SoCCA serves as a launching pad for local artists

Christian Crowley hangs a canvas at the Gura Building for this month’s SoCCA exhibit.

By SHERIDAN CYR

STAFF WRITER

One up-and-coming abstract artist has visions of world-wide recognition, and that probably won’t even be enough. Southington resident Christian Crowley, 19, dreams big and sees no limit to how far he can go with his artwork.

What began as mere sketches and a broad visual imagination as a child, Crowley recalled feeling like making art was a way for him to express himself during a time where he often felt silenced.

“It was something I could do that wasn’t looked down on. I didn’t get in trouble for making art as a kid,” Crowley said. Though he didn’t realize it at the time, the urge to create would continue to grow as years went on. At the young age of 19, Crowley’s work will be featured in a gallery at the Southington Community Cultural Arts (SoCCA) starting July 7 and lasting until August 8.

“Christian’s style of art is very, very abstract—very contemporary and out of the box,” said SoCCA director Mary DeCroce. Two years ago, before Crowley was accepted into Hartford Art School at Hartford University, he approached DeCroce in hopes of getting his work featured at SoCCA, but she turned him down.

“When he first approached the idea, he was sort of playing around with stylistics, putting paint on a canvas, but there wasn’t much behind it,” DeCroce said. “When he returned after attending Hartford Art School for a year, there was a connection that had been produced to the artwork. Now, there are these bold statements depicted in his work. It’s still very contemporary and abstract, but you look at it and think, ‘Wow, there is a very intense statement here,’ and I really think this is something that should be shown.’”

Growing up, Crowley’s home life was often times unconventional and emotionally challenging. In middle school, feeling the urge to express, he got into trouble after drawing graffiti on a public business.

“This was a time of my life where I was dealing with a lot of things, and that felt like an outlet to deal with everything. Looking back now, logically, it was a really stupid decision, but it was sort of a starting point for me at the same time,” he said. The aftermath included community service hours, clean-up, in-person apologies to business owners and an assigned therapist. “Through all of that, I started to find an interest in myself, and in my knowledge and emotions. The things I’ve learned about myself, my past, my actions—it’s priceless.”

Once he realized he could not fight the urge to make art, everything changed. He began taking classes at Paris in Plantsville and in school, and described a “crazy wave of energy” in 2016 that inspired him to give his all to making a name for himself in the world of art. Equipped with a stronger sense of self and a healthy emotional intelligence, Crowley took on a personal challenge to always question, wonder, ask and think.

“My goals are large and plentiful. Having a solo show at 19 is along the lines of where I want to be, but in my head, I’m thinking, ‘you should have been in at 18,’” he said. “I feel like I can always do better at everything I do. There’s always something lacking, like I could’ve done that better or faster.”

That self-motivation is what Crowley will use as momentum to thrive as he pursues a life of art. DeCroce thinks he will fit right in at SoCCA, which is a triumphant story of determination and passion for artwork, itself.

The story of SoCCA isn’t very long, but it is a heartwarming tale of one artist with a vision and the necessary determination to bring color to the community. DeCroce recalls the grand opening of the facility during the Apple Harvest Festival in 2016, and remembers the tension, nay-sayers and non-believers she and her team of dedicated helpers faced leading up to the date.

“I’d had this idea in my head since 2008. Back then, I was teaching art classes at the YMCA and I realized how inadequate the teaching space was in town,” she said. Around that time, DeCroce started getting into painting large scale murals around the town of Southington. “What began happening was, the town was finally recognizing that art really could be part of our culture.”

She began looking into obtaining a space that fit her visions, and even got as close as holding a pen over a dotted line before deciding it just wasn’t what she wanted. It wasn’t until she gave a short, but powerful speech at the YMCA in 2010, insisting that the community invite art in. Town Councilor Dawn Miceli heard DeCroce loud and clear.

“She called me in 2011 and said, ‘I heard your speech. They’re going to tear down the Gura Building. Do you want to try to save it with me and turn it into that art center you talked about?’ And, that’s how it all started,” said DeCroce. “They were determined to tear the building down. Then, they said, ‘We’ll give you 18 months to raise $1.2 million. If you can’t raise it, we’re taking the building down,’ and I just said, ‘Okay.’ And in 18 months, we did it.”

SoCCA is the product of a true passion for the arts, and for the community, equipped with a mission to create a welcoming environment where people of all ages and artistic abilities are free to imagine, create, exhibit and welcome the arts into their lives. SoCCA is the creative home to artists as young as 18 months old, all the way up to age 97.

“Our biggest asset is our location, and it’s part of what makes us so unique,” said DeCroce. Located right in the center of town, SoCCA is a prominent and eye-catching business. “We are one of Connecticut’s premier art studios. We are much more than just a paint night. We have a fine art gallery, an all-access program, a wide range of classes, a state of the art pottery studio, studios for rent, a meeting-place for community organizations, a gift store and more.”

One of her proudest offerings is the All Access Arts program which works in collaboration with the Arc of Southington. The classes are designed for adults who have intellectual disabilities to connect them with their community, provide creative skills training, produce meaningful income and enhance their quality of life through the creative process.

With almost two years under her belt, DeCroce realizes this is only the beginning for SoCCA.

“We know who we are, we know our personality, and we know what we need to do to get better,” DeCroce said. “It’s only going to get better from here.”

For more info on SoCCA, visit www.SouthingtonArts.org.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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