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Early Start With Art Paved Path For Bridgeport's City Lights Director

State Sen. Ed Gomes congratulates Suzanne Kachmar, executive director of City Lights Gallery, who was named the 2017 Arts Hero by the Connecticut Office of the Arts and the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County. Photo Credit: Contributed
Kelly O'Donnell, left, the new board president of City Lights Gallery, and the gallery's director Suzanne Kachmar. Photo Credit: Contributed

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- As a young girl, Suzanne Kachmar pedaled from her Bridgeport home to the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford with nothing but whimsy on her developing artistic mind.

“Going to the Shakespeare Theatre for me was better than going to Oz,’’ Kachmar said. “That’s where life really was. I’ve lived in Europe, I studied in New York, been to a lot of places. The Shakespeare Theatre is still my favorite place on the planet.”

Kachmar did not know it then, but those bike rides, and accompanying her mother to her work as a set designer at the Polka Dot Playhouse, paved her path to work in an artistic environment. 

She’s now the executive director and program director of City Lights in Bridgeport. She was recognized as the 2017 Arts Hero by the Connecticut Office of the Arts and the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County.

  • Who: Suzanne Kachmar, Bridgeport
  • What: Executive director and program director of City Lights
  • Well done: She was honored as the 2017 Arts Hero by the Connecticut Office of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County

The award, she said, was firmly rooted in the saddle of the bike that transported her to any place she could engage in the arts as a little girl.

Kachmar is a self-described Bridgeport lifer. She opened her first studio in downtown Bridgeport in the 1980s, over a punk bar called Pogo’s on Fairfield Avenue (the bar is now Murphy’s Law). Her career yellow brick road traveled far and wide before landing back in Bridgeport about a decade ago at City Lights. 

“In some ways,’’ Kachmar said, “I feel like my career is 'Back to the Future'.”

At City Lights, Kachmar does everything but sweep the floors. She has produced large and small community-based cultural events and partnered with or advised other groups and individuals regarding cultural planning and programs for the Greater Bridgeport Community. 

Working with artists and arts organizations, she organizes the Bridgeport Art Trail, a four-day celebration of all things creative, cultural and arts-related in Bridgeport. She has also shown her work in the Connecticut and New York region.

“When we turned City Lights into a nonprofit, we started by throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what worked and what we had the capacity to do,’’ Kachmar said. “We work toward the highest level of artistic excellence possible, to celebrate the rich spectrum of cultural diversity that represents the greater community and work within our resources as we grow. We want our projects to be the best they can be.”

Kachmar feels City Lights has done well in reflecting the range of interests and artists in Bridgeport. 

“I’m proud of what we’ve done, but there is room for improvement,’’ she said. “I think we have built momentum, there is a growing community of talented and dedicated artists and entrepreneurs. They take great pleasure in making art and nurture their own creative soul by giving back to the community. I’m grateful to be able to work with them. We need to have a more robust fundraising program and a better flow of grant money. That’s a constant struggle for us.”

Kachmar feels the blossoming arts community in Bridgeport has helped bring change to the community. Former Mayor Bill Finch and current Mayor Joe Ganim support the artistic community. Some other changes at McLevy Green, Forstone Properties and Spinnaker Real Estate have also played significant roles in shaping the arts landscape in Bridgeport.

Kachmar has also played an important part. “I consider myself to have the managerial skills of a truffle pig,’’ she said. “Being present, being around the area. I have a strong curatorial eye. I understand the techniques and methods of many art forms having made art and studied many of them. It’s a great pleasure for me to curate exhibits that features local talent.”

And yet, it probably would not have happened without those bike trips to see her mother at the Polka Dot Playhouse or her sojourns to the Shakespeare Theatre that helped her define herself, her passion, her career. 

“Art was always just in my life,” she said. “It wasn’t something I sought out. It was second nature to have it around me. I never had the great career plan, and just kind of followed my nose. One day I remember thinking to myself, ‘What’s going to be my college major?’ I had a drawing board and I was drawing a tree on the college campus. I said ‘Duh, it’s been here my whole life, knucklehead.’ The light went on. As the Executive Director of course now I need to have a plan while allowing the creative process and the community to guide while being aware that I always had a tendency toward art.”

For more information on City Lights, click here to visit its website.

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