Darina Mitchell used to sing in her church choir. That was ten years ago. This summer she found a place where she could drop by after work with friends and raise her voice again in song: a vacant lot that is helping to revive the spirit of Newhallville.
Friday afternoon she rose from a folding red chair in the audience and took the microphone at the finale of the third season of the Winchester Revitalization Arts Project (WRAP).
That’s a sustained effort by the city’s department of arts, culture, and tourism to transform on Wednesday and Friday nights the empty but grassy city-owned green lot at 535 Winchester Ave. into a place full of song, dance, art, and the spirit of community.
“I was a little nervous,” she said as she belted out “Girl, you knock me out/ Outstanding/ You make me want to shout!”
The third season of events and six Wednesdays and six Fridays, which began July 12, culminated in Friday’s low-key but soulful afternoon of rhythms by Organic Soul, the steady band at the event throughout the season, and the participation of audience members like Mitchell.
Click on the video above to hear Mitchell sing “Girl, You Knock Me Out,” a The Gap Band tune played by WRAP’s regular band, Organic Soul, which is led by Wayne Brown on keyboard and vocals.
“I told them I had stage fright, but they worked with me,” Mitchell said.
Meanwhile, surrounding the main music performance area on the lot’s gently sloping grass field, almost a natural amphitheater that had been the site of a torn-down church, CitySeed’s mobile local-food produce market was doing a brisk business in corn and tomatoes. A face painter’s magic transfixed the little ones. And folks from the New Haven Museum played hoops and other colonial games with the kids.
Sculptor Gerald Moore, one of WRAP’s original organizers, termed the season a success even though the numbers at Friday’s finale were down somewhat from seasons past when the lot drew more than150 people to performances including plays..
“The community responds positively to high-quality cultural events. It cuts through the apathy and disengagement. You hear all the negative stuff about Newhallville,” he said.
“These programs build on each other,” said Vivian Nabetta, the city’s chief of culture and and tourism. She was referring to word-of-mouth and the sustaining presence of programming week after week, season after season.
She said that while the current season is ending on Winchester, it’s beginning in a new neighborhood. Organic Soul and Leviticus, its spoken-word artist emcee, and other partnering groups will launch “Art in the Square,” a similar cultural potpourri at historic Trowbridge Square Park in the Hill.
That will be on Sept. 7, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Nabetta said.
Organic Soul’s other members are: Kenny Blackwell on guitar; Walter Livingston, III on bass, and Nate Barnes on drums.
Nabetta said the ongoing indoor edition of WRAP, a coffeehouse at ConnCAT in Science Park, will also be starting up in the fall.