What began as a fundraiser to promote art education in the city turned into an impromptu dance party Wednesday night, with high school cheerleaders, city aldermen and elderly couples shimmying together at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School — just two blocks from Old Campus.
The arts magnet school hosted the New Haven Board of Alders’ fourth annual Talent Haven Show, a benefit concert whose proceeds support youth arts programs around the city. Performances by Co-op High School students, Alliance Children’s Theatre, the Wilbur Cross High School Drama Club, the James Hillhouse High School Marching Band and many more New Haven-based arts organizations kept the audience entertained all evening.
West River Alder and Board President Tyisha Walker participated with fellow “Dance Moms” — a team of two alders and three mothers — in a performance of “Soul Sisters of the Past,” a mash-up of scores from “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross to “Lady Marmalade,” the collaborative hit by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and P!nk.
“It is important to show our youth that we are committed to helping them succeed,” Walker told the News a day before she lit up the audience of around 100.
Walker and fellow Dance Mom and Dixwell Alder Jeanette Morrison were not the only city officials present at the event. Morris Cove Alder Salvatore DeCola organized the entire night.
DeCola explained that the night usually raises between $500 and $800 for each of the art organizations it sponsors. Last year, Talent Haven supported three groups: the Neighborhood Music School, Music Haven and students at Co-op High School planning to pursue the arts in college.
“We give these organizations money so they do not have to charge the people who can’t afford it,” DeCola said. He highlighted how important events like Talent Haven are, especially in light of the growing state and federal government cuts to funding for the arts.
The night opened with a speech from Superintendent of New Haven Public Schools Garth Harries, as well as remarks from an aide to Sen. Chris Murphy. Both spoke on the importance of celebrating art and supporting educational programs while remembering test scores are not the topic to focus on when discussing education.
Mandi Johnson, executive director of Music Haven, also commented on the wide-ranging availability of arts education in the city, highlighting the opportunities there are for low-income students in New Haven to learn music with conservatory musicians.
“We provide 100 percent tuition-free music programming and free instruments to kids from low-income New Haven neighborhoods,” she said.
Neighborhood Music School, a beneficiary of the 2015 Talent Haven Show, is also one of the 10 largest community arts schools in the nation. More than 2,500 students receive instruction in 30 instruments and seven genres of dance. The program’s core belief is in the power of the arts to transform lives and strengthen communities, a power that was on clear display Wednesday evening.
Audience members of all ages, from senior citizens to toddlers — eager to sprint onto the stage — cheered enthusiastically for each and every performer. Highlights of the night included the elegant dances of BalletHaven, an interschool dance group that followed the choreography of eighth grader Yasmin Rivera; the Wilbur Cross Drama Club, which smoothly sang and danced through the entire score of “Hairspray”; and the high-powered drumline of Hillhouse High School’s marching band.
After the final speeches, the performers from all the groups took to the stage and the aisles once more for an encore, transforming the room into a dance party fueled by the beat of the drumline.
The Talent Haven performers had skill, fun, but most of all passion, Walker said, adding that the event demonstrates how the Board has made youth a priority in its legislative agenda.
Walker’s message rang clear Wednesday night, much like the audience’s insistence that “Broadway has nothing on New Haven.”
Contact Andrew Ruys de Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org .