The magazine you’re reading right now—you’ve probably noticed that it’s changed in the past year. There’s the new name (it was Ridgefield Magazine), and then there’s the new look and format. But if you’ve been reading closely, you’ve also noticed a newfound focus on the arts, especially visual arts.
This is the doing of publisher Dee Dee Colabella, an oil painter herself, who acquired and relaunched this magazine to help realize her dream of building a community that not only appreciates the visual arts, but also produces and supports real artists; working artists.
“People always hear the phrase ‘starving artist,’” she tells me. “But there are so many ways to have a real career in art and stay connected to what you love.” Artists, she believes, can be
Dee Dee’s own artistic aspirations emerged early. As a child she would go door-to-door hawking her drawings. In college she studied fashion marketing, and afterward she found herself working as an art director in the graphic design world. But something was missing—she was creatively unfulfilled. Dee Dee wanted to be an artist, a real artist. So in 2014, she entered WestConn’s Fine Art program, from which she graduated with her Masters In Fine Art. With her degree in one hand and a paint brush in the other she sought to reinvent herself as a working artist. But somehow the art-school curriculum had left out the “working” part.
“No one tells you how to do this,” she says. “Art is a career that people fear. ‘How am I going to make a living?’ The art world seems closed, but the truth is, it’s possible to have a career in art—if you know how.”
Fostering that know-how is a mission Dee Dee threw herself into. In 2019, she opened RPAC—the Ridgefield Professional Art Center and Academy. Located above 850 Degrees Wood Fired Pizza, the Main Street pizzeria, RPAC offers capacious, modern studio space, along with classes at all levels. Many artists enjoy the common work area, while others avail themselves of the private and semi-private studios. It’s open 24/7, accommodating artistic inspiration whenever it strikes. Dee Dee says. “I envision a 360-degree experience for artists. We give them not only a place to create, but we also provide training, professional guidance—and even a place to exhibit and sell their work. Evyn Carter, our graphic artist is talented and above all patient with all the craziness. He is constantly working, willing to help the artists, and capable with whatever is assigned to him.”
The RPAC Gallery, located at 410 Main Street, with its whitewashed walls and gleaming hardwood floors exudes the metropolitan vibe of a SoHo exhibition space, and it’s filled with paintings, photography, and sculptures created by RPAC members and resident artists.
Dee Dee also invites select artists to display their work. Recent exhibitions have featured such creators as Ridgefield-based “texturalist” Suzanne Heilman, who often incorporates found objects into her fabrications.
After successfully launching the RPAC gallery, the hard-charging Dee Dee was not content to rest on her laurels. “When I moved here in 2005, there was really no place to view art except the Aldrich Museum,” she says. “Today Ridgefield has become a real center for the arts, but it’s mostly performing arts. There’s a gap when it comes visual fine art—and there’s a real market for it.”
In January 2022 she opened the D. Colabella Fine Arts gallery at 464 Main Street, where she presents solo and group shows featuring established artists from the U.S. and around the world. “If we want a true visual-arts culture, it’s important we bring serious art collectors into town,” she says, “people who would frequent traditional New York galleries.” A recent show featured Will Woodrow, an Indianapolis-based painter-sculptor whose work manages to be both whimsical and awe-inspiring.
As a gallerist, she’s working to court established names and advocate for the emerging RPAC artists. “I want to launch artists that become the next Keith Haring,” she declares.
The show also featured Charles Gulbrandsen, an abstract painter from Woodbury, Connecticut,. “She saw a broken system for artists to create and show our work,” he says, “and she envisioned an alternative. She had it up and running and thriving within a year.” Gulbrandsen, an RPAC artist, is traveling the career path Dee Dee has established. “Showing at the D. Colabella gallery represents the next step for me, and just as I know that this opportunity is another level of recognition, exposure and advancement, I also know that Dee Dee will always be rooting for me to take that next step, that next adventure beyond
Dee Dee’s ambitious mission to grow talented aspiring artists—and to transform Ridgefield into a visual arts center—ran into a snag a while back: “We needed to get the word out. How do we build a brand during a pandemic?” Her ad budget at the time included space in Ridgefield Magazine, but she lamented that she couldn’t more broadly control the narrative. Then she learned the magazine was for sale, and she is not the type to let opportunity to slip by unintercepted.
Colabella relaunched Ridgefield Magazine as 068 Magazine in January 2022. Dylan Miller, once an RPAC Resident Photographer earned his place as Editor in Chief of the magazine. His enthusiam about the stories and ability to learn the operations has made owning the magazine seemingly effortless.”
The “068” is not simply a nod to the town’s first three zip-code digits, they represent the drive to expand into other towns with 068 zip codes besides Wilton, Redding and Ridgefield.
I’m chatting with Dee Dee, at 52, with blonde hair and clear blue eyes, she exudes confidence and purposeful energy. She’s dressed casually and tells me she eschews the high style expected from a gallery entrepreneur. “I don’t present like a typical gallerist/businesswoman, it’s not who I am.”
Or, for that matter, publisher. While most media moguls are transforming their operations into “digital content enterprises,” she wants to put out a magazine you can hold in your hands. “I love the tactile feel of paper,” she says. “—it’s very interactive. It will never go away.”
Nor will the focus on the arts. “We want to raise the validity of art in our culture, both in visual and performing arts. It could be comedy, music, or theatre as well. What is art? What is an artist? This is a chance to challenge people’s thinking and cement our reputation as a true arts town.” Of course, there are other aspects to the 068 lifestyle that can’t be overlooked—style, dining, community, even autos—and will remain important to the readers.
Meanwhile, Dee Dee’s RPAC community continues to expand. She and her Co-Founder Greg Mursko worked with Paier College, an arts school in Bridgeport, to provide her academy students with the opportunity to earn college credits through college level classes. “Greg Mursko runs the RPAC Classes and is Publisher of the 068 Magazine. As a partner, he has made this place what it is.” she states.
Gulbrandsen, the artist showing at the new gallery, marvels at Colabella’s drive. “She established two galleries and found the wherewithal to reimagine and reinvigorate a local magazine. And she did all of this while raising two teenagers,” he says. “As juggling acts go, it’s pretty impressive to watch. That she does all of this with intelligence and grace holds us all to a higher standard.”
Which, ironically, leaves Dee Dee little time for what inspired all these initiatives in the first place. “I haven’t had a lot of time to focus on my own artistic practice,” she sighs. “I plan on retiring at some point and handing over the reigns so I can make art.”
Dee Dee Colabella retire? I wouldn’t hold my breath. •