It was expected that the Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s annual arts award ceremony, held at the New Haven Lawn Club on Friday, would be a celebration. It also ended up being one of unexpected emotion and depth.
Attendees first gathered in the foyer of the Lawn Club’s ballroom while Andrew Rubenoff offered seasonal songs on the piano.
Then they filed eagerly into the ballroom itself for lunch.
After welcomes from Robert B. Dannies, the president of the Arts Council board of directors, and Cynthia Clair, the Art Council’s executive director, Dannies presented the council’s C. Newton Schenck lifetime achievement award to architect Cesar Pelli.
Designer of numerous skyscrapers around the world, including the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, closer to home, he also designed the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford and the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School in New Haven. In accepting the award, Pelli spoke about the honor of receiving an award in his adoptive home town (he is originally from Argentina), and spoke of how vibrant New Haven’s arts community is for a city of its size—a theme to be repeated throughout the afternoon.
Lunch was served to Val Ramos’s exquisite guitar playing.
Then presenters Michael Morand and Ronald Ebrecht took the podium to call Karyl Evans to the stage. Evans, a multiple award-winning documentary filmmaker, managed to mention almost everyone in the room as former clients of hers—“just to name a few,” she said, to laughter. That so much of her career has been involved in local projects, she said, “shows the respect New Haven gives to artists, and how important we know the arts and artists are to a community.”
Kellie Ann Lynch, dancer, choreographer, teacher, and cofounder of Elm City Dance Collective, mentioned how New Haven has allowed her to flourish in ways that perhaps may not have happened if she had moved to New York instead. In New Haven, she said, people know that “it only takes an individual to plant an idea, but it takes a community to realize it.”
Barbara Pearce, realtor and champion of the arts, was humbled to be honored among the artists she has helped support as board member, chair, and fundraiser for several New Haven arts organizations. “People say it takes a village, but I always say it also takes a lot of money.” she said, again to laughter. She lauded New Haven’s artists for their willingness to work together rather than competing with each other. “It’s been my privilege to give to the arts in New Haven, but whatever I have given, I have gotten back more.”
Peter Noble, coordinator of Pequeñas Ligas Hispanas de New Haven, used his chance at the podium to thank the astounding number of organizations that Pequeñas Ligas Hispanas has worked with to bring the arts to children in Fair Haven for over 20 years. “We seek to make New Haven like a delicious plate of rice,” he said, “served with your favorite accompaniments.”
Then artist Winfred Rembert took over the podium. He told the audience the harrowing story of his growing up as a cotton picker in Georgia, becoming an activist, and having a run-in with the law that involved a jailbreak, fleeing for his life, and a near lynching, followed by a long prison sentence.
“Am I going on too long?” he asked every couple minutes. Every time, a chorus of voices told him no. So he got from learning his craft as an artist in prison to meeting his wife, to getting to New Haven.
“I feel that you have made me a child of New Haven and I feel so welcome,” he said. He then dedicated the award to his wife, Patsy, who had encouraged him from the beginning. “I said, ‘Ain’t nobody wants to hear the story of Winfred Rembert.’ But I was wrong. And you were right. This is for you.”