PERSONALITIES: From PR consultant to artist promoter |

MANCHESTER — When Thomas Andrea retired in 2021 at age 62 from a career as a public relations consultant, he decided to pursue his passion for the arts. Not as an artist himself, but as a patron, helping others establish themselves in the community.

A native of the Cos Cob section of Greenwich, Andrea graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in mass communications. He moved to New York City to try to establish his career.

“Most of my friends had posters of the Grateful Dead, I had artwork,” he said.

“When I moved to New York City after college, I loved going to museums down there,” he said.

In 1987, Andrea returned to Connecticut and started his own public relations business in 1992.

“I did special events like Symphony on Ice that was sponsored by United Technologies,” he said. “That was an annual ice skating show at the Harvard Civic Center that raised toys for Toys for Tots. It was a free ice skating show.”

The collaboration with UTC turned into a long-term working relationship that lasted for more than six years. His next venture was to work with Sullivan and LeShane Public Relations in Hartford.

Through most of his 35-year adult life in Connecticut, Andrea has lived at Clock Tower Mill apartments at 158 Forest St., and it is at his apartment in Manchester that he has developed his space into his private art studio, filled with with dozens of paintings by artists from across the state.

His passion for these artists has inspired him to spotlight them as a patron, hosting his first private, by invitation only, exhibition for an artist. The first one is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 24, and will spotlight artist Michael Olson of Chaplin.

“Last November, I went to the Artists’ Open Studios of Northeastern Connecticut,” Andrea said. “I never heard of it before. It’s an annual event where that whole section of Northeastern Connecticut, they have two weekends in a row and all artists who want to participate can show either at their homes, at galleries, at churches, at community centers. My friend and I drove up and you pick what artists you want to go visit. My friend, Rebecca, picked four artists and I picked four artists and we said, ‘OK, let’s go see eight artists.’ Lo and behold, she and I, without knowing it, both picked out this guy named Mike Olson.”

While checking out the artists, he saw Olson assisting a young boy, giving him tips on drawing.

“This guy’s talented and he’s nice. There he is, taking time to help this young kid,” he said.

His first purchase of an Olson piece was an abstract expressionist piece titled “Genesis.”

“I love the power of it packed into this size,” he said. “I got his card and that started my relationship with this guy.”

Andrea said he and Olson over the next few months started to hang out together and Olson accepted his invitation to have his works presented at Andrea’s apartment, showcasing them for art connoisseurs.

“There would be close to 30 pieces, new, relatively new pieces, and any place he wants to hang them, we will hang them,” Andrea said. “It’s just a way of introducing Mike to a larger audience. It’s not wild. It’s more like a salon kind of feel to it.”

Olson’s art is fairly diverse, from oil paints to digital prints on metal.

“Mike is talented,” Andrea said. “His wide range of work blows me away. I think he warrants a show like this.”

He said that a little exhibition like this is great for people who find traditional museums overwhelming.

“My friends, none of them are artists,” he said. “I want to break down that wall and show them that art can be understood, appreciated, and do it in a relaxing kind of at atmosphere. A lot of times going to galleries, it’s like going to church. I don’t want them to feel like they’re at church. I want them to be relaxed and have fun.

“When I saw Mike’s work, I just thought, ‘This guy is wicked talented.’ I want more people to know about this guy, this homegrown talent of ours.”

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