Newman-Scott Does New Haven
New Haven’s Westville neighborhood is poised to get some statewide recognition—and some state money—after a visit from the Connecticut Office of the Arts last week.
That news came from Kristina Newman-Scott, the state’s director of culture and state historic preservation officer, after a meeting with members of the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance (WVRA) Friday afternoon. After the meeting, Newman-Scott said she is in the process of allocating funds from both the Connecticut Arts Workforce Initiative and SpaceFinder Connecticut to pilot a new “Media Arts Workforce Initiative” in Westville.
If it is successful—and depending on how the outcome of the gubernatorial election affects arts funding—she said it could then become a program across the state.
She declined to give the amount, calling it a “little pilot investment,” but said that both sources of funding represent a “commitment that the office is going to have toward creating these new partnerships on the ground.” She said she expects the program to begin at the start of the next fiscal year, in early July.
The funds will be distributed through The Arts Council of Greater New Haven. The project will start with Westville filmmaker Travis Carbonella, who Newman-Scott proposed could spearhead a new mentorship initiative. As the funding currently stands, she said it is enough for two interns to train within the New Haven community, making a video about the city as their final product.
“It’s gotta be replicable, it’s gotta feed into some kind of workforce pipeline, there’s gotta be membership in there, and it’s for the community,” she said of the proposal.
Founded two years ago, the Connecticut Arts Workforce Initiative is a program for college students, young or early-career professionals, and returning military veterans to find paid internship opportunities in arts organizations across the state. Thus far, the program has placed 28 individuals with arts organizations, with some internships leading to full-time employment.
SpaceFinder, meanwhile, is a program through New York-based Fractured Atlas matching artists with available spaces in their neighborhood, city, region and state. Currently, Fairfield is the only participating partner within the state; its SpaceFinder contract with Fractured Atlas is $7,500. Newman-Scott said adding New Haven will be an expansion, and not reallocation, of that funding. She declined to comment on the exact amount.
“I think that we just have to invest in people to tell their story the way they want to tell their story,” she said Friday, stopping to check out Neville Wisdom’s Whalley Avenue studio and the neighborhood’s famous yarn bombed trees before her meeting with WVRA. “And stop trying to hire people to tell this made-up story. What about the real story? The story of the people that live in the places that they live. And it’s all around us.”
Funding wasn’t specifically the purpose of Newman-Scott’s visit, which also included visits to “WE ARE: A Nation of Immigrants” on the New Haven Green and Music Haven at its new space in Erector Square. But that changed when she sat down with WVRA President Lizzy Donius and Lotta Studio members Thabisa Rich, Noé Jimenez, Travis Carbonella and others to watch Carbonella’s newest video, a slick recap of Westville’s 21st annual Artwalk.
The lights went down as Carbonella queued up the video. Newman-Scott and WVRA members hunkered down on the chairs and couches inside. On the screen, a kid rolled down the street on his bike, his dad not far behind him. Dancers paraded across the street. An impromptu flash mob erupted. In their studios, painters proudly motioned to their works, studios expanding as the video panned out. Newman-Scott looked on, entranced.
“That’s an exciting video,” she said as it ended minutes later. “Community is loud in that. Diversity is loud in that. This thing is like what everyone is striving to be like. And it’s also youthful and fun, but it’s respectful and for all ages. What would it take to have the city of New Haven capitalize on that type of marketing?”
The room was quiet for a moment. Then WVRA members began to chip in.
“That’s Westville for you,” said WVRA President Lizzy Donius, adding that Southern Connecticut State University was “just a walk away,” and represented one potential partner in scaling a larger audience.
“The advantage of being here is the possibility of having a marketing team,” Carbonella added. “There’s video and photo in this room [at Lotta Studio]. But who is going to pay for it? The city?”
“There’s no shortage of creatives here,” said Lotta Co-Founder Mistina Hanscom, sitting close to Carbonella and her husband, Luke. “You’ve got photographers, all of the crafts … as a collective building, we can cohesively lay out anything from our team.”
Newman-Scott shifted in her chair. She crunched numbers in her head. Then she gestured back towards Carbonella.
“I have an idea,” she said. “What if I transferred SpaceFinder money to New Haven, and on top of it, I’m going to give you ... more to use for marketing of the spaces? Then you could use that as a pilot opportunity to do this.”
Again, she declined to give the amount on the record. Carbonella nodded slowly, chewing on the opportunity. He estimated that the cost of each video comes out between $1,500 or $2,500 when he tallies up labor, filming, and editing time. Because he does a lot of his work for reduced cost, he said he likes the idea of getting adequate compensation—and using his craft as a training ground.
“As WVRA too, we can facilitate some of that,” added Donius.
“See what happens when people that work in the arts are put in leadership positions?” Newman-Scott asked aloud. The room broke into a smattering of laughs and echoes of “that’s right, that’s right.”
“Site visits are so important, because they inspire us to invest,” she said as she headed from Westville back downtown. “The whole excitement for me is being on the ground, in tune with artists that are making a change in their communities.”
“This is not just thinking: ‘Oh, here’s a creative video we want to produce,’” she added. “We’re going to invest in this filmmaker and a team of marketing creatives, to create a product that will show the way for the City of New Haven to be thinking more innovatively about how they even talk about themselves, and how they showcase who they are, and the personality of the place. We’re gonna pay these people to experiment with that, and to push back on traditional models of how this is done.”