Arts & Ideas Festival Takes it Online – Karen Isaac

What can you do during a pandemic when you run an event that takes places all over a city and includes audiences in spaces small and large, indoors and outdoors?

New Haven’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas confronted that this spring when it became clear that the normal form would not be possible; not just due to the limitations on gatherings, but also because it would have been impossible to get visas for the numerous foreign arts and speakers that usually take part of the festival.

“We mourned the loss, and began to unravel a year’s work,” says Bobby Asher, the festival’s director of programming.

“But we considered what we could do and what we should do?” Asher says.

The answers were simple: Make sure the festival survives, ensure that the ideas portion continues to have impact, and support the local economy and the artistic ecology of New Haven and the surrounding areas. After all, each year the festival contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars to local economies.

The theme was already set: Democracy was the overall topic for the ideas portion of the programming. After discussions with many people about what issues connected to democracy were important, some common themes emerged. Asher says that the goal is to look at democracy through the “lens of current events and in the microcosm of our community.”

Now the festival is offering a wide range of virtual events and activities from now through late June, extending the festival beyond its normal length, which is usually about 15 to 20 days.

According to Tom Griggs, the co-director, many major sponsors not only promised continued support but were enthusiastic about the plans, including KeyBank, AVANGRID Foundation, Yale New Haven Hospital, the Whitney Center, and many others.

Here are some offerings you should not miss:

Book an Artist: Give as a gift or enjoy yourself with a performance by an area artist. The short 10 to 15 minute set will be performed outside your house. All the funds go to the artists who have established their own fees. The performances are scheduled between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. and need to be within 10 miles of downtown New Haven. The selection of artists and dates are wide, including musicians Cliff Schloss, jazz, alternative R&B, and more; Bruce Gregori, guitar; the Caribbean Vibe Steel Drum Band; dancers Tere Luna, Mexicana Folkloric Dance and Song; and actor Tiffany Jackson. More are being added to the schedule. Each is available on one specific date.

Slavery & The American Story: Podcast on Friday, June 19 at 7 p.m. Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter, Pulitzer Prize winner, and creator The New York Times Magazine’s “1619 Project,” joins other journalists to discuss the “local, national, and global impact of American slavery and liberation on democracy” and more. The talk includes a special performance by New Haven musician Paul Bryant Hudson.

Democracy, Pandemic, and How We Move Forward: Podcast Thursday, June 4 at 7 p.m. Former Connecticut secretary of the state Miles Rapoport moderates a conversation with political commentator and author Heather McGhee, political activist and CEO of Voto Latino María Teresa Kumar, and political scholar Archon Fung, exploring the question: Where do we go from here?

Cooking with the Chef: The festival is known for its food events and walking tours. This year’s festival is no exception. A series of food events are planned: You select the event, pick up a package of ingredients (there is a charge), and then log in at the appointed time and prepare your meal with the guidance of a New Haven area chef. On Friday, May 30, the chef from Zinc, one of New Haven’s most highly rated restaurants, is the host. Often you also get ingredients for the appropriate refreshments.

Solo Tours: You can download the route and information and do your own walking tour of 31 New Haven Notables whenever you want. This tour sponsored by the Chapel West Special Services district guides you to finding 31 murals that celebrate the notables including Michael Bolton and other renowned doctors, artists, entertainers, and athletes.

More or Less I Am: Taking a line from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” the Compagna de’Colombari created a theater work that will be released online in four installments. The company presented their version of Merchant of Venice several years ago in the Yale Law School courtyard. This piece involves performers from as far away as New Delhi.

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