Hygienic Art, Inc. was created as an incorporated structure in the fall of 1979, when artists employed by a federal Comprehensive Education and Training Act (CETA) grant decided, as a final project, to hold an outsiders' art festival. The show was modeled after the "Salon Des Independants," a late 19th century art movement in Paris in which artists had protested the aristocracy by exhibiting their works in cafes located in the 'seamy' areas of the city. The artists in those exhibitions gave rise to the great French Impressionist movement.
The exhibition was presented at the Hygienic Restaurant, New London's only 24 hour eatery, which had been open since 1919. The rules were simple; no judge, no jury, no fees, no censorship, one piece per artist and all were welcome. The show was an immediate success and the Hygienic Art Exhibition became an annual creative arts festival, attracting over 450 artists and an audience of thousands.
The Hygienic Restaurant closed in 1985 and the show continued in other historic venues in the city. Hygienic Art was formally incorporated in 1987 to save the exhibition from speculators who wanted to use the Hygienic name to promote other festivals in the city.