When former University President Richard Levin and outgoing New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. first took office two decades ago, both Yale and the Elm City had fallen on hard times. Twenty years later, the retiring administrators leave behind a revitalized city and University — an improvement owing in part to the growth of the city’s arts community.

At a Wednesday ceremony held at the Union League Café, Levin and DeStefano received the Long Wharf Theatre’s Founders Award, which recognized the two for their contributions to New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre and broader arts scene. The theater confers the award on individuals and organizations that have shown the kind of profound dedication and commitment that characterized The Long Wharf Theatre’s founders, Artistic Director of Long Wharf Gordon Edelstein explained in his opening remarks. Edelstein credited Levin and DeStefano with having helped transform New Haven into a vibrant artistic community — one in which a theater like the Long Wharf has been able to thrive.

“The performing and visual arts have played a huge role in attracting external visibility for the city,” Levin said in his speech, adding that during his tenure as president of Yale, both the University and New Haven have become influential aristic centers.

Levin cited the renovation of the Yale University Art Gallery as a sign of the University’s dedication to supporting the arts in New Haven. Joshua Borenstein DRA ’02, managing director of the Long Wharf, said that Yale has also helped fund renovation projects at the theater in the past.

In his speech, DeStefano highlighted persistence and teamwork as values that he, President Levin and the leaders of Long Wharf share.

“There’s not the same urgency of collaboration between Yale and New Haven now,” he said, explaining that when he took office, New Haven and Yale were facing challenges that they had to address together. Still, he added that Yale and New Haven’s joint history ensures they will continue to collaborate under the leadership of his and Levin’s successors.

Levin told the News he is “quite confident” that the arts at Yale will continue to thrive under President Salovey.

Steven Scarpa, director of marketing and communications at the Long Wharf, said that Yale and the theater share a “great collegial relationship.” He cited sharing theater props as one of the ways the Long Wharf and Yale collaborate on a day-to-day basis.

Borenstein explained that the theater and New Haven also collaborate regularly — 70 percent of the schools targeted by the theater’s outreach programs are in the city. He added that the Long Wharf conducts a program allowing retired New Haven residents to create theater based on their life experiences.

Barbara Lamb, who served as Director of Cultural Affairs in the Mayor’s Office from 2000 until 2011, said that while other cities across the country have been eliminating arts programs due to budget cuts, DeStefano has insisted on maintaining New Haven’s Cultural Affairs Office, which serves as an interface between the city’s arts community and City Hall. The office organizes economic development projects for artists, coordinates arts events, commissions and documents public artwork and sponsors community programming in the arts. Lamb added that DeStefano used to host luncheons with New Haven’s major arts figures “to make sure he heard the artists’ voices.”

In his speech, Levin traced his lifelong love of the arts back to his grandmother, who designed costumes for the San Francisco Bay Opera Company. He spoke of his semester abroad in Italy, where he studied Renaissance art and fell in love with his wife, and of their two years together at Oxford, during which they frequented the city’s major theaters. Levin said that before assuming the duties of Yale president, he and his wife rarely missed a production at the Long Wharf.

“We’ll be back [at the Long Wharf] now,” Levin said, explaining that he will now have more time to attend arts-related events in New Haven.

The Long Wharf Theatre was founded in 1965 by alumni of the Yale School of Drama.