Mission & History

The purpose of NEAR Inc. is to:

  • Support the creative activities and endeavors of artists and potential artists
  • Create a forum, context, and space for artistic, cultural, creative, and educational experience in Middletown
  • Serve as a center for community activity in Middletown’s North End.

NEAR Inc.’s goals are:

  • To provide support to local artists, amateurs, students and others interested in exploring their capacity for self-expression and communication by offering them a facility, institutional support, funding, workshops, performance/exhibit opportunities and other artistic support.
  • To provide artistic and other cultural experiences and programs that are accessible, participatory and unique, and to provide these experiences for audiences in the North End, Middletown, and Central Connecticut and beyond.
  • To serve residents of the North End of Middletown by offering cultural programs, stimulating interaction and community, enhancing commerce and creating a community/cultural drop-in center.
  • To carry on such other related artistic, cultural, creative, or educational activities as may be necessary or appropriate in connection therewith.

The Buttonwood Tree opened its doors as a storefront bookstore and performance space in Middletown’s storied North End in 1989.  Begun by our first director, Wesleyan alumna Susan Eastman Allison and her husband, the DJ and radio personality, Stephan Allison, it was the first such place in the city. Middletown has and has had many cultural enterprises over the years but The Buttonwood Tree is unique in that company.  From its opening it has been a grassroots, avant garde center for all ages, all comers, artists and audiences. Recognized nationally and internationally as a music venue (see Kunle Mwanga), it has also offered programs led by outstanding artists in contemporary theater, literature, art, poetry and dance—from belly to hip hop—as well as opening its doors to community activists, educational and religious groups.

In 1990 the city’s Commission on the Arts approached the Allisons with the concept of turning the bookstore into a non-profit arts organization to serve the North End and all of Middletown as a hub for the Arts. In 1991 Ibis Books was transformed into North End Arts Rising, Inc. still carrying “The Buttonwood Tree” name.

For over 20 years now, NEAR has served greater Middletown and beyond with low-cost/free entertainment and enrichment. Our funding has come from state and local arts grants, foundation grants, individual contributions, box-office donations and book sales.

There have been challenges along the way.  A fire in 1995 forced us to move from our original storefront location on Rapallo Avenue to temporary quarters at Odd fellows Playhouse before finding a new home in what had been the lobby of the historic Arrigoni Hotel; now a subsidized housing facility.  As it happens, this space has become famous.  It is utterly singular and inviting, even though this location and our neighbors (St. Vincent De Paul’s Soup Kitchen and The Community Health Center) have been a problem for some in the city.  As well, the general economic collapse of 2000 hit us especially hard, obliging The Buttonwood Tree to cut the full-time directorship to a less than half-time position, though the number of hours didn’t change!  Fortunately we have had outstanding people: Jennifer Hawkins, Ann Sabin and Kisha McWilliams Michael as well as our current director, Anne-Marie Cannata, to shoulder the load.  Fortunately we have a committed, diverse and talented board of directors who have served over the years – through good times and hard times.


We have kept our doors open thanks to the continued support of the city of Middletown’sCOMMISSION ON THE ARTS (MCA) and the State of Connecticut’s COMMISSION ON CULTURE AND TOURISM (CCT) and expect to grow and serve our community. We continue to fulfill our mission with roughly 40% of the funding we enjoyed six or seven years ago due to today’s economy, yet we begin this new year once again with a combination of hope and trust. Nonetheless we go forward –  and we must – because the needs that our founders responded
to 20 years ago are still with us today.   And it is to that end that we look for new, imaginative and innovative possibilities to meet these needs.

For instance, one of our previous directors, Kisha Michael, has long had a dream of starting an after-school ‘study hall’ for challenged students at MacDonough Elementary School.  Her idea is to provide academic help in an arts environment, especially music, to help lift the children who participate.  This, and other such initiatives, takes resources.  One of the criteria that the State Arts funders have stressed in seeking to stretch the impact of their monies is partnering.   Over the years The Buttonwood Tree has originated a number of local programs (see Kids’ Arts, a summer program funded by the City’s MCA) and cooperated with others so we have a good track record in this regard. (See Susan Allison’s ncyclopedic documentary scrapbooks). Now more than ever we intend to explore this dimension of our activities.

“The Buttonwood Tree”  Name –

When Susan first opened the Ibis Book Store it was located on Rapallo Ave, just around the corner from where we are now. There was a lone Sycamore tree in front of the shop, yet the street had been lined with
many of them in years past. Buttonwood is a nickname for the Sycamore tree and old maps called it the Avenue of Buttonwoods. The name “The Buttonwood Tree” remained through the transition from the Ibis to
North End Arts Rising, Inc. helping people to link the two entities and maintained a warm spot in the heart of many.

Did you know?

The Buttonwood Agreement, which took place on May 17, 1792, started the New York Stock & Exchange Board (now called the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE). This agreement was signed by twenty-four stock brokers outside of 68 Wall Street in New York under a buttonwood tree. The organization drafted its constitution on March 8th, 1817, and named itself the “New York Stock & Exchange Board.” In 1863, this name was shortened to its modern form, “New York Stock Exchange.” Membership on the NYSE has been held as a valuable property since 1868. Until recently, members could only join by purchasing existing seats, which were limited to a total of 1,366. In April 2006, the NYSE went both electronic and public, by merging with the already publicly traded Archipelago electronic stock exchange. The new merged company is called the NYSE Group, Inc., and the seats of the NYSE translated into shares of stock which are now traded under the ticker symbol NYX.
(from Google)

The Buttonwood Tree | 605 Main Street | Middletown, CT | (860) 347-4957 | Copyright © The Buttonwood Tree