“I Don’t Want To Half-Ass It Anymore”

 DJ Dooley-O keeps the beat coming. Lucy Gellman Photos. 

DJ Dooley-O keeps the beat coming. Lucy Gellman Photos. 

It wasn’t clear when the congas came out. A little past 6 p.m., Dooley-O’s set had gotten attendees on their feet, pulled toward the middle of the room by a magnetic mix of Aretha Franklin and Pharell Williams, Camila Cabello and a little Foster and the People. But then there was the staccato, sure beat of drums beneath it. Through beams of light from the stage, their master came into focus. Rafael Ramos smiled wide. 

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Thursday night, The Arts Council of Greater New Haven and Breakfast Lunch & Dinner hosted the inaugural The Commons, a monthly meetup for artists, arts enthusiasts, and community members across the New Haven region.

Held at Bregamos Community Theater, the event drew around 50 people, who came out through the wind and rain.

They were visual artists, musicians, actors, educators, and consumers of the arts. Some stayed for the whole event and others dropped by on the way to Sunset Baby at Collective Consciousness Theatre (CCT) next door. A few took the dance floor by storm, watching the artist Tank live paint while tracks filled the theater with sound. Others held back, grooving behind tables and trading arts suggestions. Here’s what some of them had to say. 

Rafael Ramos, Founder & Director of Bregamos Community Theater, New Haven

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“Art imitates life. And art is life. Everything is art. Life is theater, you know, and it’s therapeutic, informational, inspirational—it’s the best sort of getaway in the midst of all this chaos. It’s necessary to keep your sanity to be able to have some source of reference that has nothing to do with the current events. It’s a release. It keeps us grounded.”

Nikole Jewell, Poet and Curator, New Haven

”I think, honestly, just to get actual energy a lot of the time. Most of the time when I’m practicing writing, I’m becoming more mindful and more aware of the world around me. Then in turn, I can actually respond to my community.”

“I don’t think it’s necessarily the job of the arts to spur social action. I think that is a really dangerous assumption to make, because then politicians aren’t responsible. It turns it back onto the community members, which seems fucked up to me. But if I am more mindful and I do have experiences which are aesthetically, and spiritually, and emotionally, and mentally energizing, then I actually can deal with my life on a regular basis.”

Jeremy Grier, Photographer, Hartford/Bloomfield/New Haven

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“For me, Nina Simone said the duty of an artist is to reflect the times. So I think regardless of what is going on, art will always be current. It’ll always happen. It’s so important to open up spaces where art isn’t necessarily accessible, specifically for people of color. To make sure that it’s like, more a part of the culture. It’s just—it’s an outlet for people. People live in chaos, and create art. 

Stephen Gritz King, Musician, New Haven

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“Because you’re never going to be the best, in my opinion. But like, you don’t wanna be cool with that. Because if you’re cool with that, then you’re never gonna wanna do art. Artists are supposed to never be satisfied, and get better and better and better.”

“I feel like—the shitty two years we’ve had? That’s when art is coming together. You see artists having the same type of vibe, and it’s all like pullin’. I released something after talking about it for two years. I got the push. Paul [Bryant Hudson] got the push. It’s just like, everybody’s coming together. So through this crap, we have great art.”

“It’s cool to practice, because artists are coming out of the woodwork now. And you wanna make sure you’re giving the best you can. I don’t want to half-ass it anymore.” 

Rebecca Mandell, Food Justice Advocate, Bridgeport & New Haven

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“It’s how you stay sane, you know? You get to check out from everything else and be who you want to  be and do what you want to do and digest what you want to digest, whether it’s movies or writing or music or food, and enjoy life.”

“Or learn about it in a different way. I’m in the food world and I interact with many, many, many different social justice, health economic systems through the lens of food. But that can be … it’s a limited perspective on everything. So it’s nice to see it from a social perspective.”

Alexis Crowley, Visual Artist and Program Coordinator at Northwest Connecticut Arts Council, Windsor

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“I get a lot out of making art myself. I feel like a lot of other people, across every region, get a lot out of it as well. I’m from Hartford, so I’m trekking [to work] to Torrington. But the idea that people are trying to make things happen that are interesting to them and also others, that creates connection, that’s sort of what I’m interested in.”

“You can support that anywhere. I don’t really know what I’m doing every morning when I get up. But eventually, I will find the ways that like: ‘Ah! This is something I can get behind!’ And this is why I’m interested in this general thing at all.” 

Michelle Turner, WNHH Radio Host, Journalist, Media Maven, New Haven

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“Art creates community. I think art also reflects a community—how we come together, outside of whatever constrictions or boundaries we may have, art draws us together. Whether it’s portraiture, whether it’s music, whether it’s a production. You never see one type of person. People are drawn because of the feeling they get or the excitement they have when it comes to the arts.”

Dylan McDonnell, Musician, New Haven

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“Connection, first and foremost. You never know who’s going to show up to a show. Being in a band, being in Phat A$tronaut, where Chad [Springer] talks to the crowd often, being personal. Creating some kind of bridge in this frickin’ tsunami of a political scene is a wonderful thing.”

“Spaces too—occupying space that isn’t necessarily made for the arts, and making it about expression. So, Sofar in New Haven for example. Being able to be in a barbershop where my friends are playing music with all these people I don’t know.”

“Let me just say this beautiful thing. I was at a church-related conference at the Divinity School at Yale, went biking down the hill on Prospect Street to Sofar, and happened on Phat A$tronaut playing their set at a fashion studio on Orange Street. It was Neville Wisdom’s place, before it closed. I jumped right in for the last song, and then joined that band. That’s just stuff that doesn’t happen if people don’t occupy those spaces, make space, and provide opportunity for each other.”

“If the government, at the highest level, can’t be responsible to the needs of the community—in New Haven, in Westville, wherever you are in New Haven—then we have to do it for ourselves.”

Kelley Knight, Actor and Writer, New Haven

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“I’ve found that if I don’t, it will kill me. It’ll kill my soul, it’ll kill my spirit, I won’t have anything to look forward to. In this space that we’re in, the climate that we’re living in, where there’s so much negativity going on, you need something to unapologetically love and enjoy and I love this. This is me.”

Thema Graves, Yogi, Reiki Master, and Healer at Holistic Soul Energy, New Haven

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“I think in these times more than any—we find during hard times is where the best art is created. Pressure busts pipes in, or that’s where the diamonds come—all the sayings, right? When we’re at our darkest moments, that’s when people need light, and that’s when people feel the most inspired to be creative.”

“In one way—yes, we’re going through very hard times. But I’m experiencing so much creativity and beautiful art, and it’s also bringing people together in a different way. To experience art, to experience music with one another, and to experience community. Art is wonderful for that. It’s a wonderful catalyst for bringing community together.”

Babz Rawls-Ivy, Radio Host & Publisher of the Inner-City News, New Haven

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“It is society’s way to capture and showcase its humanity. Without the arts, what are we? The arts gives us back to ourselves in loving, thought provoking ways. We need the arts!”    

For more photos from the event, click here. The next Commons is planned for March 29. Location TBD.