Jane Chu went to Whalley Avenue on a mission: to see and hear firsthand how the federal government’s arts money is being spent in New Haven.
Chu is in charge of handing out much of that money. She chairs the National Endowment for the Arts.
On Monday New Haven officials brought her to town for a tour of recipients of NEA money, like Music Haven, and to join another national funding bigwig, National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman William “Bro” Adams, at a “valentine” celebration at the Omni Ballroom for New Haven’s longest-running arts organizations.
At the offices of Music Haven, Chu listened carefully and methodically as the stories tumbled forward. Playing the violin had helped Noel Mitchell get a better grasp of his emotions. Tony Rodriguez chose the cello because he could play it sitting down; Miriam Perez stayed with it because it reminded her of her father after his passing. Jose Resto found that piano lessons helped him read without migraines. Denasha Upchurch didn’t know exactly how she’d gotten to the violin, but she was grateful she’d stayed. And Sofia Galvan joked that the viola had been her mother’s way of keeping her out of trouble.
Chu’s hope at the organization’s Whalley Avenue offices: to get to the heart of Music Haven, which received NEA Art Works Grants in the 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14 academic years. Her method? Dialogue, pure and simple.
What that meant was cozying up — literally, given the gusts and large flakes of snow hitting the offices windows — with the core of Music Haven: Director Tina Lee Hadari and Development Director Netta Hadari, the Haven String Quartet (Yaira Matyakubova, resident violinist, Gregory Tompkins, resident violinist, Colin Benn, resident violist, Philip Boulanger, resident cellist), resident fellow Miki Sawada, some board members, and several of the organization’s longtime students.
Why? Chu had her reasons. One of them: Music Haven is, once again, leading an educational charge.
“The National Endowment for the Arts is going to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary this year, and we’re looking at that celebration in two ways,” Chu said. “First thing: we’ll look at how the National Endowment for the Arts has started and built over fifty years, but we’re also looking out over the next fifty years of the arts. What will the arts look like? Well, you’re at the heart of this. You’re the future of the arts.”
That is the idea on which Music Haven is built. “When I was in school,” Hadari said, “I really saw this town as a tale of two cities, in that there’s opportunity, and then there’s a whole population of people who don’t have access to programs ... so we don’t talk about outreach. We have inreach; we’re citizens of this community, and we live, play, work here.”
Chu marveled at students’ motivations for getting into and staying in music, sharing her own back story in her loping, laughter-tinged Southern drawl when the moment seemed right to jump in. She noted it was music, not management experience, that prepared her for directing initiatives at the NEA. “Like music, sometimes you just know when to step back and let the viola get in there,” she said to knowing laughs.
Thirty minutes into the meeting, she was joined by a strong ally in the arts: Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who arrived just in time for Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 2, No. 2.
Seated shoulder to shoulder and grinning from ear to ear like two old friends, Chu and DeLauro were serenaded by two of Music Haven’s distinguished groups, the Phat Orangez Quintet and a piano trio, who played a medley of old, new, and experimental music.
Marrion mixed with Haydn ...
... and Schumann with contemporary composer Gabriel Bolaños.
“Music Haven has integrated great art and music into the lives of our children, and God bless you, because it is not easy. It is not easy.” said DeLauro. “it’s the teamwork, it’s the self confidence.” She shared Plato’s words alongside her own to honor “how unique and vibrant the arts are in this city.”
Hadari, who is both an experienced hand and hungry for a good challenge, made it even simpler.
“It’s in our DNA. It’s family.”
At day’s end, Chu met up with NEH Chairman Adams and hundreds of cultural and political leaders in town in the Omni Ballroom. The occasion: A “valentine” to New Haven’s arts groups to commemorate some milestone birthdays, such as the 100th of the Shubert and the 50th of Long Wharf Theatre and the Arts Council. Mayor Toni Harp and DeLauro served as hosts. Yale President Peter Salovey served as emcee. The Gateway Community College Culinary Arts And Confectionary program’s students served the cake.
And city arts and culture czar Andy Wolf, whose idea the event was, served up the visiting NEA and NEH stars.
He also served up two helpings of poetry, one from recent Yale grad Ifeanyi Awachie, who recalled in verse breaking the news to her parents that she would major in English ...
... and another from Connecticut Poet Laureate Dick Allen, who serenaded the crowd with Aunt Jenny’s rocking-chair observations.
Future community leaders Emma Hadari and Molly Elicker took it all in from the confines of their parents’ pouches.
Paul Bass contributed to this story.