years later, and I am a visual arts manager there. I am lucky to manage gallery programming for our 15 to 20 unique exhibitions each year, collaborating with artists and outside curators. We also serve the surrounding Parkville community through a robust youth arts education program.
I think there’s a common misconception that Connecticut is just a suburb of New York. In my mind, there are two Connecticuts. First, there’s the New York Connecticut along the shoreline where it’s easy to commute to the city. But then there’s where I work and live in central Connecticut, which is what I call the New England Connecticut. I think many people think Connecticut residents are all one type of person, but there’s actually a lot of diversity.
This state has a lot of hidden gems, like Real Art Ways. We have folks coming in for independent movies showing only here, and often it’s their first experience at Real Art Ways. It’s a nationally renowned space with so much to offer, which is why I work with local schools and colleges to broaden our community footprint.
Right in the Parkville neighborhood my favorite hidden gem would be Tisane, a Euro-Asian café that has lots of events. Right across the street is a great market called Tangiers that sells international groceries, like Mediterranean and Middle Eastern goods. And when it reopens next year, I’m really excited to get back into Sea Tea Improv, which offers great comedy and improv, including live podcast recordings and special events.
There’s only one organization in Omaha that would afford me the artistic opportunities I have now, whereas Connecticut has many. The Connecticut Office of the Arts also supports creative work through grant funding, training of artists and art educators and more, so it’s great to know there’s a lot of opportunity there as well.
And on my own time, I’ve had the chance to connect with other artists in the state and continue developing my own craft. I’m currently in conversation with other UConn alumni about starting a Visual Artists Collective, and on my own time I started an art blog called Impossible Press.
The blog is pretty emblematic of my personal brand as an artist: “Neil makes things.” One day you might find me painting a wall somewhere. On other days you’ll find me writing art-related essays that allow dialogues and platforms for engagement to occur. In my blog, I aim to bring critical awareness to artists and cultural workers by sharing art and stories that go uncovered by larger arts media outlets.
Connecticut has so much variety. You can live on the sound, in a city, or on a farm. For instance, I went to college in a rural area, and now live with my husband and dog in a house with a yard, while working in a city. If you consider the kind of experiences you want to have in life — the type of living space you want, career path, social activities — and do your research, you can find the life you want here.