A beautiful historic landmark and vibrant non-profit multi-cultural arts center, doing the work of social justice through the arts.
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 as well as several other religious institutions over the years, until it was abandoned in the 1970s.
By the late 70s, left open and empty, the City of Hartford planned to demolish it. But the community responded to the threat of demolition. 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 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.
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.
The Hebrew writing above our Bimah means “know before whom you stand.”
But financial pressures on the new arts 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. Donna instituted Charter Oak’s policy that no one is turned away because they can’t afford a ticket.
Today, Charter Oak Cultural Center is a haven for multicultural arts and the exploration of burning issues of our day.
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
Charter Oak Cultural Center
21 Charter Oak Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut, 06106