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Andrew Wolf, left, being introduced by Mayor Toni Harp as the City of New Haven?s director of arts, culture, and tourism. Photo courtesy of the New Haven Independent

Andrew Wolf, left, being introduced by Mayor Toni Harp as the City of New Haven?s director of arts, culture, and tourism. Photo courtesy of the New Haven Independent

In this month’s Arts Paper, we feature an interview by David Brensilver with New Haven’s Director of Arts, Culture and Tourism Andrew Wolf.

While only a small portion of that interview could fit in the printed issue, we now offer the full exchange, where Andy goes in depth about his childhood in New Haven:

After school, I would regularly help my dad out at his shop on State Street. Like my grandfather, who arrived in New Haven from Kentucky by way of London, my dad was a gifted artisan/cabinet-maker and I would help with running errands, filling bottles with his famous furniture-polish recipe, and watching him work with hand-crafted tools now donated to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

As well as his esteem for the City of New Haven:

Only a New Haven could plan a major arts exhibition featuring our distinctive architecture showcase (working with Site Projects, Artspace, and the Urban Design League) through the centuries, commencing with a mercantile economy to the industrial revolution to our current wireless-driven economy. Only a New Haven could achieve the status as the first city in America to implement a public tree-planting program with the designation “The Elm City”

Read on for the full Q & A.

On Civic Engagement and Place-Making
Q&A with Andrew Wolf, New Haven’s Director of Arts, Culture, and Tourism

By David Brensilver

The following Q&A interview with Andrew Wolf, the City of New Haven’s director of arts, culture, and tourism, was conducted by email following an in-person conversation in November. An edited version of the interview was published in the January-February 2015 issue of The Arts Paper.

Q: You grew up and attended college in New Haven and later worked at the Federal Trade Commission, CBS, at the United Nations Environment Programme, and at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. Would you share the circumstances that brought to back to New Haven and to City Hall?

A: I did indeed “grow up” (not sure when that particular dynamic is, or should be, achieved) in New Haven during the remarkable anything-is-possible years of the Dick Lee model city national spotlight. New Haven was in transformation mode. Community Progress Inc. was established and the Ford Foundation along with the Federal Government (Lyndon Johnson was a champion of this earliest urban “renewal” laboratory) positioned New Haven as a “World’s Fair” back-to-the-future example of modernity. As a kid attending Barnard, which was then a Southern Connecticut State College laboratory school, I watched with wonderment as Yale commissioned truly inspiring signature architectural/modernist gems that commenced for me a lifelong fascination/passion for all-things design-, art-, and architecture-inspired. After school, I would regularly help my dad out at his shop on State Street. Like my grandfather, who arrived in New Haven from Kentucky by way of London, my dad was a gifted artisan/cabinet-maker and I would help with running errands, filling bottles with his famous furniture-polish recipe, and watching him work with hand-crafted tools now donated to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Back then, the entire street knew each other. There was Ludwig (from Romania) the upholsterer and Mr. Perlman the luggage man. On Chapel Street was the iconic Pastry Shoppe, with waitresses in classic 1950s uniforms who all knew me, so I would stop by after Lee High School and pick up coffee for my dad. The world was out there but we had the sense that New Haven was a small-big town, attending movie theaters on Saturdays, always sports and activities (who could have imagined an iPad or carrying around a mobile phone?), Eric Day Camp and Camp Laurelwood in the summers (my brother stayed on for 30-plus years as a waiter, counselor, division head, and camp director) and the beaches in East Haven and Woodmont where ozone depletion was never a concern. It seemed (at the time) like a pretty routine, uncomplicated, womb-to-tomb childhood, but because of Richard Lee and the mayors and leadership that followed, and teachers (several were graduate students at Yale), and the global upheaval due to war and injustice unraveling city and towns across America, my generation left for college and a world that was entirely different from the experience of our parents, the first generation born in the United States. Those were amazing, remarkable, inspiring, and sobering times, with many champions (to this day) in my life. My dad and community encouraged me to seize the day, and looking back it was quite a journey indeed! I have had the honor (truly) of working for the federal government when consumer protection was a spirited aspiration; with the legendary Frank Stanton, founding president of CBS, on educational-reform initiatives, following [that] an exciting consultancy at the United Nations Environment Programme during the time when the world’s first Earth Summit was being organized (resulting in the Kyoto Accord), and heading west to manage the iconic Pacific Design Center designed by New Haven’s celebrated Cesar Pelli. So yes, all roads do seem to intersect with New Haven and here I am back in my hometown. I have known Mayor Harp and her amazing children for years (we met during the Democratic National Convention held in Los Angeles in 2000). When our newly elected mayor called and we spoke about a return to assist in her efforts to re-energize the significance of culture in our city as a “calling card” to increase tourism and tax-revenue with “originality” and a distinctive “style” that makes this city so unpredictable and upbeat, I was flattered and also very mindful that it was the moment to “give back” to a community that had given so much to me and my family through the years.  To assist Mayor Harp and the team she was recruiting is one of those unique “moments” which, to this day, with so many arts professionals now impacting the agenda, remains an intensely gratifying personal and professional experience.

