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City Taps LGBTQ+ Champion For Cultural Affairs Commission

Lucy Gellman | April 21st, 2021

City Taps LGBTQ+ Champion For Cultural Affairs Commission

LGBTQ  |  Politics  |  Arts & Culture  |  New Haven Pride Center  |  Elicker Administration  |  COVID-19

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Patrick Dunn at Pride New Haven celebrations in September 2019. Lucy Gellman Pre-Pandemic File Photo. 

Patrick Dunn breathed new life into the New Haven Pride Center. Now the city is going to see if he can do the same thing on its Cultural Affairs Commission as it works toward a sweeping vision for cultural equity

Dunn is the executive director of the New Haven Pride Center and a longtime advocate of queer, non-binary, and historically marginalized voices in the city. This month, Director of Cultural Affairs Adriane Jefferson tapped him to sit on the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission, which meets once a month. The two became close earlier this year, when Dunn stepped in to produce the city’s “Unapologetically Radical” conference in February.

On Monday night, his nomination came before the city’s full Board of Alders. He will appear before the Aldermanic Affairs Committee on April 26 before a final approval. If he is confirmed, he will join the commission in time for an early May meeting. Jefferson said that three additional seats remain open.   

“Starting on May 19, our state and our nonprofits are going to have to rebuild the arts community,” he said in a phone call Monday night. “There's going to be a period over the next six to 12 months, maybe [the next] two years, where people in the Connecticut arts scene are going to decide whether they're going to tell the same white, straight, cisgender, heteronormative storylines or rebuild with new narratives.”

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From left to right: Black Lives Matter New Haven Co-Founders Sun Queen and Ala Ochumare, Patrick Dunn, Nasty Women Connecticut Co-Founder Luciana "Lucy" McClure, and current BLMNHV leadership Ashleigh Huckabey pictured in July 2019. Lucy Gellman Pre-Pandemic File Photo.

Dunn, who grew up puddle-jumping between California and Turkey, has a long track record of bridging worlds through arts and culture. Before starting as the Pride Center’s first paid director in August 2017, he  served as the development manager at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas and started doing work with the Imperial Sovereign Court of All Connecticut. While he expected New Haven to be a temporary stop, he always found reasons to stay. He has fallen in love with its cherry blossoms, storied gay bars, and kaleidoscopic arts scene.

During those years, he was often the connection between organizations and individual artists. That extended to non-work hours, particularly after his entry into the city's drag scene on his 30th birthday. Since her birth six years ago, his drag alter ego Kiki Lucia has raised tens of thousands of dollars for A Place to Nourish Your Health (formerly AIDS Project New Haven), Y2Y’s peer-led homeless shelter, and the renovated Stetson Branch of the New Haven Free Public Library among others. She has done it while making noise for trans rights, LGBTQ+ mental health, and championing survivors of sexual assault.

As director of the center, Dunn grew the organization’s footprint with support and affinity groups,  a rotating art gallery, and robust community programming that ranged from Pride parades to candlelit Trans Day of Remembrance vigils downtown. He is quick to say he never works alone: his community partners have included drag queens, leather evangelists, public health experts, multimedia artists, faith leaders, and police abolitionists. With them, he has brought Pride Month celebrations to City Hall, revived Pride Prom, added a queer summer camp with City Wide Youth Coalition and expanded the center's mission many times over. 

By early 2020, the center had added new staff members specializing in LGBTQ+ youth, women’s and Spanish-language programming programming, trans support and advocacy and case management. When the pandemic hit, staff scrambled to bring programming online and respond to the community’s needs in real time. Staff and volunteers started a weekly food pantry and presented online panels, virtual exhibitions, and weeks of prerecorded drag queen story hour for kids suddenly at home. Since March of last year, the center has spent $55,570 supporting over 400 artists, including American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters who are present during panels.   

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Kiki Lucia at a revived Pride Prom in June 2018. Lucy Gellman Pre-Pandemic File Photo. 

Dunn has known Jefferson for years, reaching back to her work with the Connecticut Office of the Arts. During the pandemic, she has kept her eye on the virtual and on-the-ground work that the Pride Center has continued to do, even as it is locked out of state and federal funding for arts organizations. In February, she watched Dunn step in “at a crunch” and stream the city’s one-day “Unapologetically Radical” conference. She said she admires the fact that he thinks critically about how to bring underrepresented voices to the table, particularly those that are non-white, non-male, and non-cisgender. 

“He was ready to jump in and be a part of this work,” she said. “He is very intentional about the work he does with marginalized communities. He is a person who unequivocally evokes change. And you know his work ethic. He is a worker bee. He is a person who does not mind rolling up his sleeves, brainstorming, strategizing, and getting it done.”   

Dunn said he’s excited to jump in. In addition to his work at the Pride Center, he sits on the board of the New Haven Free Public Library, works with Y2Y, and more recently joined the city’s cultural equity planning team. He sees the state’s arts organizations—with much of the country—as at an inflection point as venues reopen to the public. While “we know that the arts didn’t stop,” he suggested that a gradual return to in-person programming may present an opportunity to tell new stories on the city’s stages, in its galleries, and behind its music stands.

“I’m super excited,” he said. “It's a great opportunity. I think that the commission plays an important role in setting a tone for the city. In an era when the Pride Center is not always considered an arts organization, or an organization that makes art, it feels good to be seen.”

Aleta Staton, who currently chairs the commission, said that she is excited for Dunn’s nomination. While the commission is meant to reflect the diversity of New Haven, it currently skews much straighter and whiter than the city itself, with few members under 40. From the moment she met him through the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, she saw him as a community spark plug, ready to forge electric connections.

“It really is important,” she said. “As a commission, we have to answer to everybody. We want to speak and address our attention toward everyone. And Patrick, he's a no brainer. There are so many people who are connected to him. I think that Patrick's voice is going to be extremely valuable.”