Mary Lou Aleskie
The New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas has attracted visitors from all over the world to downtown New Haven. Organizers are now looking beyond downtown to the neighborhoods.
The festival itself doesn't start until mid-June. Before that happens, there will also be smaller "pop-up" festivals in the city's neighborhoods.
The first is in Dixwell, known for African-American culture, this Sunday. The second will be in Fair Haven, known for its Latin American roots, next Sunday.
The New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas started in 1996, and it draws a lot of some 130,000 people each year. This year's events include a performance by jazz violinist Regina Carter and a talk by New York Times science writer Carl Zimmer.
Those events happen in downtown New Haven. Executive Director Mary Lou Aleskie said that last year, they realized they could use the festivals to take people beyond the downtown.
"We had done some projects in the neighborhoods in the past," Aleskie said. "They came and they went. They were great, but they weren't lasting transformative projects in the way creating a festival can be." She said the goal of the pop-up festivals is to create "a universal sense of coming together, and pride and a kind of empathy around the work that's being offered."
Aleskie worked with residents and community leaders of Dixwell and Fair Haven, and she said it wasn't always easy. "The first hurdle was to convince people that we really wanted them to celebrate themselves... rather than the festival come in and do the programming," she said. "It was clear that once that was really accepted and trusted in the neighborhood, that there was no end to the imagination about how the community would celebrate itself. ...The process was truly getting people to believe that they had a story to tell, and that someone was listening."
Artists representing those neighborhoods will perform for free during the pop up festivals.
The first starts in Dixwell this Sunday, and Aleskie pointed to the area's rich history of jazz, stories from New Haven churches that used to be waystations for slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad, and New Haven's The Nation Drill Squad and Drum Corps, which won national championships for the past two years.
Aleskie said art festivals have a long history of "responding to human need." She referred to the Edinburgh International Festival, which was founded in the aftermath of World War II. The New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas also started during the city's renaissance in the '90s. She said she hopes the pop-up festivals will encourage visitors to celebrate the neighborhoods as well.
There will be another pop-up festival in Fair Haven next weekend.