Chair lift a 'game changer' at arts center

Things are looking up at the Village Center for the Arts in New Milford.

The non-profit arts center is celebrating the installation of a commercial chair lift for one of its stairwells.

“This is a game changer for anyone who couldn’t experience the complete unique environment upstairs (on the center’s main level),” said Sharon Kaufman, who owns the center with Jayson Roberts.

Kevin Finn, of Accessible Answers of Norwalk, donated the lift and installation services after communicating with Kaufman.

“This is a way to make the arts more accessible to people in my own way,” said Finn, a former ad director at an ad agency. “It’s meaningful.”

The center had applied for a $3,000 grant to fund the project through the Connecticut Office of Arts but was declined.

After learning the center would not receive a grant, Kaufman reached out to the public via the center’s Facebook page in hopes an individual or group would be able to help the VCA fulfill its dream of making the center fully accessible to its clients of all ages, including senior citizens.

The arts center is housed in the former Village Hardware building at 12 Main St., on the Village Green, where it has been for 10 years. To access its main studio area, customers must walk up a full set of exterior cement stairs.

A back stairwell has been used for staff only to easily pass from the center’s lower level pottery studio on Church Street, to the main level upstairs.

“Access to upstairs has always been limited” for students, Kaufman said.

Now, those who need to access the main level will be able to use the back stairwell with the lift chair.

Kaufman expressed to Finn that she would love to have the lift installed before the center’s March 7 senior citizen’s class.

He came through, installing the unit Feb. 28, completing the project with cheers resounding from staff and VCA students.

Finn said he was “impressed by Sharon’s passion for what she does and her dedication” to the center.

That, combined with his background and interest in the arts, prompted him to step up to the VCA’s call.

“Our philosophy is that kids are artists who just happen to be kids, and they should be treated with respect and acknowledgment like any adult artist,” Kaufman said. The installation of the chair lift helps the center fulfill that philosophy.

“I’m very happy,” said VCA regular Inge Hankins, who uses a wheelchair and has been limited to the lower level pottery studio. “I will be able to get upstairs to participate in all the things they offer.”

Hankins said she has talked with others in the community who have expressed interest in attending but have been unable to due to limited access.

That will no longer be the case.