Q: Of your appointment, you’ve said, “This is a Tony Harp effort to transition New Haven as a global destination.” What role does the city’s arts sector play in that transition?

A: Mayor Harp is steadfast in her commitment to positioning New Haven for the innovation economy. Part of the “plan” is for city departments to coordinate efforts to consider what is popularly called “best practices” to achieve a livable and efficient city where quality-of-life dynamics do matter. To achieve this aspiration, the cultural infrastructure of this historic city will be a vital and essential “pillar” in the now-emerging economic renaissance of this small city that definitely thinks “big.” Mayor Harp anticipates a new era where New Haven is a “destination” for entrepreneurs – regardless of the time they spend here – with all neighborhoods benefitting from the global impact that the Internet (just as the radio, television, land-line telephone, and typewriter had previously impacted how we work and receive information) will (as Tom Friedman suggests) position our city at the intersection (thanks to Yale, Southern, Albertus, Gateway, Quinnipiac, UNH, and of course Yale-New Haven Health) for sustainable economic growth with national and international tourism a game-changer. For several months we have been meeting with delegations visiting the city to express our desire to work with exceptional global entrepreneurs to advance the city’s vast cultural and infrastructure assets. Competitive marketing challenges confront every city (particularly older, urban municipalities) today. The steadfast and talented team in the Harp administration possesses the global experience and discipline to position New Haven as a showpiece of the creative economy we seek to reinforce and expand. Recently in a very informal focus group convened in Los Angeles it was no surprise (to me) to learn that participants all knew New Haven without the need to add “Connecticut.” We are a stand-alone destination in the media and cultural network of our nation. Yale of course has bestowed a unique “aura” upon this city and today we must take advantage of this distinctiveness as a creative community and expand with opportunity for all residents where culture becomes a major asset to exploit. The International Festival of Arts & Ideas, Connecticut Open, and an dizzying array of monthly calendar events and programs generate the destination marketing spin that our Market New Haven professionals can promote in novel and intentional ways to promote (like never before) this creative economy flourishing in New Haven. Within City Hall is the recognition that we serve a critical role as “catalyst” to motivate the best outcomes from our non-profit, investment, and business sectors. Across America (with the exception sadly of Washington, D.C.) the days of we-versus-them is coming (by necessity and scarce resources) to a blunt end and whenever an artist, craftsperson, place-maker, or non-profit calls, my task is to go the distance to advance evidence-based best practices to achieve stimulating outcomes and (always) workforce development. That is the charge of Mayor Harp and I can see terrific outcomes emerging. One final note: the focus group on “perception” of New Haven (outside of New Haven) was astonishing in that responders thought New Haven had a million-plus residents and we were located directly next to New York City. We need to remain historic, playful, and that “little” apple next door, with every attribute that makes for an urban experience that all our residents [can] enjoy and take pleasure in participating and promoting. For me: “yes we can” was “coined” specifically for New Haven.

Q: You mentioned that the mayor wanted an “outside perspective” in terms of a new director of arts, culture, and tourism. What’s the benefit of appointing someone who’s had professional experiences in other cities (while being a native of this town)?

A: I am the first to acknowledge that New Haven has an incredible inventory of talent – staggering really given our population. When Mayor Harp suggests an “outside” perspective, it is really a call-to-action to survey best practices nationally and internationally on how we can achieve increased funding (recurring income) for our non-profit arts community with pro-bono guidance and engagement (by the business, service, and university sectors) whenever/wherever possible. Also in cooperation with Community Services Administration and [CSA administrator] Martha Okafor and her team, a healthy city reinforces civic pride, opportunity, and spiritual growth. There are so many constraints today that City Hall (with reduced budgets and staffing) seeks novel partnerships like never before to promote and achieve innovative outcomes, with the status quo no longer acceptable in a city as diverse as New Haven.

