By Nan Price, Content Manager, MetroHartford Alliance
Meet Rev. Dr. Shelley D. Best, Director and Chief Curator at the 224 EcoSpace.
SHELLEY BEST: As a teenager, Hartford was the big place to go. I had a love and fascination with the city. I grew up in Norfolk and Torrington and we used to take the bus into the city to go places like The Hartford Stage and shop at the Hartford Civic Center and G Fox. That experience became my Hartford.
HOW HAS HARTFORD BECOME A PART OF YOU?
SHELLEY: When I was an undergraduate at Central Connecticut State University, I lived in Hartford on and off. Then I worked at the state capital and was involved with politics and the workings of the city. As I was answering the call to ministry, I began serving out in Torrington. I missed the excitement of the city and would often come to Hartford as my outlet.
After I graduated from Yale University, I wanted to see my ministry go other places. I was serving part time at Hartford Seminary—which is also my Hartford. I’ve been part of Hartford Seminary since 1987 and I completed my first master’s degree there. I got my Master of Divinity from Yale, then completed my doctorate in ministry.
HOW HAVE YOU BECOME A PART OF HARTFORD?
SHELLEY: When the opportunity opened with the Conference of Churches in Hartford, I applied and got selected. They are the parent organization of the 224 EcoSpace. I’ve been with the Conference of Churches for 18 years, so I continue to be here in Hartford.
WHAT MAKES HARTFORD UNIQUE?
SHELLEY: Hartford has a vibrant community—particularly our arts community. There are amazing minds and artists and writers in the Hartford area. We have access to incredible things like the School of Ballet and the Hartt School, not to mention the Mark Twain House & Museum and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
HOW DO WE TELL THE STORY OF HARTFORD?
SHELLEY: In other places, people love their cities and have pride about themselves. I think people don’t love Hartford like they could. I want to see more love and excitement about our city.
Hartford is cool. We do have cool stuff here. And I want to continue to have cool things happen here. Part of the EcoSpace’s goal is to be that kind of cool venue and destination where people are surprised that this is Hartford—because there is more here than meets the eye. We need to tell the story about Hartford by showing people all that we have here.
One specific way we can tell the story of Hartford is by showcasing the region as a source of arts and culture. Through the Artists of Color Unite! Incubator project, which will be managed by the 224 EcoSpace, we’re elevating local artists’ stories—and emphasizing the importance of building a regional artists of color economy in Hartford.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF HARTFORD?
SHELLEY: I love Hartford and I can say I’m concerned for Hartford. I would like our city to love more and be happier. I see that art is the fuel for vibrant communities. So, I think as we celebrate the arts and pay attention to it more, it will give this community more vitality—and it’s like spreading the love.
It’s great that Hartford is the “Insurance Capital of the World,” but there is this other Hartford in addition to that. It’s important to recognize other businesses and other ways of being that are happening in Hartford.
This is a neat little hub. I think in the future, as we start to celebrate ourselves more, we might begin to see that it’s worth being here in this place called Hartford.