The Arts Council of Greater New Haven held a celebratory good-bye for Debbie Hesse, its director of programs and artistic services for the last 15 years. The amicable departure heralds a new focus for Hesse as well as for the Arts Council, which will see structural changes and a broadening of its scope of operations.
The Arts Council will cease its practice of art exhibitions in its office space at 70 Audubon St. and elsewhere. It will retain its annual Arts Council Awards event and continue The Arts Paper, a monthly arts news and advocacy newspaper, according to new Executive Director Dan Fitzmaurice.
“We’re doing a lot of listening in the community, and we’ve done a lot of reassessment about what our services are to the artists’ community, which is really where Debbie has been such a rock star for so long,” said Fitzmaurice.
Part of the Arts Council’s revamping will include providing services to a broader spectrum of the arts, Fitzmaurice said. “Every program we have coming out moving forward will be suitable for musicians, and dancers, and chefs, and architects and graphic designers — sort of a really broad stretch of creative industries, so there’s actually a lot going on,” he said.
“The bittersweet part,” said Fitzmaurice, “is that there is a lot of change, and a lot of excitement in what the Arts Council sees as its role in helping individual artists and creative entrepreneurs in our community really be at the center of our community.”
Also bittersweet is the departure of Hesse as a linchpin of Arts Council operations. “We’re really excited for Debbie and supportive of all her future endeavors,” said Fitzmaurice.
Though a sort of closing ceremony on a long, productive career, Thursday’s reception at the Arts Council for Hesse resembled so many art openings over the years with the addition of hugs, well wishes, and flowers presented to Hesse as old friends and supporters gathered to reminisce and show appreciation for the legacy Hesse built during her tenure.
One of those friends, Betty Monz, said she hired Hesse 15 years ago when Monz was executive director. She said Hesse made the Arts Council all about the artists, especially in providing programmatic opportunities.
“Nobody had their finger on the pulse of this community the way Debbie did,” Monz said.
Reflecting on her post-Arts Council career, Hesse made clear she does not plan on skipping a beat.
“I am excited to move on to do more of my own artwork, and expand my studio, exhibition, curatorial and teaching practice,” Hesse said. “I promise to keep you informed of my future plans and projects which will, as always, involve lots of creative collaborating.”
Hesse said she will be teaching a class at Albertus Magnus College on art space managemen and continue her curation at Hamden’s Whitney Center and at the Ely Center of Contemporary Art, where she now serves on the board of directors and also as its gallery director.
Immediate plans for Hesse include an artist residency at Weir Farm Art Center and Historic Trust, followed by a trip to China where her daughter currently lives. Hesse said has decided to remain true to herself and will continue doing everything she does “in a different way — my own way.” She looks forward to continuing collaborations with people she already knows and new people she has yet to meet.
“That’s what gives me energy,” she said. “That’s my passion.”