2015 Arts Award: Art Recharged

Today the Festival received the Arts Council's Art Recharged award alongside brilliant New Haven Community artists and thinkers

Below is executive director Mary Lou Aleskie's acceptance speech

In 1947, the Edinburgh International Festival rose out of the ashes of the Second World War to provide 'a platform for the flowering of the human spirit'. Edinburgh is not the first Festival to emerge in response to basic human need but it may be among the most among the world’s most prolific.

Twenty years ago, Anne Calabresi in collaboration her co-conspirators Roz Meyer and Jean Handley, believed that the establishment of an international festival in New Haven could provide a platform for generating civic healing and empathy for this community. And while Edinburgh was surely an inspiration, their idea was unique to the qualities of New Haven, and that is what has made it lasting. What makes this festival unique to New Haven, is what makes it distinctive among festivals of the world even today. And therein lies the success of our 20 years.

Our founders knew a few key things about our community….we are an engaged, interested and curious city. People here care about each other. Our remarkable and walkable infrastructure is outsized by the richness of talents, cultures, intellect, ambition and compassion of its citizens. And we can boast an arts community that would be the envy of cities many times our size. And so they imagined a festival big enough in its ambition to include everyone! They imagined a festival that welcomed artists not just to perform, but to think. They imagined a festival that brings people from all walks of life together in sharing common experiences. And they imagined a festival broad in scope yet completely directed toward making our lives just a little bit more livable….in a word, they have given us a festival that stays vital because all of us participate each year in keeping it “RECharged”.

When I heard the news that Arts & Ideas would be honored this year considering the theme for this year’s luncheon, it seemed so right. Then, I heard from Cindy that even the Arts Council was surprised to realize that Arts & Ideas had not honored in the past.

Well in fact we have been honored….Our founders have been recognized, our board members and funders have been recognized, our staff has been recognized, our community partners and countless New Haven based-artists and arts organizations have all been recognized! and that is because it takes each of you as individuals...to pull this off!!!


A great Festival is built on a strong and broad foundation. It is the sum of many parts and is lasting over the course of generations.

We…all of us in this room…just happen to be the stewards of this grand vision for the moment. It is our privilege to stand together in this work but it is also our responsibility. And that responsibility, especially in these times, is great. The work we do together is extremely important and is about many things…it is about generating economic vitality, advancing global relationships, celebrating arts and culture, and engaging in ideas, but more than all of those, it is about inclusion. It is about being great because all are welcome to participate and are needed, to be the community we aspire to be. Understanding, tolerance and empathy. These are our products. And they are made possible when we recognize that the arts and culture is fundamental to what it means to be human and belongs to everyone.

20 years later, the inspiration has come full circle. The Festival just announced a major collaboration with the National Theater of Scotland that will see the American premiere of a brand new musical from the creators of Billy Elliot and Mamma Mia at the Festival in New Haven as it heads to a run in London’s West End. And while we are excited by this news, we are just excited to see applications rolling in for our high school fellowship program that will welcome a cohort of high school sophomores and juniors into our festival family, opening the door for them to the world of arts, ideas and the future.

And so I thank you Anne for your vision and for trusting us all to carry it forward. Thank you to our incredible board led by the most insightful and kind Board Chair anyone would have the privilege to work with, Gordon Geballe. To our staff who gives tirelessly in their work, our community partners, funders, you, our donors, members, and audience and most of all the artists and thinkers…those of you here in the room..and those throughout our city and around the globe. You make miracles happen.

Congratulations to our fellow nominees. Thank you New Haven Arts Council. I accept this award on behalf of all of you!

Top photos by Harold Shapiro