About Charter Oak Cultural Center

ART THAT MOVES THE WORLD

Charter Oak Cultural Center, a beautiful historic landmark and vibrant non-profit multi-cultural arts center, doing the work of social justice through the arts.

Overview

Our History

Leadership & Staff

Our Partners

Directions & Parking

Contact Us

Charter Oak Cultural Center harnesses the power of the arts to create positive social change, loving community and a safe place for self-expression.

Located in a historic building, we present multi-cultural arts programming that we make accessible for free or at a very low cost, we provide completely free classes in the arts to 1000 underserved Hartford young people, work extensively with the homeless community and present performances and exhibits that bring to light the burning issues of our day.

Our Goals Are

  •  To do the work of social justice through the arts
  • To provide wide access to the magic of the arts for all, regardless of income
  •  To celebrate the heritage of our historic building and to preserve it in perpetuity

Our History

Charter Oak Cultural Center lives in Connecticut’s oldest synagogue building. Built in 1876, our home was born from the struggle for religious freedom.

The first mention of a Jewish presence in Hartford occurs in court records dating back to 1659. But it wasn’t until 1843 that a special enactment of the Connecticut Legislature provided Jews the same rights as Christians to build religious structures. Congregation Beth Israel’s founders petitioned the State to pass that act. They commissioned famed architect George Keller, known for the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial arch in Bushnell Park, to build it.

The building was home to Congregation Beth Israel and, then, Calvary Baptist Church, until it was abandoned in the 1970s.

By the late 70s, left open and empty, the City of Hartford planned to demolish it. A small group of Jewish leaders mobilized to save this Hartford gem. The group formed the Charter Oak Temple Restoration Association. They saved the building in the interest of historic preservation, but they also envisioned its use not as a house of worship, but as a neighborhood center. They wanted to reaffirm Jewish engagement in Hartford, while serving a multi-ethnic urban neighborhood that would become a vital part of the downtown revival. They wanted the building and the institution it would become to be a vital part of the downtown revival.

The beautiful building was carefully restored. The original stencil work, pews and fixtures remain. The founders’ work paid off. The building is now on the National Register of Historic Monuments.

But financial pressures on the new center were hard to overcome. By 2001, when Rabbi Donna Berman took the helm at Charter Oak Cultural Center, the organization was on the verge of closing its doors forever. Donna breathed new life into Charter Oak. Under her leadership, Charter Oak Cultural Center has become one of the area’s most vibrant arts centers, the only one whose mission is explicitly to do the work of social justice through the arts. 

Today, Charter Oak Cultural Center is a haven for multicultural arts and the exploration of burning issues of our day.

The Hebrew writing above our Bimah means “know before whom you stand.”

RABBI DONNA BERMAN, PH.D.

About Rabbi Donna Berman

Rabbi Donna Berman is the executive director of the Charter Oak Cultural Center. Donna is known as one of the region’s most moving speakers and visionary leaders. She has touched thousands of lives through her work at the Charter Oak.

Rabbi Donna holds a Ph.D. in Religion and Social Ethics from Drew University. At the core of her theology is a commitment to the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, repairing the world through acts of justice. This is a commitment that she brings to her work at Charter Oak.

 

More about Donna

In 2001, when Donna took the helm at Charter Oak Cultural Center, the organization was in a state of ruin and on the verge of closing its doors permanently. Donna breathed new life into the organization and today Charter Oak has become one of the area’s most vibrant multi-cultural arts centers. Donna instituted Charter Oak’s policy of never turning anyone away for lack of funds. Through her vision, leadership and commitment to social justice, she has made Charter Oak Cultural Center a haven for diverse groups to enjoy multi-cultural arts and explore the burning issues of our day.

Donna started Charter Oak’s youth programming in 2001 with four students because the children in our neighborhood wanted to learn to dance. It became clear that no-cost, non-audition-based out-of-school time arts programming is largely unavailable to young people in our community. Under her leadership, Charter Oak determined our mission would be best served by offering high-quality classes in the arts to these students who need it the most. Today, Charter Oak is still one of the only organizations in Hartford to provide youth art programming completely free of charge to all who wish to enter the program. Over the years, Charter Oak’s Youth Arts Institute has continued to grow to serve nearly 1,000 students, with a waiting list. In 2012, the program was selected as a finalist by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, distinguishing it as one of the top arts and humanities-based youth programs in the country.

Donna was awarded the 2012 Elizabeth L. Mahaffey Arts Administration Fellowship through Connecticut’s Department of Community and Economic Development. She was also highlighted as one of Hartford Magazine’s 2012 Amazing Women and recently named one of Greater Hartford’s 12 most influential people, also by Hartford Magazine, along with individuals such as Governor Dannel Malloy, Mayor Pedro Segarra and Jim Calhoun. In the spring of 2010, Donna received the Human Relations Award from the National Conference for Community and Justice. In June 2010, she graduated from Hartford Family Institute’s training program in body-centered Gestalt therapy. In 2009, she was given the Dance Pioneer Award by Trinity College and in the spring of 2007 she was honored by American Friends Service Committee for her work in social justice. In 2006, Rabbi Berman received Leadership Greater Hartford’s Polaris Award in arts and culture.