Q: You mentioned asking yourself, when Mayor Harp called: “What do I bring to this job – and what is the job?” Can you answer those questions for us?

A: The mayor and this administration after almost one year in office challenge ourselves regularly by asking and answering: How we can re-imagine government to achieve smart outcomes? When I hear the chatter about “reinventing” government I cringe. We have a government that is approaching 400 years in providing social, economic, environmental, and codified enforcement services. When I refer to re-imagining government, it is truly stimulating to learn about the proactive initiatives every department is achieving whether it be [an] exacting emergency snow removal plan or far-sighted traffic and transportation networks (bike lanes, bridges, streamlining how suburban drivers enter and exit with ease, etc.) or removing artificial barriers between neighboring towns or advancing mental-health reinforcement for those in distress or constantly considering best methods to motivate school children to go the distance to succeed, it is always with the daily internalized questioning: What can I do to participate in any way to achieve smart outcomes that maximize taxpayer resources and uplift the entire community? In my first week in City Hall, Alder Santiago Berrios-Bones welcomed me and suggested that it was time to recognize Vietnam veterans – a generation I certainly appreciate. Together with an advisory Veterans Committee a “Welcome Home with Gratitude” event was championed in City Hall with Mayor Harp and several non-profit arts groups offering words of gratitude for all public-service employees, particularly our armed forces, highlighting ongoing efforts to provide increased social services. Also part of the “culture” of caring for each other that we seek to achieve. At the conclusion of the event, a talented 13-year-old student from Sound School and Neighborhood Music School (Kimberly Sullivan) played the liturgical notes of Taps for the countless who have given their lives to preserve, protect, and defend the values and virtues a city like New Haven manifests. I also recently observed first-hand the uplift that civic recognition can achieve at the dedication of William Lanson Plaza on the Farmington Canal/Freedom Trail where Mayor Harp, Yale President Peter Salovey, and our very own passionate Al Marder (in his 90s) paid tribute to William Lanson (a runaway slave in Connecticut and leader in the struggle for the right of free Blacks to vote; one of the founders of the now Dixwell United Church of Christ (the oldest African American church in America) and entrepreneur developer of Wooster Square and Long Wharf). Our City Plan Department has designed an elegant memorial tribute in collaboration with the Amistad Committee. Today we continue the journey that founded this experiment called democracy merging our present and our future demographic “profile, yet again welcoming the next generation of residents (IRIS is an amazing manifesting this democratic ideal) with the talent and expertise of our Economic Development, Elm City Housing, and Community Services on full display – always re-defining the cultural overlay of this city that our team and Cultural Affairs Commission seek to celebrate and exemplify.

Q: You’ve talked about your role being that of a promoter of “civic engagement.” What does that entail – and how might that approach involve the city’s artists and arts organizations?

A: I am hopeful that our Cultural Affairs Commission can advocate and achieve with our Board of Alders and other funders an increased allocation for the annual Mayor’s Community Art Grants – to demonstrate that we seek to empower our non-profit arts sector with the funding that results in artistic spirit and expression throughout our city. Another project that demonstrates what City Hall is pursuing with Congresswoman DeLauro and civic leader Barbara Pearce is the recognition that 2015 is a very special year for several arts and humanities organizations in New Haven. The event will recognize the milestone of all participants in our arts community from the Shubert at 100 to Yale Bowl at 100 to Long Wharf at 50 to Beinecke at 50 to Yale Sacred Music at 60 to the Arts Council turning 50 and let’s never forget our New Haven Museum at 150 years of amazing intellectual uplift to the community. Add to this Yale Rep, International Festival of Arts & Ideas (20 this June), Yale’s museums, and the oldest (in continuous use) Green in America (for anyone interested I can now explain the difference between a Green and a Common), and this is a moment for civic pride that few other cities in America can acknowledge and celebrate. Part of the civic role is indeed celebration of achievement and notable cultural landmarks – again, Mayor Harp’s outreach to achieve a global reputation as a sure-bet city on the rise even after almost four centuries of continuous inventiveness, artistic expression, and cultural uplift. How a city of 128,000-plus continues to “supply” and innovate for a region and state with such artistic merit and talent is fantastic! Not to simply beat the drum (part of civic engagement, too) about this creative city, but civic engagement also empowers us to observe via song, dance, performance, digital design, and even “light” (our holiday tree) the moments in our city and nation (like Veterans Day or Caribbean Nation, Martin Luther King Jr. observances, Gay Pride, Fourth of July, etc.) where a spotlight is appropriate to remind ourselves collectively and individually what the social contract we each have with each other is all about. We are also keenly aware of identifying grant opportunities for our non-profit community that (due to the all-too recent economic crisis) do not have staff to identify these grants. Mendi Blue [the City of New Haven’s director of development and policy] and her team has achieved a weekly newsletter that is emailed to all our arts groups for their consideration with our endorsement whenever called upon. Again, a perfect example of civic engagement by an administration that will go the distance to empower our community in this 21st century using technology as a game-changer whenever possible.

