Bathed in pink light and flanked by ballerinas, Mayor Toni Harp, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and University President Peter Salovey faced a crowded ballroom at the Omni Hotel Monday night to celebrate their “valentines” this year — the arts and humanities organizations of New Haven.
Following a day’s worth of events, including site visits to various city art organizations, hosted by the Connecticut State Office for the Arts and the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, last night’s Valentine’s Day celebration brought together champions of the New Haven culture scene. Special guests included the chairs of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. While speakers and performers emphasized the importance of continued focus and funding for the arts, the event also paid tribute to the past 200 years of the arts in the Elm City.
“I see that the arts are thriving in this city,” NEA Chair Jane Chu said. “New Haven can play a national role and be a model for allowing the arts to thrive and recognizing how they can even pop up organically in neighborhoods.”
Salovey acted as master of ceremonies on Monday night, offering his own remarks on the strong relationship between the humanities at Yale and New Haven.
Harp described New Haven’s richness in artistic talent, adding that creativity was vital to a growing and innovative economy.
Just before she began to tap dance from the podium, DeLauro spoke of how great cities like New Haven are not just made up of dollars and cents, but also a thriving cultural scene.
Earlier in the day, during a site visit to Music Haven, a non-profit organization that runs after-school music programs for city youth, DeLauro cited student performances through the organization as examples of the social impact of art.
“Some of my colleagues would say that the arts are the purview of the rich and that we shouldn’t fund these efforts,” DeLauro said in an interview with the News. “But when you see programs that engage young people in the public school system, those are poignant stories that talk about the reasons why the federal government should be engaged, too.”
John Cusano, a staff member at the Connecticut State Office for the Arts, said he hoped the chairs’ visits would give New Haven and the state necessary exposure to attract increased federal funding.
“It’s been a rough few years to be a state body supporting the arts,” Cusano said. “We’re hoping this visit will turn that around.”
City Director of Arts, Culture and Tourism Andrew Wolf said he agreed with DeLauro that the arts can spur economic development in the Elm City — an idea Harp underscored in her state of the city address last week. Wolf has reached out to the Board of Alders to gauge interest in forging a group of alders dedicated to exploring the economic benefits of cultivating the city arts scene.
Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth ’90 LAW ’94, said she would be eager to join such a body. The group, which is in the process of forming, will meet four times a year, Roth said, and she expects its members to be confirmed within the month.
“The arts are a vehicle for social impact — it’s about a helping hand, a musical number or a song of uplift,” Wolf said. “They’re the cornerstone of the city’s new economy.”
Chu, who spent the day visiting Music Haven and Architecture Resource Center, said arts organizations in New Haven have influenced the lives of generations of city residents, and arts institutions can only achieve this type of longevity with community support behind them.
Music Haven, founded by Tina Hadari MUS ’04, received its first federal grant from the NEA in 2012. Since then, the organization has received $70,000 in funding. The program has grown since its inception nine years ago to accommodate 88 students and is operating at full capacity, according to resident violist and instructor Colin Benn.
According to Hadari, there are over 20 students on the program’s waiting list. But Benn said Music Haven cannot accept any more students without additional funding to hire more instructors.
“I have the opportunity to advocate for resources to make sure we can keep doing this in New Haven,” DeLauro said. “Because this is what the arts are all about.”
NEH Chair William Adams said arts institutions act as investments for years to come.
Adams said the primary challenges faced by America today were not only technical and scientific in nature, but instead, the country’s greatest struggles were rooted in the nation’s cultural history.
“We cannot solve these challenges and recognize the fullness of this country without these commitments,” Adams said. “The work that you are doing is aiming to make a huge difference in the quality of life for the citizens of the United States of America.”
University Deputy Communications Director Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 said New Haven’s creative community has grown with Yale’s investment in local art museums, schools and libraries, as well as the city’s development of the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School and arts programs across the city’s public schools.
The other site visit of the day was to the Architecture Resource Center on Chapel Street, an educational organization that teaches community members practical applications of the design arts in the context of real-world problems. From 2010 to 2014, ARC received $70,000 in NEA grant funding for their design education initiatives.
Professor of Film Studies Charles Musser ’73 said he feels New Haven has been undergoing an artistic renaissance in recent years. He credited the change in part to initiatives launched under former University President Richard Levin that encouraged Yale faculty members and staff to stay in the city. Musser noted that when he graduated from Yale, those who wanted to enter the film industry would have had to go to New York or Los Angeles.
Wolf said Valentine’s Day was the perfect backdrop to reaffirm the Elm City’s commitment to the arts.
“Show me the love, baby, show me the love,” Wolf said.