Top: Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School juniors Giada Thomas, Willie Smokes, and Aniannalis Rivas. Bottom: Lugo's strings students in their first performance of the year. Lucy Gellman Photos.
On Friday morning, high school junior Aniannalis Rivas woke up exhausted. It had already been a long week, and for a moment she dreamed about staying in bed. Then she remembered it was Parking Day, and that her first period class would be singing outside.
An hour later, she was among fellow juniors and seniors, warming up beneath a brick overhang on the corner of College and Crown Streets. By the time the first notes hit, she could feel her mood lifting. One song in, and she felt like it was an entirely different day.
Friday, Rivas was one of dozens of student performers and budding chalk artists at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School’s ninth annual Parking Day, an outdoor celebration of arts and culture just weeks into a new school year. First instituted almost a decade ago, Parking Day is part of an annual, international public art project to challenge the way cities are built around cars, rather than people.
At Co-Op—a public high school in the heart of downtown, where drivers have been known to blow through red lights—it resonates with students and teachers alike.
“You can feel a lot of good energy,” said Arts Director Amy “Ms. Migs” Migliore as strings students began an arrangement of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” and she paused to listen to the lifting violins. She pointed to the day as the first time most upperclassmen get to perform publicly for their peers. “The kids love being outside, and it’s bringing the student body together.”
From the corner to the surrounding blocks on Crown and College, that energy vibrated through an hour of performances, some students stopping to cheer on their peers as others created ornate designs on the sidewalk. From an open door, upperclassmen trickled outside, many making a beeline for the sidewalk. Beneath the overhang, strings instructor Henry Lugo picked up a guitar and launched into Randy Sabien’s “Puerto de Libertad,” strings following suit. As they did, students swarmed around them, cheering as phones came out to record the moment.
Beaming, Lugo made a half-circle around the group, nodding to band department chair and Grammy-nominated educator Pat Smith as percussion entered the fray. To the trilling, sharp sound of violin and viola, mellow bass and cello answered, rhythmic and unhurried. Drums roiled beneath them, and the strings picked up, giving off short, succinct bursts of sound before rising into a hook. Through it all, Lugo kept time, never quite still as he played along.
Listening from College Street, senior Nate Murzin knelt on a patch of sidewalk, making it entirely his own. Searching for a light green piece of chalk, he filled in a half-moon and then another, streaking it with sections of white until his fingers were covered in a dusty film. Beside his left hand, a picture of Lime Lips peeked out from his phone. The internet trend has become something of an inside joke among his friends—and felt like exactly the right tone to strike on his first Parking Day.
Top: Senior Nate Murzin. Bottom: Assistant Principal Talima Andrews-Harris and Arts Director Amy Migliore.
“I’ve been extremely excited all week,” he said. Before arriving at Co-Op his sophomore year, Murzin heard about the day from his older siblings, three of whom attended the school. Because of scheduling conflicts, he wasn’t able to participate until this fall.
There was something that felt very full-circle about the moment, he said. As an aspiring tattoo artist—his family runs a shop called Sacred Art Tattoo in Seymour—he fell in love with the visual arts as a kid, and has been able to nurture and grow that interest in Co-Op’s classrooms. Now, after a rough morning, drawing was also helping him get his frustrations out.
“I feel like art is such a big part of my life,” he said. “I use my drawing to express my feelings. This helps me let them out … I wanted to feel better.”
Senior Laila Kelly-Walker conducting for the first time. More from the performance is available on the Arts Council's Instagram.
Back at a makeshift stage on Crown Street, all eyes pivoted toward choir director Harriett Alfred, waiting for a single cue. As she lifted her hands, the first lines of Ysaye Barnwell’s “Hope” floated over the corner, hanging low in the air. With each word—If we want hope to survive in this world to-o-day/Then ev-er-y day/We got to pray on - pray on!—it seemed that more young bodies crowded in to watch, students falling to a hush as two solos melted into four-part harmony.
If an attendee scanned the back row, they could spot recent alum Kurtis Hughes, who arrived from just down the street to sing with the group before the weekend. Now a freshman at Gateway Community College, Hughes spent his four years at Co-Op navigating the Covid-19 pandemic, including singing online, then with a mask, then in front of the whole school at concerts and graduation.
It was Alfred, who he still refers to as “like my second mom,” who carried him through. Months after walking out of Co-Op’s doors for the last time as a student, he still texts her to check in on the choir and on educators that he cares about, he said. So when she mentioned to him that Parking Day was Friday and she could use an extra bass part, he knew he wanted to be there.
“Being able to sing—it just brings me joy and brings a smile to my face,” he said. Parking Day is a particularly special moment, he added—“It’s a way for students to show the work that they’re putting in before any of the concerts.”
Top: Junior Kimaya Richardson. Bottom: Lugo's strings students. A video from their performance is at the bottom of this article.
For other students, this year’s Parking Day lit a creative spark. Laila Kelly-Walker, a senior who plans to study biology in college, took the day to try conducting for the first time. Last Thursday, she’d approached Alfred about the possibility of leading “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning,” which has been a favorite since the choir first performed it last year. For Alfred, it was an immediate yes.
Friday, she stepped to the right, and rooted Kelly-Walker on as she took a place in front of a music stand. Before her, her peers stood waiting, their eyes wide as if to say, You got this. As the sound rose, Kelly-Walker nudged her glasses onto her forehead, raised her hands, and began, the breeze tossing her hair gently around her shoulders. Afterwards, she called it a fitting way to celebrate her third and final Parking Day at the school.
“It felt exciting!” she said, making time to do some chalk art before heading back inside with her peers. “The best part [about Parking Day] is having the freedom to come together, seeing your peers perform. I think when you have an outdoor space like this, it becomes a sense of community. It’s sort of a rite of passage.”
As the sound drifted out on College and Crown Streets, junior Kimaya Richardson worked on a chalk portrait of a face, filling in full, flushed peach- and clementine-colored cheeks beneath swirling purple eyes and ombre bangs. Originally, she said, she was just going to do the eyes but realized she had time for a full face. A yard away, a portrait of the singer Selena Quintanilla looked out wide-eyed from the sidewalk, becoming a sort of unexpected pendant.
“Everyone is getting to experience their creativity and I think it brings everyone together,” Richardson said. “Art lets me show my true self on paper. I don’t talk to people that often, so I feel like it lets me tell people what’s going on.”
She added that she’s grown to love parking day for the outdoor drawing and the 90 minutes of music, which announces the school’s presence to surrounding businesses and passers-by. “It’s just a good energy and a good vibe,” she said.
Around her, conversation ebbed and flowed. Dancers and theater students, who don’t perform during parking day, dotted the sidewalk among their peers, some chatting as others picked up thick, long pieces of chalk and began to draw. Beneath the overhang, band members had assembled, and a thicket of students three rows deep burst into applause at the first suggestions of a drum solo.
Moments later, students had eased into a jazzy, groove-flecked tune that felt right for the weekend. It was, it turned out, the best way to close out the celebration: Migliore was soon announcing that it was time to head back inside.
In the quiet that followed, senior Zoe Stowe walked among the chalk drawings with a clipboard in one hand, watching teacher Zach Chernak tidy up out of the corner of her eye. A visual arts student who has long loved Parking Day, she offered this year to help plan the event with faculty and administrators at the school. Friday, that meant judging her peers’ drawings after they had headed back inside for class.
“It’s nice!” she said, adding that part of her missed having the chance to chalk it out, as she’s done for the past two years. “It’s cool to show off to downtown New Haven what Co-Op is all about.”
For more from Parking Day, click on the videos above or visit the Arts Council of Greater New Haven on Instagram.