Daniel Fitzmaurice, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, stood before the assembled audience in the ballroom of the New Haven Lawn Club in a turquoise suit adorned with roses.
“Have you been to the beach lately?” he asked.
The ballroom was packed for the Arts Council’s 37th Annual Arts Awards, held to honor members of the New Haven community for their contributions to the arts. This year, the awards focused on what the Arts Council was calling the “creative ecosystem.” Hence, possibly, the roses on Fitzmaurice’s suit. And definitely, the imagery Fitzmaurice summoned to begin the ceremony.
The beach in winter was what he’d thought of when arts maven Bitsie Clark came up with the theme this year. The idea was to emphasize symbiosis over competition, and to highlight diversity as essential for survival.
The ceremony began with a drag performance by Kiki Lucia and Luis Antonio to mark World AIDS Day.
“Is our creative ecosystem up to the task of confronting today’s social problems?” Fitzmaurice asked. In the context of the arts awards ceremony, the question was rhetorical; the nominees, for Fitzmaurice, were part of the answer. But before presenting the Arts Council’s award winners, Fitzmaurice said, “I challenge you to help further diversify our ecosystem. ... Discover a new artist and pay full price for their product.” He also suggested buying people tickets to events they might not otherwise be able to afford. Or eating in a neighborhood “where no one looks like you.”
Jock Reynolds, who is stepping down this coming June after two decades as the Yale University Art Gallery‘s director, received this year’s C. Newton Schenck III Award for Lifetime Achievement in and Contribution to the Arts. In his speech, Reynolds pointed mostly to others around him. “We don’t do this work alone,” he said. He began with part of Schenck’s own legacy of building “parking lots, abandoned buildings, and an old synagogue into what we now know of as our arts district” on Audubon Street. Looking around the room, he worked his way through his own staff and other Yale graduates who have ended up working in New Haven’s arts scene, including those spearheading the PostMasters Project in the city’s Dixwell neighborhood.
“We keep building this community, little by little,” Reynolds said. “Yale has intertwined itself with the arts community by everyone figuring out how they can contribute best.” In concluding, he said, graciously, “I’ve had the time of my life here for 20 years.”
The next award went to the Architecture Resource Center, which runs architecture and other design programs in schools in New Haven and beyond. Since 1991, these programs have been helping students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts to real-world problems.
“The design workshops we’ve used across the country have been piloted at New Haven schools,” said Anna Sanko, ARC’s executive director. Feedback from students and teachers over the years has given a sense of what those programs accomplish. “I had no idea I could figure out the cost of a building using fourth-grade math,” one student wrote. “I learned how to use the context of students’ lives to make lessons more relevant,” a teacher wrote. Or, “as one first-grader put it,” Sanko related, “‘finally, important work to do.’”
Next was Diane Brown, receiving an award for her work as chief librarian and branch manager of the Stetson Library, which will move into the new Q House from its current location on Dixwell Avenue. Brown explained that when she took the job in 2006, among her goals were to beef up the library’s collection of books from the black diaspora, to create partnerships with local organizations to teach black history, and to stage events in the library that celebrated black contributions to the arts, from music and literature to visual arts.
“We think outside the box ... if we haven’t tried it, we will,” Brown said. “It hasn’t always been an easy road, but I wouldn’t have it any different.”
Reverend Kevin Ewing — pastor at Center Church on the Green, neighborhood organizer, former police officer, longtime A&I board member, and the man behind Baobab Tree Studios — was surprised to learn that he had won an arts award from the Arts Council when Fitzmaurice called. Ewing recalled his response: “Get the expletive out of here!” Then he called his mom. “I just won the arts award in New Haven,” he told her. “For what?” she responded. “And I said, ‘I don’t know,’” Ewing recalled.
Then he got serious. “My faith is at the core of what I do,” he said. And the key to that faith, and to life, he said, “is love…. love God, the cosmos, the all-encompassing light. And here’s the hard part: love your neighbor as yourself. Sometimes it’s hard to love your neighbor and yourself.”
He believed, though, that the more we got to know our neighbors, the more possible it would be to love them. “How do we get to know each other?” he said. “By sharing stories…. When I tell you a story, I am giving you a piece of me,” he said. “And as you hear that story, you think, ‘hey, I’m like that, too.’... So what I do is try to share stories so we can learn to love each other.”
He closed with a prayer sung from the podium at the front of tdhe room: “Fill my cup, Lord / I lift it up, Lord / Let it overflow with love.”
Musical Intervention founder Adam Christoferson wasn’t in town to receive his award, but a recording of his voice was played on a phone, thanking the Arts Council. “Have a good lunch!” Christoferson said.
Musical Intervention on Temple Street makes a safe, drug-free space for musicians to perform and record music. Christoferson started it while working as a recreational therapist at Yale Child Psychiatric Inpatient Hospital. He moved MI to its current location last year.
“Our doors are open,” said Rusty Drake, who works with Musical Intervention. “You can walk in, be greeted with a smile, and if you have a song to sing, by 4 o’clock we’ll have that song.”
I believe in what Adam is doing,” instructor Giovanni Beamon said. “I do what I ought to do. I mentor and encourage people, and even though I’m six foot four, I know when to say ‘help.’”
Finally, artist and educator Lucy McClure, Institute Library Executive Director Valerie Garelick, and Artspace curator Sarah Fritchey received an arts award for their work in organizing Nasty Women New Haven, an art exhibit by women in response to the election of Donald Trump. Nasty Women New Haven was part of an effort that spanned 50 cities in the U.S.
“Art has no limit,” Fritchey said. “We mourn, desire, love, joke, cry…. It’s humbling to be a part of something so big and so prepared to take shape when the time calls.”
“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need nasty women,” McClure said. “But today we need them more than ever before.”
“‘Nasty’ is a word we continue to change the meaning of, together,” Garelick said.