Hartford is the capital city of Connecticut, said to be “the land of steady habits.” Some people think our city is dull, boring and, well…beige. When we thought about “reviving,” our city, through the creation of The 224 EcoSpace, we decided to “paint the town purple” through the creative, bodacious purple spark of color on our 30,000 square foot site for creative placemaking.
The 224 EcoSpace has a rich history in Hartford. In 1875 it came to life as Cotter Garage which was the home of one of Connecticut’s largest livery operations. In 1898 The Yellow Cab Company was born which later occupied this property. Then in 1986 thanks to large support from Aetna, United Technology and a host of other friends the garage was redesigned by architect-artist-activist Jack Dollard as The Hartford Courant Arts Center which was the headquarters of The Greater Hartford Arts Council, The Hartford Ballet, The Connecticut Opera, the Hartford Symphony and much more.
The economic climate of Hartford changed and this impacted the once vibrant arts space. The Hartford Ballet went out of business in June 1999. Then the Greater Hartford Arts Council left the scene when it moved to its current location downtown at 100 Pearl Street. Finally, in February of 2009, after 67 seasons, The Connecticut Opera closed down and the building was left a hollow shell.
For more than seven years this inspired space stood largely empty. Meanwhile, a few blocks away, the partners and staff of The Conference of Churches had been involved in developing leaders in the art of faith-based community development. In 2006, The Conference launched The FaithWorks Community Development Leadership Institute [www.FaithWorksCT.org] which was designed to help leaders gain the skills they needed to bring life to some of our most destitute urban centers.
“For the first few years, I thought our purpose was to help other leaders create life in dead places,” said Rev. Dr. Shelley D. Best, President and CEO of The Conference of Churches. “Then I had an unexpected, “Aha,” moment. I came to realize that we as an organization needed to do more than teach people how to do faith-based community development – we at The Conference needed to show people “how” to do this kind of work.”
In August of 2009, The Conference of Churches moved its headquarters in to the hollow shell and later purchased the property in May of 2012 with a vision to redevelop the space as a gift to the Asylum Hill neighborhood and the city. “It took a lot of faith on the part of our staff, board of directors and partners to pursue this dream of redeveloping this facility as a pillar of community transformation. Now we are experts in faith-based community development in very real way.”
The 224 EcoSpace is a living laboratory of faith-based community development. Those that want to do this kind of work in their community can learn from its example. The 224 EcoSpace is now a national model for creative place-making and faith-based community development. Within the facility you will find the headquarters of The Conference of Churches, which continues its mission “to engage transformational leaders for a healthy and just community.” This is accomplished through faith-based community organizing and capacity building training and consultation as well as its management of The 224 EcoSpace.
At The 224 you find three core ventures. The Collaboration Center is a place where community groups come together for meetings, seminars retreats, and performances. The LivingWell Center is a place for dance, yoga and health and wellness and The Business Growth Center is a coworking space for entrepreneurs with a commitment to shared success. The entire venue is adorned with the work of local artists.
Why The Color Purple?
There are many meanings behind the color purple. It is the color of the imagination and spirituality. Some say it even fires up the imagination to inspire one to think of high ideas and visions. Purple is color that makes you get in touch with your deeper thoughts and feelings.
In color psychology circles it is said that purple helps those who are trying to discover the higher purpose to their life move out of their comfort zone. It is the color of royalty, wealth and fame.
In 1982, Alice Walker wrote the book, “The Color Purple,” which tells the story of Celie, a Black woman in the south. Celie writes letters to God in which she tells about her life and her roles as daughter, wife, sister and mother. There is a quote in the book shared by Shug a traveling blues singer to Celie, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”
At The 224 EcoSpace you will find pops of the color purple both inside and outside. We believe the color tells everyone to stand up and take notice. This is a place of creativity and dreams and hope. This is a place of joy. This is a place of possibility. How can you walk into a purple building and not feel a little something special?