HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Tony Roy stood on the sidewalk next to Pratt Street on Tuesday afternoon, watching a spoken word poetry performance and thumbing through his phone.
Roy, a teacher at Connecticut River Academy, was considering sharing his own poem when one of the performers caught his attention and beckoned him to come into the street. The crowd began to chant his name over and over, so he read his poem, written for a hip hop movement club he runs.
When he finished, the crowd answered with cheers and applause, and Roy walked away smiling.
“I felt euphoric,” he said. “When you do something out of your comfort zone, you get a rush.”
This kind of interaction is the goal of the Art on the Streets initiative within the Greater Hartford Arts Council. The council, with the Hartford Business Improvement District and other partners, brought the spoken word group, HARTBEAT Poetry with Vintage Fiyah, to the Pratt Street Patio program, which offers free entertainment and activities 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays until Sept. 28.
“Our goal is to have artists who can bring interactive activities, so passersby who work downtown or live downtown can make art with them,” said Amanda Roy, community program manager for the Greater Hartford Arts Council.
After a successful pilot last year, the Pratt Street Patio program is back, with funding from city parking meter revenue.
Most spaces and activities in a city require payment, but the Pratt Street program closes the entire street to cars and invites any passersby to sit down or participate in free activities.
“It’s a beautiful place to spend your lunchtime,” said Jordan Polon, executive director of the Hartford Business Improvement District. “Giving people a place to do nothing is an important part of any city.”
The Pratt Street Patio program also aims to increase foot traffic and sales for businesses on the street.
“It’s the amenities and the entertainment that have attracted people here,” Polon said. “For such a short street to have such a wide variety of restaurants, shops and experiences, we are so fortunate.”
Tony Roy brought some of his students to Hartford for a class project Tuesday. He was tipped off about the Pratt Street activities by his wife, Amanda Roy, so he brought some his students to the event.
Yazinda Baez, a senior at Connecticut River Academy, took part in postcard making with local artist Anita Balkun. Baez drew her own design on the card’s front while watching the spoken word performances.
“I feel like it’s refreshing when you come across something authentic,” Baez said. “It seems like the speakers are a family and they’re expanding that family vibe to everyone on the street.”
Baez said she would like to see more activities like the patio program in Hartford, especially programs that give people creative outlets.
“I feel appreciative of witnessing this,” Baez said. “It’s something special.”