Nathalie Bussemaker

The sound of “Happy Birthday” and tables with hundreds of cupcakes filled the City Hall atrium on Tuesday afternoon as residents celebrated New Haven’s 380th birthday.

New Haven celebrated its nearly four-centurylong history of “tradition, innovation and idealism” at a ceremony on April 24 organized by Director of Arts, Culture and Tourism Andrew Wolf. Mayor Toni Harp and Community Services Administrator Dakibu Muléy addressed an audience of around 100 New Haven officials and residents before announcing the seven winners of the 2018 New Haven Spirit Awards.

“My heart spilled with pride at the honor of being your mayor at this critical moment of our community resolve to yet again position New Haven as a game changer in this 21st-century creative economy,” Harp said as she introduced the Spirit Award Honorees.

The ceremony opened with a welcome address by Muléy, who thanked high school senior Logan Driscoll and photographer Joe Stanley for their service to the city.

Driscoll founded the nonprofit organization “Driscoll Cares” to provide financial assistance to families in crisis and hopes to engage more than 5,000 Connecticut residents in projects like the Yale Day of Service. Stanley created the “We Are a Nation of Immigrants” community-based art installation “to create a positive difference in the life of one individual at a time,” according to Muley, who compared Stanley’s social justice impact to an elm sapling taking root.

After the welcome address came an a cappella performance by the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of New Haven, which sang “Hark! A Civic Moment Observed!,” in celebration of New Haven’s history and culture. The Survivors Swing Band — composed of seven senior citizens — then performed several pieces.

Harp’s keynote address focused on New Haven’s “diversity, opportunity and progress.” In reflecting on New Haven’s rich history and achievements, she drew on her recent visit to China, where she heard many toasts celebrating New Haven and Yale’s contributions to “global knowledge and humanistic achievement.”

“So many inspiring memories from this visit are permanently etched in my mind, in particular the sense of civic pride of place that I had the occasion to witness,” Harp said.

The city then recognized seven retiring or departing city employees and residents who have contributed to the Elm City’s cultural achievements as 2018 City Spirit Honorees.

The honorees were Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, who created a motion-activated light exhibit for the underpass near Union Station; Frances “Bitsie” Clark, who recently retired as the executive director of HomeHaven and contributed to transforming Audubon Street into an arts district; Karyn Gilvarg ARC ’75, a retiring city planner who directed the approval process for the Boathouse at Canal Dock; Pastor Donald Morris, who organized a summit on gun violence in American cities and New Haven’s gospel festival; David Moser, a city planner who helps New Haven implement the nation’s first public tree-planting system; Neil Richardson, who worked as a judicial marshal in the juvenile court on Whalley Avenue; and Anthony “Tony” Scillia, the retired former chair of the Shubert Theatre’s board of directors.

The ceremony closed with “Alone in the Universe” a duet from Seussical the Musical performed by sixth grader Mason Porras and seventh grader Hector Martinez from the John C. Daniels School and a “civil uplift in act and deed” from Pastor Donald Morris.

Morris described his fond memories of growing up in the Elm City, citing the excellence of its school, colleges, health care and restaurants.

“I love New Haven, Connecticut. I have always loved New Haven, Connecticut,” Morris said. “It is a wonderful city to live in.”

New Haven was founded in 1683 by English Puritans and was the first planned city in America.

Nathalie Bussemaker |