CHESHIRE — Ball & Socket Arts Director Ilona Somogyi has spoken often of making the renovated factory campus her organization calls home into a gathering place.
Although supporting the arts is one crucial aspect of her work, she also wants to include the entire Cheshire community. This summer has seen her vision grow more clear by the week.
With a newly unveiled mural, a new parking lot, a new sidewalk, new sculptures and a new tenant on the way, Ball & Socket Arts has plenty of progress to celebrate.
A summer Fridays music series has already been one big draw for the Cheshire community. A recent show by bluegrass purveyors “Sperry Creek” was well-attended by guests who arrived early to set up seating and some elaborate picnic arrangements in the lawn next to the Red Building. On Friday, Aug. 25, funk and soul outfit “Thaddeus Black” brought a high-energy close to the summer concerts.
Aug. 18 also saw the unveiling of a new mural that adorns the wall outside of Sweet Claude’s Ice Cream Parlor. The work depicts several of the natural wonders found in Cheshire, such as Roaring Brook Park. Perhaps more importantly, it is the work of Nina Chang, an artist with a special local connection.
Chang, now a student at Rhode Island School of Design, spent much of her childhood across the street from the Ball & Socket factory. Her parents are the owners of local favorite China Dragon restaurant. Chang was also instrumental in working with the Eli Whitney Museum to help restore the signage that now greets visitors coming to Ball & Socket Arts from West Main St.
“It was very special for me to see what used to be an abandoned building turn into something like this,” Chang commented. She admitted that the mural was the largest painting she’d ever done, and hopes it helps people “appreciate the nature around us.”
Chang also thanked her parents, who took time off of a busy night in the restaurant to attend the ceremony. She said that they “supported her passion for the arts and helped her follow her dreams. I wouldn’t be here without you.”
The Town of Cheshire has also begun to work more closely with Ball & Socket Arts over the summer. An easement agreement will help provide sidewalk access along Willow Street. The original construction work for the sidewalk was funded through a STEAP grant.
Another major development is the relocation of Cheshire’s Artsplace from the former VFW building on Waterbury Road to Building Number Two at the Ball & Socket facility. With the terms of the lease and other operational details finalized, the move should be completed by early next year.
Town Councillor David Borowy commented during a recent meeting of the Economic Development Commission that adding available space for more classes should help generate additional revenue. It could also help meet demand for some of Artsplace’s more popular offerings.
The Artsplace move helps tie in with the Town’s larger vision for what officials are calling the West Main District. Working with SLR Consultants, local property owners, and the Cheshire Chamber of Commerce, the Town is seeking to make the several blocks surrounding Ball & Socket into a more pedestrian-friendly, commercially vibrant destination that offers access to amenities like the Farmington Canal Linear Trail.
The final steps of the new parking lot, which will be accessible from Willow Street, are nearly complete. This includes the paving and the installation of lights as well as fencing that will allow pedestrian access to Ball & Socket Arts from the Linear Trail. A joint ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Town will be announced soon.
Also nearly ready to be unveiled are The Residents, a series of site-specific sculptures for the grounds. Director of Programming Lydia Blaisdell explained, “We have two sculptures in for The Residents and are hoping to host that opening in mid-to late-September.”
The artists are Connecticut-based sculptors Dave Huntley, William Potvin, Margaret Roleke, and Ryan Vaughan, who utilized original materials from the factory in constructing their works.