A BRIEF HISTORY OF NEAR, INC. (aka THE BUTTONWOOD TREE)
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
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 encyclopedic documentary
scrapbooks). Now more than ever we intend to explore this dimension of
“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.