Let the good times roll and while you’re at it, help us grow our budget!
That was the festive and fiscal message that emerged at the 13th annual Mardi Gras fundraiser that the New Haven Free Public Library Foundation threw on a cold but warm Fat Tuesday night.
Bacchus, the god of wine (pictured) — a.k.a. Holly Nardini of Westville — was in attendance in her genuine Venetian mask.
She was among a record-breaking 253 revelers partaking of the fare of 13 local restaurants, all of whom had come to party to support the library, said Development Director Clare Meade.
This year for the first time a “community parade,” including artists, performers, and several mascots of local schools, like Handsome Dan the Bulldog of Yale University, promenaded through the great rotunda of the Ives Building.
They led revelers into the business section of the library, which will be transformed during the next year into what new City Librarian Martha Brogan termed an “innovation lane.”
That’s because “libraries are not just about consuming, but creating new ideas,” she added.
On Fat Tuesday night the library actually did appear to be a lot about consuming — food, that is — from among one of the city’s most creative industries, its restaurants.
Beside shelves that housed business directories, Zinc Restaurant’s Donna Curran and Chef Denise Appel, as always, were ladling out their now famous etouffe, a shrimp and rice New Orleans-style hearty stew topped with bits of chorizo.
Nearby a new addition to the culinary scene in town was strutting his stuff.
Tarry Lodge Chef Andy Nusser (pictured) had prepared a burrata, a mozzarella but with a kind of creaminess to it, that sat like a soft full moon beside greens and a yummy beet salad.
Amid the food, the masks, and the tables arrayed with silent auction items, Brogan delivered a serious message amid the hoopla of her first NHFPL Mardi Gras.
Brogan (pictured in the mask with Meade), who in September took the reins as the eighth city librarian, and first woman in that job, said she was using the Mardi Gras to launch the system’s Penny For Your Thoughts campaign, with flyers and computer monitors positioned among the cascading cookies and deserts.
The aim: to bring the library back to where it was in the year 2000, when its budget was about $5 million, or 1 percent of the city budget. Now it’s $3.7 million, or .76 percent of the budget. “We’re trying to close the $1.3 million gap,” she said.
As nine-foot-three-inch Amazing Andy walked by on his stilts, he looked down at an array of flyers Brogan and her staff had set out. Some profiled the branch libraries, which Brogan says she no longer calls branches because to the users they aren’t branches, but full-service neighborhood centers for all kinds of activities.
“They’re the unsung heroes of the system,” she said. She wants to close the dollar gap so the branches, open now only three days a week and on Saturday, can be open five days a week. “It makes a difference in the lives of kids.”
She also pointed out that in 2000, the staff of the library was 73; now it’s down to 38 full-timers.
You could find all that out while greeting Hera, Jupiter’s wife, and the Greek goddess of marriage. Hera’s wearer, itinerant art history professor Laura Marsh, said she had repurposed her own blue wedding dress by adding a big green hoop and peacock feathers for the Hera effect.
An uncostumed Mayor Harp, wearing only some modest Mardi Gras beads, said, “I love how the New Haven Free Public Library keeps the word ‘free’ in its name.”
Then she charged everyone to redouble their efforts in support of the library. She did not specifically address the city’s role in addressing the “gap” that Brogan had referred to.
But the effort was off to a good start. About $55,000 was expected to be raised at the Mardi Gras, reported Meade.