The Queen Ann Nzinga Watoto Mask Exhibit will be the inaugural show in a new art gallery opening at Trinity-on-Main in New Britain.
The Queen Ann Nzinga Center, (QANC) headquartered in Plainville, received a generous $1,200 grant from the Elizabeth H. Norton Trust Fund, which allowed the nonprofit to hire artist-in-residence Reneé Soares to work with the boys and girls, ages 5 to 18, to teach them to make mixed-media masks. The grant also funded the cost of materials to create the masks, in which participants were asked to reveal a side of themselves that they usually keep hidden.
The Elizabeth Norton Trust grant is crucial to the QANC being able to provide opportunities and education to participants, said Dayna R. Snell, L.C.S.W., executive director of Queen Ann Nzinga Center.
“The Norton Trust is really supportive,” she said. “Over the years, their grants have allowed us to provide a variety of arts enrichment programs to the kids. When the students see their masks on display in an art gallery, it helps them see themselves as artists. The teaching artist helped them surprise themselves because the quality and creativity of their masks exceeded their expectations.”
The Norton Trust grant also funds an annual field trip and a host of arts and cultural activities, mentoring, productions and performances. Through Nzinga’s Watoto program, an Afro-centric model based on the seven principles of Kwanzaa, participants meet Saturday afternoons. The program fosters a strong, positive self-image in children and youth of all races and abilities.
On May 2, the Queen Ann Nzinga Center will host its annual end-of-season celebration called Kwanzaa in May. This ceremony allows participants from both the fall and spring programs to receive certificates of completion, perform impromptu skits and sing songs. This year, the first part of the celebration, held from 1 to 2 p.m., will be combined with an opening reception for the masks exhibit, where student artists will be on hand and light refreshments will be served. Following this, Center participants will participate in an awards ceremony.
The QANC children and teens were invited to present the opening show because they use the room every Saturday, said Stephen Hard, executive director of the Greater New Britain Arts Alliance, which is managing the new Stockman Gallery with Trinity-on-Main.
“It will be a learning opportunity for them. They’ll learn how art gets displayed and shown,” he said. Hard hopes this is the beginning of an annual tradition, where art created by the Watoto participants is displayed in the gallery at least once a year.
In addition, “going forward, I’d like to have the artists whose work is being shown in the gallery talk to the children, so that it’s an enhancement of the educational opportunities here.”