The 2016 International Festival of Arts and Ideas generated $15.4 million for the city of New Haven, according to the results of a Quinnipiac University economic study released last week.
Founded in 1996, the Festival is an annual 15-day event in mid-June featuring around 170 performances, 85 percent of which are free. This year’s Festival, which operated on a budget of $3.32 million, involved 855 artists and speakers from 14 countries across the globe and drew 104,638 attendees. Compared to the 2014 Festival, the 2016 event, also called Festival 21, saw a 23 percent increase in economic impact on Elm City businesses.
“We’re thrilled with the success of Festival 21 and proud to continue playing an active role in making our Connecticut community a vibrant, prosperous place,” Executive Director Mary Lou Aleskie said in a press release.
A team led by Dr. Mark Gius, who has been analyzing the Festival’s economic impact since founding in 1996, conducted the study, which involved an in-depth analysis of attendance figures and reported visitor behavior, according to the release. Gius is a professor of economics at Quinnipiac.
Former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet Wendy Whelan, Machine de Cirque — a circus that performs to classical music — and New Haven-based St. Luke’s Steel Band were among this year’s performers.
Festival 21 saw a record 13 percent of visitors coming from outside Connecticut, with 46.7 percent of visitors coming from the Greater New Haven area and 40.2 percent from elsewhere in Connecticut. The jump in economic impact correlated directly with the increased number of out-of-state attendees, Director for Development of Arts and Ideas Tom Griggs said.
“People who come from farther away spend more money because they have to find lodging and buy food, and maybe they’ll go to the shops on Chapel or Broadway,” Griggs said.
He added that local restaurateurs, like the owners of Zinc and Barracuda, told him that the Festival brought them much more business than usual for June, which is typically a slow month.
Last year, the Festival’s board met with members of the New Haven community to discuss how to best involve local businesses in the Festival and foster a sense of welcoming community spirit for attendees.
Griggs said he and other Festival organizers want nonresidents to perceive New Haven as a “cultural destination.”
But, he added, the Festival has always focused primarily on bringing unique programming — including world premieres, U.S. premieres and Festival commissions — to the Elm City community. While the board was pleased to see a continued trend of increasing numbers of out-of-state visitors, Festival organizers have always been equally concerned with getting residents of Greater New Haven downtown for the Festival.
“We don’t plan for out-of-state, out-of-town visitors, we plan for artistic quality,” Griggs said. “But that quality catches the interest of people from all over.”
For instance, he said, the first U.S. performance of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour by the National Theatre of Scotland this year prompted a review in The New York Times that helped attract even more outside attention to Festival 21.
New Haven spokesman Laurence Grotheer noted the Festival’s significance for the New Haven community, adding that the Festival has come to signal the start of a robust special-events calendar in the city each summer. Free concerts, Shakespeare in the Park and Connecticut Open women’s tennis matches follow the Festival’s close, Grotheer said.
“The Festival helps the city enhance its reputation as the cultural center of the region,” he said. “For those two weeks in June, New Haven builds on its reputation as an attraction for higher education and cultural expression.”
The 2017 International Festival of Arts and Ideas will take place from June 10 to 24.