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May 27, 2020
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One of a growing group that sees Clinton as poised for positive growth, Steve Van Ness has stepped up to lead the newly formed Clinton Arts Council. 

Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News

One of a growing group that sees Clinton as poised for positive growth, Steve Van Ness has stepped up to lead the newly formed Clinton Arts Council. (Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)

Giving Clinton a Framework for Arts Growth

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In an effort to support Clinton’s art scene as well as hopefully attract new visitors, the town recently formed its own arts organization, the Clinton Arts Council (CAC). The council will be led by its president, Steve Van Ness.

The formation of an arts council is something that the town’s sustainability committee had been discussing for most of 2019. Steve says that he attended an informal meeting to discuss the council’s formation earlier in the year.

“I said if we really wanted to do an arts council, we need to be formal,” Steve says.

By formal, Steve meant the group had to have a leader. The one problem was, nobody wanted to be the one to take on that role.

“My intention was not to be director, so I said I’m willing to be president if [First Selectman Christine Goupil] would be vice president, which she was,” Steve says.

The arts council is a nonprofit group, which Steve says gives it the ability to apply for grants and to raise money.

“The goal of really is to promote the existing arts in Clinton, like for example Kidz Konnection and the opera, as well as develop new programs,” says Steve.

Earlier this year the town established an official Arts District that spans west from the Liberty Green Historic District to North High Street, as well to Hull Street and the former Unilever factory to the north. The area was chosen due to the density of artistic assets in the location.

Steve says that promoting and establishing more events in the Arts District is an obvious start for CAC. However, Steve says that the council won’t focus on just be the Arts District.

Pointing to the development taking place at the old Morgan School and potentially elsewhere on Route 81, Steve says, “I think that could be an arts corridor that links up with the downtown.”

Since the group is newly formed, the council is still getting its legs underneath them.

“We’ve got to start small since I can’t do everything myself,” Steve concedes.

Starting soon, downtown Clinton will have a makeover thanks to two new programs the arts council is starting. One program is called the Clinton Sculpture Mile, which Steve says will display large sculptures in prominent locations on Clinton’s Main Street visible to passing car traffic as well as a sculpture garden housing smaller sculptures at the Clinton Historic Society Red Brick House, also on Main street.

The sculpture mile is hosted in conjunction with the Hollycroft Foundation, which has existing sculpture miles, in Madison, Stonington, and New London.

By participating in the project, Steve says, “It puts Clinton on the map as a larger shoreline arts community.”

A contract approving the statues will need to be approved by the Board of Selectmen, which unanimously endorsed the project at a meeting in September. Steve says if approved, the statues will be displayed for two years.

The second program that CAC is starting is called First Thursday, which Steve is hopeful will draw people to Clinton’s downtown. Steve says that the idea for the program is that, on the first Thursday of each month from 5 to 7 p.m., businesses on Main Street will host a musician or other type of visual artist to perform in their space. Steve say that in particular, the idea is to house the people in nontraditional areas like bank lobbies or restaurants.

“It’s like a social event where you can go downtown and see the different artists, they’ll be refreshments and you walk from place to place. It creates a little mini art festival,” he says.

The first, First Thursday will take place Oct. 3 in businesses from Town Hall to Post Office Square.

Steve says he is hopeful that by promoting the arts in town, the town will see a potential economic boost. “Clinton is bubbling as a potential arts community like other shoreline towns,” Steve says.

Noting the popularity of Clinton Crossing Premium Outlets on Route 81, Steve says “If we got just one percent of the people that visit there every year to come downtown that’d be huge.”

Steve says that part of CAC’s mission will be to market the town’s artistic endeavors to hopefully draw more people to town. A website, app, and social media campaign are all still being developed by the council. Those interested in learning more should contact Steve at 860-669-1300 or at

Steve grew up in upstate New York but has been a Clinton resident for the last 15 years. Steve says that he and his wife Jaime were attracted to Clinton because it was an affordable town on the shoreline with good schools for their children.

Besides his work with the arts council, Clinton residents may know Steve through his involvement for several years as a Little League baseball coach.

“I loved doing things with my kids and I think coaching baseball was a great analogy for life,” he says. “Derek Jeter was a great player and he struck out twice as much as he hit the ball. It’s like in life sometime you fail but you need to keep trying.”

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