Annual arts festival unfazed by state budget crunch

Despite a stagnant economy forcing many arts groups to scramble for funds, New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas will not be adversely affected, its director said.

Festival director Mary Miller said she expects a program similar in size and scope to last year’s, which included productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Carmen,” performances by punk rock groups and string quartets, and panel discussions about America’s international image.

Personnel changes and an expected decrease in state funding for the arts raised concerns that the festival, held annually in June, would be short on resources next year.

“All the major arts programs — are aware that the economy is not as robust and are taking appropriate measures,” Miller said.

The festival’s 17th day — added last year to accommodate artists’ schedules — will be cut for logistical rather than monetary reasons. In addition, Miller said vacancies in three administrative positions were due to internal reorganization rather than a lack of resources.

“We’re making some changes in staffing to build the most dynamic team possible for the future,” Miller said.

Kathleen DeMeo, communications specialist with the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, said while arts funding may be slightly reduced this year, budgetary cutbacks are happening across the board.

The state’s annual grants to Connecticut artists and foundations may fall from about $3 million to $2.5 million, DeMeo said. Over the past three years, budget surpluses helped fuel an increase in arts funding. She said Connecticut’s cutbacks are consistent with budgetary shortfalls across the country.

“Arts organizations are used to working with very little. They’re very resourceful, and they get a lot of bang for their buck,” DeMeo said.

Despite the decline in grants, Miller said the festival’s budget, which stood at over $3 million last year, would not be significantly affected.

“We are assured that our state funding for next year is secure,” Miller said.

Compared with smaller organizations that rely more heavily on state aid, the 7-year-old festival may have less difficulty attracting sufficient funds in part because of corporate sponsors like Fleet and SBC Communications Inc.

Yale is another major sponsor, contributing approximately $100,000 per year. In addition, many of the festival’s events take place at University facilities.

Bruce Alexander, Yale’s vice president for New Haven and state affairs, said he is confident next June’s events will not suffer from a lack of resources.

“I don’t see a substantial change because we’ve had very good festivals with this kind of budget,” he said.

Alexander, who serves as a vice president on the board of the festival’s parent organization, Arts and Ideas New Haven, said that the festival, which boasts over 100,000 in attendance annually, helps give New Haven the status of “creative capital of Connecticut.”

“One of the advantages of the festival, in addition to being art for art’s sake, is that it has a big impact on people’s image of New Haven,” said Alexander. “In the past, we’ve had trouble spreading this message about how active and lively New Haven is.”

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