A Message From Our Director

Several folks have asked for a copy of the remarks Arts Council Executive Director Daniel Fitzmaurice gave at the AC's annual meeting on July 26. Here they are, in full.

Do you remember what computers used to look like? No touchscreen, no downloadable “apps,” much too large to fit in your pocket. There was computer like that on the second floor of my childhood home, which was a beach house in Milford. I had a few games on floppy discs and my favorite was called Piano Man. The way it worked is that each number on the keyboard played a note of a major scale. After figuring out a few songs on my own, my parents bought me this book. My dad, a lawyer by day, became my digital piano coach by night and weekends. Together, we learned how to play nearly every Christmas song in this book. 

This small experience was the first meaningful experience in my creative life. It sparked my interest to participate in music class at school, take piano lessons after school, perform in plays, bring my friends to concerts, earn a degree in music education and piano, start my own music school, lead arts organizations, and, just four months ago, the honor of being the Executive Director at this Arts Council.

And enjoy me while I last here, folks. Having already done my time at Neighborhood Music School and Creative Arts Workshop, I’m already getting ready to move over to the Housing Authority next door! I’ll probably have to retire after that because I’ll have run out of gigs on this side of Audubon Street. 

What was your first meaningful experience with arts, culture, and creativity? It’s not a rhetorical question. Think about it for a moment. I imagine yours is like mine. Simple. Unexpected. Cheap. With someone you love and trust. Without fear or self-doubt. 

This tiny drop of inspiration from a computer, floppy disc, this book, and time spent with my dad created a powerful ripple effect in my life. This ripple effect of arts, culture, and creativity is a shared experience that binds us together this room, in our neighborhoods, and in our community. Together, it’s really not a ripple at all, but a tidal wave of lives changed thanks to the power of arts, culture, and creativity. 

So, what was your first meaningful experience with this Arts Council? Also, not a rhetorical question. I will answer for myself today because … it’s complicated. As an arts leader, I know that this Arts Council has an unparalleled list of accomplishments over the last 53 years. We are standing in the Audubon Arts District, one of our most visible achievements, but our funding initiatives, cross-sector advocacy, and collaborative promotion have advanced our creative sector into a powerhouse. However, as a musician my experience is mixed. I never knew this Arts Council, nor many of you or the other artists and institutions that I now love, during my formative creative years. That’s a failing of this Arts Council. Even recently as an arts leader-by-day and musician-by-night, I have yearned for more from this Arts Council. 

I know the challenges for us and our creative sector are enormous because I have experienced them myself from many perspectives, but the opportunities ahead are even greater. 

I am proud of the progress we have made in just four months: 

  • coordinating a strong stand against the Trump administration’s attempts to defund our national cultural institutions
  • providing fiscal sponsorship once again to exciting new endeavors, starting with Toto Kisaku’s new play Requiem for an Electric Chair
  • supporting rather than competing with arts and culture organizations during The Great Give 

There are three broad principles that will shape this Arts Council moving forward: 

First, I will open our doors to the broadest possible coalition of creative enterprises. This includes chefs, architects, graphic designers, bookstore owners, fashionistas, neighborhood festival curators, paint night aficionados, DJs, experimental underwater basket weavers, nonprofits, for profits, entrepreneurs, and anyone and everyone who considers art, culture, and creativity central to their work. Our creative sector is rapidly evolving and demands innovative support from an expansive Arts Council to thrive. 

Second, I will finally connect Milford, Orange, Woodbridge, Branford, Bethany, East Haven, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Meriden, Cheshire, New Haven, North Haven, Wallingford, and West Haven together with a shared agenda for our sector to grow. Our small state is having a huge crisis of identity and yearns for bold leadership from a truly regional Arts Council to compete for jobs and talent in an increasingly creative and global economy. 

Third, I will standing firm in our belief that arts, culture, and creativity are fundamental human rights. Period. Our community remains physically and ideologically divided and deserves action from a progressive Arts Council to fight for equity, access, diversity, and inclusion in our sector. 

This Arts Council will use our voice and privilege to pursue these three principles. 

Furthermore, I could not ask for a stronger more committed team to move us forward. I want you to know who they are because they are already working overtime to realize this vision. My deepest gratitude to Debbie Hesse, who was our Program Director for 15 years, Amanda May Aruani, who was part of our team in so many ways for the last 5 years, and Martha Murray, who truly saved us this year as Interim Executive Director. Thank you! 

Before I hand to mic over to another hero on our team, Bitsie Clark, I want to share a quote by undoubtedly America’s greatest composer, Charles Ives. He is also one of my favorite composers and residents of New Haven. He was a star athlete - captain of the Hopkins basketball team and was on the varsity football team at Yale - and a star musician - composing his first symphony for his senior thesis atYale and gigging all over the region as an organist. He wrote in one of his later books: 

“You cannot set art off in a corner and hope for it to have vitality, reality, and substance.”

This is the essence of why we created this Arts Council in the first place. Our regional creative sector has evolved into a powerful tidal wave over the last 53 years we wanted art, culture, and creativity as the cornerstone of our region. But we did not do it alone. We always have and always will rely on you. 

This is your Arts Council. So join us, hold us accountable, and help us empower our sector into the 21st century. 

This is your creative community. So continue to make incredible art, purchase tickets, register for classes, make donations, volunteer your time, and help our artists, organizations, and businesses grow. 

What will do you this year to help our creative sector thrive? Again, this is not a rhetorical question. And don’t feel limited to just one or two. I need everyone who is here and everyone who is not here on our team to ensure that your Arts Council and your creative community thrives. So, thank you in advance for your support and I look forward to celebrating what we accomplish together around this time next year.