Intern Spotlight: Jessica Cole

jessica_cole.jpgIntern Spotlight: Jessica Cole
Yale Presidential Public Service Fellow




Four days and 654 surveys into the 14th Annual International Festival of Arts & Ideas, and I have learned a few very important things about Festival attendees: they know how to boogie during concerts on the Green, how to listen as former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky bridges cultures with words, and – above all – how to turn even the most mundane experience, like filling out a survey, into a community event.

As the Yale Presidential Public Service Fellow here at the Festival, I help to market the Festival, coordinate volunteers, and collect survey responses that will ultimately turn into this year’s Economic Impact Report. I first thought of surveying attendees as a straightforward job. After all, the survey itself is anonymous and asks visitors to indicate purely factual information about the length of their stay, prior experience with the Festival, and expenditure expectations. Yet, true to the mission of the Festival, the responses ended up being thought-provoking and eloquent.

One man wrote down his answers and turned in his clipboard, but before I could move on to the next person in line, tugged me aside. “I have been here every single year,” he told me, “every Festival.” Another scribbled on the side of the survey, despite the fact that there is no formal section for feedback: “I look forward to this every year!” And in response to the question, “How many days do you expect to spend at the Festival?” one person wrote in bold strokes of pen, “1,000,000.”

As an intern, I can’t imagine a better way to appreciate how the Festival touches people than to hear and read it straight from them. Sure, I can read that the events on the Green are free and family-friendly, but I only understand just how unique and exciting such programming is when I see hundreds of young children spread out on picnic blankets with their parents, dancing and giggling along to “They Might Be Giants” on a Sunday night. Similarly, I often hear that the Festival’s focus on exposing the region to global talent instills a sense of inspired creativity into everyday life here in New Haven, and I see it with my own eyes when I observe the diversity of the crowd listening to Baila Peru and Generacion Latina Virgen de Cisne early on a Tuesday afternoon.

The International Festival of Arts & Ideas is, in its barest form, a two-week-long explosion of cultural and creative passion in the form of events. Yet as someone who now works from behind the scenes, I can tell you that it is also a uniting force that brings together attendees who pack their own lunches and spend $0 on a day crammed with entertainment to lifelong devotees who spend upwards of $500 on theater, food, and preview events. It sparks conversations between the young high-school student who is volunteering for the first time and the volunteers who have been devoting their days to us since the Festival began 14 years ago; it allows me – an intern and a relative newcomer to the city of New Haven – to feel myself a part of a larger community of New Haven, Connecticut, and the broader world.

My favorite survey thus far only has one extra comment on it, and I almost missed it in my haste to mark down the official, expected information. “I love this Festival,” it reads, “I love being a part of a Global Village.” I couldn’t ask for a better introduction to this year’s Festival.