New Haven’s Youth Services department offers a wide range of programs, from connecting young people with summer work opportunities to providing them with bicycles to travel to school. Soon, the department will add a more creative form of outreach to that list. With the help of new state funds, Youth Services will bring together inner-city youth and invite them to research local historical events and paint those scenes on oil drums.
The Youth Services department was one of eight New Haven-based recipients of a late September grant from the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development. Together, the grants represent a $29,000 state investment in local arts organizations that have demonstrated particularly strong engagement with the New Haven community.
“The whole intention is to connect with organizations and artists that are working in communities, at the intersection of community and creative strategy,” said Kristina Newman-Scott, the state’s director of culture at the Department of Economic and Community Development.
Other organizations chosen include LGBTQ+ Youth Kickback, A Broken Umbrella Theatre, East Street Arts, the New Haven Chamber Orchestra and Collective Consciousness Theatre, and each received $4,000 in state funds. There are also two individual winners — composer Taylor Ho Bynum and LaTanya Autry, the Yale University Art Gallery’s Marcia Brady Tucker Fellow — who received $4,000 and $1,000, respectively.
The winning project proposals span across mediums, with the chamber orchestra partnering with community organizations to pursue literacy through music and Autry organizing a YUAG talk on “The Art of Black Dissent.”
Andrew Wolf, the city’s director of arts, culture and tourism, supported the state’s efforts to bolster the arts but called this level of funding “woefully inadequate.” Connecticut can do better, he said.
The maximum amount each organization or individual could apply for was $4,000.
But these small grants can still be impactful, said Megan Manton, director of development at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. As the state’s local partner, the council put together a jury to pick the grant recipients.
“While it would be good to see more money go into community engagement projects like this, $4,000 is a big deal to someone working on a small project,” Manton said.
In fact, the Department of Economic and Community Development’s program, dubbed Regional Initiative Arts Grants, intentionally keeps grant awards low. This year’s $4,000 cap on funds is a decrease from the maximum award last year, the grant’s pilot year.
Newman-Scott said that the state doles out several grants for the arts and REGI is meant to be a smaller one, targeted toward emerging artists and organizations without the resources to apply for large grants.
She said that even if the REGI program were expanded in the future, the larger pool of money would be used to support more organizations rather than provide the same number of recipients with more money.
Dexter Singleton, executive artistic director at Collective Consciousness Theatre, said he will use the money to fund a “Race in America” series, which will feature play readings about race, class and culture in New Haven and across the country.
“Some of these smaller projects can fall by the wayside when we’re spending so much time working on bigger things,” Singleton said.
The community engagement factor of Singleton’s project comes in the form of “talk back” sessions, which will be held directly after shows. These sessions invite performers, audience members and experts working in the field to participate in conversations about the themes of the show and, more broadly, about the societal issues highlighted by the performance.
“It’s a time to find more questions and maybe some answers and solutions,” Singleton said.
REGI serves organizations throughout Connecticut and awards funds for each fiscal year. Eligible applicants include non-profits, municipal departments and schools.