In One Year, Out the Other

In One Year, Out the Other

H undreds of New Years have been celebrated in New Haven. Those years have brought revolutions both political and cultural, gatherings both festive and grief-stricken, changes both subtle and monumental.

2012 was a year of wonderment hereabouts. In the arts realm, the Yale University Art Gallery reopened after years of renovation and the Long Wharf Theatre overhauled its mainstage auditorium and lobby. A different Long Wharf institution—an educational one, Gateway Community College—moved to impressive new quarters downtown. In politics, a slew of new members of the Board of Alderman began their terms in January, followed by the election of dozens of new members of the Democratic Town Committee in the springtime, and a new U.S. Senator (Chris Murphy) in November. Occupy New Haven was removed from New Haven Green. Major conferences were held here, in such diverse areas as urban agriculture and “chaplains in higher education.”

It was a year of important milestones. The New Haven Free Public Library turned 125 years old. The New Haven Museum turned 100. Artspace’s community-centered and awe-inspiring City-Wide Open Studios event turned 15.

What will 2013 bring? Another major anniversary, for starters: the 375th anniversary of the founding of New Haven. The actual date on which Rev. John Davenport, Theophilus Eaton and their group of hardy Puritans sailed into the area was April 24, but there’ll be celebratory events throughout the year.

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While the city honors its past, it also maps out its future with its latest “Comprehensive Plan of Development,” a document which is written up fresh every decade by the City Plan Department, to encourage the “systematic and harmonious development of the city.” Another document, central to how the city governs itself, is being revised this year, as it legally must be every decade. The New Haven City Charter revision process involves not just elected officials and special committees but ordinary citizens of New Haven, who’ve been weighing in through public meetings and other gatherings on such issues as reworking how the city selects its Board of Education, changing term limits, enforcing residency requirements for city employees and revising the city’s Code of Ethics. Some city commissions and other organizations have taken this time of rethinking and revision as a cue to rewrite and expand their own by-laws.

A new year indeed, with resolutions and sweeping changes and housecleaning.

Beyond that, it’s business as usual. And business as usual for New Haven means maintaining our reputation as the cultural capital of Connecticut.

Despite state budget cutbacks, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas and other major arts events in town will go on. The festival’s already announced three of its main events: a new production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream from South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company (creators of the Tony-winning stage version of The War Horse); Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa in a new autobiographical piece exploring both her classical influences and her collaborations with modern dance innovators; and the new-music exemplars Kronos Quartet (with special guest Chinese pipa player Wu Man) in a free concert on New Haven Green.

The plan for another great summer performance tradition, Elm Shakespeare Company’s outdoor productions in Edgerton Park, has already been announced: the company will present Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Aug. 15 through Sept. 1.

The arts are on a roll heading into 2013. The 2012 Arts & Ideas festival boasted a 28 percent greater attendance than the 2011 festival, and measured its economic impact on the region at $25 million. At the end of November, Long Wharf Theatre announced that it had sold more advance tickets on Cyber Monday (the online shopping day which which, along with Black Friday, marks the post-Thanksgiving pre-Christmas shopping frenzy nationwide) than it had on any single day in at least five years. Long Wharf also had record ticket sales for the first show of its current season, Terry Teachout’s Satchmo at the Waldorf starring John Douglas Thompson. The biographical play about Louis Armstrong was the highest-grossing show ever at the theater’s Stage II space.

The Long Wharf’s first show of 2013, January Joiner by Laura Jacqmin, is a “horror comedy” about people who’ve resolved to lose weight. How fitting, and fitness-minded.

The final hours of 2012 had Washington politicians trying to negotiate their way off a “fiscal” cliff and avoid stalling a fragile economic recovery. It stands as an interesting contrast to the dynamics of another era, as revealed in the next exhibit coming to the Yale Center for British Art, Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (Feb. 28 through June 2).

Across the street from the YCBA at the Yale University Art Gallery, the big event is still the gallery itself, and whole exhibition spaces which didn’t previously exist. Perhaps we’ll be used to the place come May, when the next new exhibit, Conversations with Wood: Selections from the Waterbury Collection, opens. Autumn brings a display of works collected by contemporary-art mavens Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, as well as an exhibition of works by 16th century Italian Counter-Reformation painter Francesco Vanni, subtitled “Art in Late Renaissance Siena.”

Living in the present, observing the grand traditions and legacies of the past, and securing a prosperous future—that’s New Haven in 2013. Happy New Year to all from your friends at Daily Nutmeg.

Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.

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Christopher Arnott has written about arts and culture in Connecticut for over 25 years. His journalism has won local, regional and national awards, and he has been honored with an Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. He posts daily at his own sites www.scribblers.us and New Haven Theater Jerk (www.scribblers.us/nhtj).

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