Arts and Ideas Festival welcomes director

Although Mary Miller is the director of New Haven’s premier arts festival, the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, she is a newcomer to American culture. She grew up in northern Scotland.

“But it’s a huge privilege to be part of a very different culture,” she said.

Last night, the Yale administration threw a welcome party for Miller, who became the artistic director of the festival on Oct. 7. She received a warm greeting from a crowd of about 30, which included Yale College Council President Vidhya Prabhakaran ’03 and senior a cappella group Whim ‘n Rhythm.

Founded in 1996, the festival is a nonprofit organization, independent from Yale, that brings hundreds of performers to New Haven for three weeks in June.

In recent years, performers have included the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Metropolitan Opera, and troupes of Vietnamese and Russian dancers. Professors Paul Kennedy and Paul Bloom have led seminars for the “ideas” portion of the festival.

The director has ultimate control over the structure of the event, including the lineup of artists and intellectuals.

After an international search process, the festival’s board selected Miller — not to be confused with art history professor and Saybrook Master Mary E. Miller — for the post last April.

“We were looking for the best,” said Roslyn Meyer, a vice president on the festival board. “It was a very well-respected pool that she was chosen from.”

Miller served as director of Britain’s Northlands Festival and is a former concert violinist, music critic and radio host.

Her selection continues a trend of internationalization.

“We started focused on New Haven,” said Christine Franquemont, the festival’s director of development. “We’ve worked since then to raise our profile nationally and internationally.”

Franquemont estimated that 15 to 20 percent of attendees came from out of state.

Miller said that she would like to see major festival events move out into local neighborhoods. Currently, much of the festival takes place on Yale property or on the New Haven Green.

“I’d really like to experiment with the idea of artists getting out in the community,” Miller said. “It’s an honorable trend [that] we can build on.”

The festival’s mission is not only to showcase the city and raise civic pride, but also to promote economic development. Organizers said the program has brought city businesses increasing revenue, from $15.7 million in 1999 to $20 million last year.

Quinnipiac University is preparing a survey about the impact of the 2001 festival. Franquemont declined to detail the survey’s findings.

But Miller said, “The survey came back with a figure that was hugely flattering but highly improbable.”

Nevertheless, Miller and Michael Morand, Yale’s associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs, said the festival’s overall impact is certain.

Morand said local retailers have seen no drop in business over the summer, even though the University is in recess. He said the festival was the largest reason.

While recent events will not dampen the festival’s tone, organizers have reassessed its immediate mission. Miller said the event should bring “spirit” and “confidence” to the city.

“With what happened on Sept. 11, all the goal posts have moved,” she said.

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