Donna is rabbi emerita of Port Jewish Center in Port Washington, New York, where, prior to her work at Charter Oak Cultural Center, she served as spiritual leader and principal of the Hebrew school for 12 years. She is the founder and co-chair of The South Bronx—Port Washington Community Partnership, a mutually beneficial collaboration between one of the poorest communities in the nation and one of the wealthiest. She has taught at Molloy College in New York, Wesleyan University and Hartford Seminary, where she teaches presently. She has served as the Jewish chaplain at Mount Holyoke College in Hadley, Massachusetts. Donna is the co-editor of a special edition of The Journal of Reform Judaism and is the author of numerous articles. She co-edited and wrote the foreword for The Coming of Lilith: Essays on Feminism, Judaism, and Sexual Ethics, 1973-2003 by Judith Plaskow. Donna is the co-author, with Barbara Bennett, of Fork in the Road: A Companion for Women Who Are Going Back to School Later in Life (and Those Who Want To).

Official Bio

Click here for Donna’s official bio.

Board of Directors

Advisory Board

Eva Jacobson, Chair

Barbara Vita, Vice Chair

Rebekka Laskowski, Treasurer

Rachna Agrawal

Ana Alfaro

Alvin Carter

Ingrid Dupuy

Stuart W. Alpert

Aaron Crosson

William Cuddy

Naomi Baline Kleinman

Leta Marks

Gil Martinez

Dollie McLean

Honorable Jon O. Newman

Flora Parisky

Bernadine Silvers

Jack Waggett

Board members can access the board’s private page here

Staff

Rabbi Donna Berman, Ph.D.
Executive Director
860.310.2584 or
860.310.2580 Ext. 1003
DonnaB@charteroakcenter.org

Laurie Leader
Managing Director
860.310.2583 or
860.310.2580 Ext. 1002
LaurieL@charteroakcenter.org

Susan Mazer
Youth Arts Institute Director
860.310.2590 or
860.310.2580 Ext. 1009
SusanM@charteroakcenter.org

 

Brenna Harvey
YAI Assistant and Families Coordinator
860.310.2593 or
860.310.2580 Ext. 1012
BrennaH@charteroakcenter.org

Orice Jenkins & Catherine Santiago
YAI Virtual/House Manager

Meenu Sharma
Beat of the Street Manager
860.310.2591 or
860.310.2580 Ext. 1010
BOTS@charteroakcenter.org

Erica Willis
Grants Coordinator
860.310.2588 or
860.310.2580 Ext. 1007
EricaW@charteroakcenter.org

Jacques Lamarre
Marketing and Programming Consultant
860.953.0444
JLamarre@Buzz-Engine.com

Raul Santiago
Facilities Coordinator

Mark Naberschnig
Technical Director

Partners, Sponsors & Benefactors

Hartford Public Schools

Trinity College

The Village for Families and Children

Catholic Charities

Christmas Wish CT

Creative Music Center

Tapeworks Studio

Music & Arts

The Music Shop

Litchfield Jazz Camp

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra

Center for Creative Youth

Wadsworth Atheneum

Police Activities League

Hartford Police

The Hartford – Holiday Gifts

Aetna – Holiday Gifts

Temple Beth El

University of Connecticut

Jewish Community Foundation

Foodshare

CT Humanities

Levo International

Special Thanks To

Directions

From points west

Take 84 East to 48B (the “Capitol Avenue” exit). At the end of the ramp, take a left onto Capitol Avenue and go straight until the road ends. Take a right onto Main Street. Turn left at the first light onto Charter Oak Avenue and the Cultural Center is the first building on the right with two domes on top.

From points east

Take 84 West to exit 54 (the “Downtown Hartford” exit). At the end of the ramp, turn left onto Columbus Boulevard. At the fifth light, turn right onto Charter Oak Avenue. After the second light, the Cultural Center is the building with two domes on top on the left side of the street just before Main Street.

From points north or south

Take 91 to exit 29A in Hartford, labeled “Capitol Area”. Bear right and take the second exit labeled “Prospect Street to Main Street”. Turn left at the stoplight at the end of the ramp and go straight. At the second light turn right onto Charter Oak Avenue. After the turn, the center is the third building on the left with two domes on top.

Parking

DO NOT PARK next door at 25 Charter Oak Avenue or in the lot behind the building. They will tow in both locations.

Free parking is available after 5:00 pm in the lot across the street from the center at 330 Main Street and at Betances School located diagonally across the street.

There is also metered parking available on the street in front of the Cultural Center and on Prospect Street.

These spots are free after 5:00 pm Monday through Friday and on the weekends.

Free spaces can be found further down Charter Oak Avenue and on John Street.

Free parking is no longer available on Charter Oak Place.

Contact Us

Charter Oak Cultural Center

21 Charter Oak Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106

(860) 310-2580

Send us a message

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Hours of Operation

Our staff are available by email or phone Monday through Friday, 10AM – 5PM. Our building remains closed due to COVID-19 but all of our programs and events are being held virtually! 

For delays and cancellations, please visit our Facebook page, Twitter, or check WFSB.

For our differently abled and disabled patrons, don’t hesitate to call our office line to ensure we can make every accommodation you may need during your visit.