Q: You’re also an adviser to the mayor on international trade. Why and how did that title come to be?

A: Mayor Harp is intent on advancing New Haven as a “cultural” destination for investment. Our team (inter-departmental) seeks to promote our economic/cultural assets. Recently a group of Nigerian entrepreneurs spent a week at Yale and in conversation with one dynamic participant we spoke about clean energy in the “new” economy, suggesting a joint project to produce clean-energy solar panels in New Haven. This where the design and urban landscape of the “livable” city is a game-changer for future investment. Two weeks ago, a delegation from Turkey visited City Hall. They are hoping to achieve a summer camp in New Haven for Turkish children. They are now in discussion with Southern Connecticut State University, and hopefully these children will never forget their experience in New Haven and come to study. Unknown to many residents is the popularity for foreign consulate visits. Our team (thanks to the talent of Westville photographer and Audubon [Arts District] enthusiast) Lesley Roy recently completed a novel gift for international visitors and dignitaries: a very special 32-page monograph called Soaring in New Haven Presented by Mayor Toni N. Harp. This book highlights the bird sanctuaries and parks of our beautiful city. The response has been uplifting. Again, civic pride of place and “engagement” that few cities can imagine. A final achievement: Mayor Harp requested that we remain sensitive to the new reality of global interaction by redesigning our City Hall letterhead (identity) with the creative assistance of a remarkable young design team Qastic [Lab] — the result an elegant representation of our history (the seal noting “Settled in 1638”), our All-American City designation and most important our emerging social media platforms with “follow us” in English, Spanish, and Chinese. A visiting delegation to Yale from China (again entrepreneurs visiting Yale with a stop in City Hall) greeted the new letterhead with astonishment and requested a personal autograph by Mayor Harp. This is what the Mayor has in mind to promote international “trade.”

Q: Since you began the job in April 2014, you’ve had a chance to listen to various constituents. What have you heard from folks in and around New Haven’s arts sector?

A: Again, we cannot minimize or play-down the egregious impact of the “Great Recession,” which, for the national arts community, was a cardiac arrest. Even after decades of searching how to fund and promote the inherent role of the arts and culture (and funding) in our society, legislators still take an ax to the arts and education budgets first. Our New Haven arts community held on for this roller-coaster ride and came out still standing. I can sense the emotional and artistic upheaval the national sub-prime tsunami caused our community. Scale and institutional “memory” (i.e. talent that cannot be easily replaced or replicated) do matter, and New Haven’s impact with respect to the arts was far more intense and demoralizing than other, far-larger metropolitan areas where individual philanthropy and the growing tech sector picked up where banks and traditional corporate funding sources left off. Add to this walk on the wild side the fact that the federal government has retreated in leading the way with respect to funding for the cultural literacy and legacy of our nation and you get the picture. So we again re-group and City Hall reaches out to figure out ways to be helpful in marketing, convening, and achieving successful outcomes. The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven (thanks to Will Ginsberg and his team) has been valiant during this transition period. We inch forward with new ideas [about] how to achieve cooperation (in marketing as our regional theaters in the State of Connecticut have achieved) and collaboration. Relational marketing is being attempted like never before. We cannot look back but wow, this last cycle of slashing arts funding and losing corporate and government support definitely took a toll, which is why we recruit a next wave of cultural entrepreneurs to locate (place-making) in New Haven, and with our city’s economic development team (Matt Nemerson), small-jobs booster (Jackie James), and our New Haven Free Public Library (Martha Brogan), we are providing the training (Quickbooks, HR, lease review, challenge grants) and mentoring that will reverse (hopefully indefinitely) this sad recent chapter.

Q: What makes New Haven a major destination — or what gives the city an opportunity to succeed on that level?

