Bitsie Clark, Arts “Goddess”

Allan Appel PhotoNot only did Frances Bitsie Clark receive a lifetime achievement award as a champion of the arts in New Haven Thursday. One admirer nominated her for governor of all culture in Connecticut. A third dubbed her a “goddess” of the arts.

The plain-speaking downtown alderwoman and midwife of the Audubon arts district took it all in stride as the dueling encomia flowed at a celebratory Arts Council of Greater New Haven 2010 Arts Awards ceremony.

Fans and friends of Bitsie and other awardees such as Lou Cox of Channel One skateboard shop and “outsider” art gallery joined a record-setting overflow throng of 260 people at the Lawn Club on Thursday afternoon.

In her acceptance of the 12th annual C. Newton Schenck III Award for Lifetime Achievement in and Contribution to the Arts, Clark called Schenck “a mentor, hero, and friend.”

That’s precisely what several of the other 2010 honorees called Clark.

Click here on the Arts Council’s site for full bios and citations of the awardees.

When interior designer Rosalyn Cama received her award for coordinating the art installations at Yale-New Haven’s Smilow Cancer Hospital, she said the first person to greet her on Audubon Street when she came to town back in 1984 was Bitsie Clark.

City Cultural Affairs Director Barbara Lamb and Margaret Bodell accepted an award for Project Storefronts, the creative re-use of underutilized sites in the Ninth Square to promote the work of entrepreneurial craftsmen and artists. “We’re both graduates of the school of Bitsie,” Lamb declared.

The other 2010 award winners were songwriter Bill Collins and the Shoreline Arts Alliance.

It was past Arts Council board member Ron Ebrecht (pictured with Clark and Ruth Lapides, who cosponsored the ceremony with the Coordinated Financial Resources company) who declared Clark governor or ruler (it wasn’t clear) of the capital of arts of all the Nutmeg State or some such realm.

He was outdone by the Bregamos Theater Company’s Rafael Ramos. He declared Clark “the goddess.”

In true fashion, Clark paid little attention to the compliment. Instead she turned to Cox, who was recognized for bringing recognition to urban kids and the art they do on murals, at open mics, and other unexpected venues in the city.

“I’m so proud of you,” she whispered in his ear.

Cox (pictured with Clark and local muralist Katro Storm) said he was so surprised by his award that when Arts Council Executive Director Cindy Clair called to tell him, “I thought she was a telemarketer.”

He called the award not so much of a validation for him personally but of all the young outsider artists in his circle. “Sometimes we’ve held events and three people come. People have asked where is the love? This [the award] is the love,” he said.

When told of her goddess or cultural governor appointment, Clark declared with a wink, “I’m thrilled that at the end of the event I’m [serving] as governor of all culture in the state, but especially New Haven!”

The event was expected to raise about $15,000 for the Arts Council. Co-host Yale Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Mike Morand—who should know—called it the best party of the year and the kick off of the holiday season in New Haven.

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posted by: Becky on December 3, 2010  3:46pm

Congratulations Bitsie!  You really ARE the pulse of the arts community not just in New Haven but the state.  Keep up the good work!

posted by: Maryann Ott on December 6, 2010  1:41pm

A well-deserved honor for New Haven’s biggest champion. I can see why she has the nickname “Bitsie”. It’s exactly how she looks wedge in between Lou Cox and Katro Storm in the last picture. It’s a great shot!