Torrington Stories

CultureMax to the Max!

Before reaching into the car to grab my ticket to the event I called out to author and news editor Jack Sheedy as he crossed the community parking lot.  Sheedy was sporting a long dark overcoat with a sharp red scarf providing a dapper spark of color; it was the polished, professional look I decided I’d one day emulate especially as the freezing wintry wind seemed to be laughing at my autumn jacket despite the fleece underneath.  It was Tuesday evening in mid November and we were in Norfolk, Connecticut to celebrate members of the Northwest Connecticut arts and culture community, especially Sharon Dante, the founder of The Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory, who was being honored with a CultureMax award at Infinity Music Hall.


The Northwest Connecticut Arts Council had created the awards to honor those “artists, heritage professionals, cultural organizations, volunteers and businesses that have elevated the stature of arts and/or heritage within the region of northwest Connecticut.”  It was to be an evening of high energy and warm feelings within the illustrious walls of Infinity Hall.


As Sheedy and I approached the door to the Hall we met up with Jacque Williams and Theresa Channell who were arriving to interview the honorees for their popular Cable show The CREW. Inside we were greeted by the smiling faces of the dedicated Northwest Connecticut Arts Council team. Lana Peck handed me my nametag while Debbie Freund accepted my ticket and Maggie Cady thanked me for coming. Anticipation grew with every step as I made my way up the stairs into the main Hall.  We were early for the event but the room was already buzzing with an energy and excitement.

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There was a bar off to the side in the back, while in the main hall a long buffet table offered edible delights of every variety.  Guests milled about and made their way to and from each location while saying hello to friends and new friends made that day. We found Sharon Dante right away and expressed our heartfelt congratulations. She coaxed us into trying some of the wonderful food and I happily took the occasion to do so!

Jay Roberts of Performance Hub USA Educational Foundation arrived and I was happy to say hello and discuss the exciting events going on at his corner of Water St and Main in Torrington.  Lynn Gelormino of the Warner Theatre, Gail Kruppa from the Torrington Historical Society, and so many artists who are members of the Northwest Connecticut Arts Council. It was wonderful to see so many Nutmeg Ballet representatives in attendance and meet so many of Sharon’s friends I had the pleasure to converse with.

Soon it was time for Amy Wynn, executive director of the Northwest CT Arts Council to take the stage. She opened the festivities with expressions of gratitude to her team who had worked so diligently to make the event possible, to Infinity Music Hall and their staff for their gracious hospitality and to local artist Dennis Bialek whose magnificent sculptures were crafted specifically for these CultureMax Awards.


Wynn was followed by Kip Bergstrom, Deputy Director of Connecticut’s Department of Economic Development, who shared fond memories of northwest Connecticut before honing in on a fundamental concept that was the groundwork for this evening’s ceremony: PASSION. It was the passion of the individuals and institutions being honored that made such an impact on the community writ large. Finally Tino Galluzo, proprietor of The White Gallery in Lakeville, made the presentations to each of the honorees, introducing them with charm and gentility.

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Sharon Dante was honored with the CultureMax award in the artist category for founding The Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts, an institution of immense importance that is now celebrating its 45th year of dance instruction in Torrington.

Catherine Fields, the executive director of the Litchfield Historical Society, was honored with the CultureMax award in the Heritage Professional category for her 26 years of dedication to helping the community in this field.

Janet Rathbun of Colebrook was honored with the CultureMax award in the Volunteer category due to her tireless efforts for countless organizations throughout northwest Connecticut;

Five Points Gallery in Torrington (care of Judy McElhone) was honored with the CultureMax award in the Cultural Organization category because it has made an enormous impact in a short few years thanks to the dedication of team of individuals who make it possible.

The North End Store in Barkhamsted (care of Brenda Pelletier) was honored with the CultureMax award in the culture-loving Business category for its dedication to providing artists and musicians a venue to showcase their talent, making it an integral part of the North End Store experience.

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The key “take away” idea from the CultureMax event was the concept that Kip Bergstrom had expressed, that each of the individuals who were honored tonight have a passion for what they  do. Passion is a strong word and it invokes not just the love of something but the strong motivation to see something through, the need to carry on when times are difficult, to see a vision and be willing to work towards making that vision a reality. Awards are not the reason why these individuals worked so hard to achieve their vision, but awards  shine a special, celebratory light on individuals who work selflessly to better the community and perhaps in shining that light, others might be inspired to  their own passions a reality.

At the end of the evening I had the privilege of carrying the CultureMax award off the stage. This CultureMax award was a beautiful sculpture by Dennis Bialek whose studio is in Torrington. I didn’t weigh it, but the if I were told it weighed 30 pounds it wouldn’t have surprised me.

Sharon’s award reached the Nutmeg Ballet in Torrington in safety where it will now be placed on display near the main entrance.


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