A: As developers typically observe: location, location, location. I have become very much aware of the density of the city and the opportunity to maximize and popularize the urban landscape like never before. To imagine the Shubert Theater turning 100 as the “birthplace of the American musical” with hit shows like Oklahoma and The Sound of Music premiering here first or Long Wharf (50 years ago) opening a theater in a remote industrial “meat-packing” district, or Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library being a marvel of engineering with razor-thin marble that creates that sense of “awe” for rare books as art. Each cultural landmark elegantly positioned in a historic city that is like few others in America. It is character, true grit, and that always-uplifting sense of “place” that I have come to appreciate about New Haven since returning eight months ago. We have spoken (now extensively) about the concept of “civic” engagement. As Mayor Harp likes to remind our team, New Haven is a formidable two-word historic brand which we now must build upon with new attractions, original ideas, and always pizza!

Q: Tell us about New Haven Festivals, which you’ve described as “platform for the arts groups in Connecticut to benefit.” Tell us also about the city- and state-level arts caucuses you’re creating and where those initiatives stand.

A: New Haven Festivals is a 501c (3) that Economic Development Commission leader Ginny Kozlowski champions with a board (my title is executive director) that is a perfect example of private-public partnering in the arts. To allow the city to raise funds and to program events with an outside non-profit partner this enterprise was established in the previous administration and is a true innovation in civic engagement. Concerts and other civic events can be funded with donors knowing that there is board supervising the organization’s mission, programming, and allocation of resources. We hope to use this platform as a beneficiary for revenues generated from increased programming in the months and years ahead. To the second “dynamic” raised. Cindy Clair, director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven (who I am sure is reading this interview) convened a very interesting forum featuring our brilliant State Sen. Martin Looney, who emphasized to the arts and industry leadership gathered the importance to lobby in Hartford for increased arts funding. I “innocently” inquired if there existed an arts caucus in the Connecticut State Legislature that was well-versed in the how the arts globally are transforming communities and enhancing tourism and related cultural marketing opportunities like never before. The answer was “no.” Connecticut does not have a formal legislative arts caucus, but this is about to change. We will be working on this assignment with Cindy and her Arts Council colleagues across the state. And as long as we are on this “tutorial” mission re: defining examples where the arts have transformed communities and increased revenues, why not consider our own Board of Alders too? This will be achieved working with Alder Frank Douglass, who is the Liaison to our Cultural Affairs Commission.

Q: You’ve said, “We have to play on our historicism” and “we need to do things that only New Haven can do.” Would you elaborate?

A: In addition to our discussion so far, only a New Haven can create an annual “A’Pizza Festival.” Working with Colin Caplan, this will be a tremendous experience for visitors and residents alike. Only a New Haven could plan a major arts exhibition featuring our distinctive architecture showcase (working with Site Projects, Artspace, and the Urban Design League) through the centuries, commencing with a mercantile economy to the industrial revolution to our current wireless-driven economy. Only a New Haven could achieve the status as the first city in America to implement a public tree-planting program with the designation “The Elm City” (check it out on Wikipedia); only in New Haven could our mayor “teach” each day on the city’s Web page a distinctive “factoid” about our city reminding us all that history does indeed matter with bragging rights to 300-plus achievements that few cities our size could even contemplate matching. This is what makes this such a very special place. I will not burden the readers with the facts, but I have to confess I am so relieved that project is now in play at CityofNewHaven.com.

Q: How can the City of New Haven best support its arts sector? Are there opportunities for artists and arts organizations to work with various city departments to address issues important to you, the mayor, and New Haven’s residents?

A: We are all on this wonderful journey together. We can best promote our vibrant, passionate, and creative arts sector by promoting events and milestones like never before. I am convinced that social media can and will be an effective tool in our multi-spirited marketing arsenal. … As this marathon interview comes to an end, I am reminded of that informal “perception” group in L.A., with really no idea of the true size and land density of New Haven. Since arriving on the job, I learn daily how many artistic voices there are in this city and feel so honored that Mayor Harp invited me (and entrusted me) to assume (using a musical metaphor to conclude) an orchestra conductor’s advisory role – to go the distance in act and deed to achieve harmony by all players and participants in our collective effort to promote New Haven like never before. For my own education, I recently looked up the definition for “haven”:  a harbor or anchorage; a port, a place of refuge or rest, a safe or comforting place. Add to this the adjective “new”: of recent origin, production, unfamiliar or strange, early stage. The combination is a powerful reminder to City Hall, our arts community, charitable leadership and sponsors (state and national) that this New Haven remains (after 377 years) “young,” vibrant, vigorous and still an early-stage incubator for original thinking; an idea generator and innovator that to this day exemplifies a safe and comforting place for all to live, work, play, learn, age and invest in a robust, sustainable and satisfying future.