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Dakarai Langley at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School’s Winterfest earlier this year. Maya McFadden Photo.
There’s this moment from Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School’s Winterfest that sticks with me when I think of 2022. At the front of the stage, eighth grader Dakarai Langley had just come down from a leap when he turned to face almost a dozen of his peers. The air between them stilled, and their hands beat their chests in unison. There was this crisp, deep clap of skin on skin that echoed through the space. It was like they were saying, We got you. We promise, we got you.
It can’t have been more than three or four seconds. The moment unfroze; dancers kept moving. But this time, all of them were carrying part of the load.
I think that’s all of us right now, New Haven. We are doing the best we can. We’re making and witnessing magic on stages, in classrooms, in theaters and music venues—and the world is still heavy. Like, really heavy. Covid is still with us, as is an epidemic of state-sanctioned violence. Hundreds of New Haven’s kids are struggling to read. Despite winning the highest national honor possible, the city’s library still does not pay its staff what they would make in any other city in the state.
Composer Joel Thompson teaching at ECA earlier this year. Lucy Gellman Photos.
And yet artists have continued to be the antidote. In concerts and music classrooms and pop-up venues in the sticky summer heat. In sun-soaked harvest festivals and outdoor drag shows. In library meeting rooms and home studios and impromptu gallery spaces. They’ve gotten us to the end of the year—and at their best, done it with more care and intention than they may have three years ago.
For this, we owe them everything. I really mean that. When 2022 took (and took, and took, and took), they helped us grieve. When guitarist Rohn Lawrence passed suddenly at the end of December 2021, Toad’s Place opened its doors to his family and friends, to send him off in song. The May night City Librarian John Jessen left this world, musicians Tim Kane and Chrissy Gardner sang to him until just after midnight. It was artists who picked up the phone to tell us about the extraordinary life of Ms. Lillie Perkins, who filled the city with music as she led the Unity Boys Choir for decades.
There are a million little moments like this, that hold us in place, that remind us of how not alone we are. In the window of Kehler Liddell gallery, Susan Clinard’s bust of the artist Semi-Semi Dikoko looked for weeks out onto Whalley Avenue, keeping watch over the tight-knit neighborhood of which he was the informal mayor. Since his death in March, David Pilot has lived on through his letters, poetry, and musings that are delivered in semi-weekly installments of “This Is Your Pilot Speaking,” a sort of grief and memory circle for family and friends.
The Caribbean Heritage Fest in June. Lucy Gellman File Photos.
They caught us when we were falling, and held us to account too. In January, Cloteal L. Horne’s performance of Fires In The Mirror at Long Wharf Theatre pushed people to take a long, hard look at what has (and has not) changed in three decades of anti-Black racism and sometimes strained Black-Jewish relations. When Russia’s invasion and bombardement of Ukraine began, artists showed up to raise support in concerts and trivia nights. On the day that the Supreme Court of the United States struck down Roe v. Wade, it was a rabbinical student who carried a crowd in song, lifting the lyrics as a form of both mourning and resistance.
And they gave us joy, continuing to adapt in the face of an ongoing pandemic. Well before temperature dropped to polar vortex levels, the city’s Caribbean Heritage and Puerto Rican Festivals, Juneteenth weekend, Shakespeare in the Park and summer youth showcases left us with full minds and fuller hearts. In the late summer and into the fall, we loved dancing to Rhythm Exchange on the New Haven Green, jumping into gala season, and celebrating major milestones across the city.
Here are 10 moments that stirred our souls, and kept us going. This is not an exhaustive list; it never is. We could have come up with a top 20, or a top 50, or a top 100 and would still feel like things were missing. We could have written a whole book about Long Wharf Theatre’s year of transition, or about Vanesa Suarez’ exhibition Mujeres Que Luchan at the Fair Haven Branch Library, or how public art on Grand Avenue is helping tell the story of a self-sustaining business district. There’s a whole essay in the way time freezes when you bite into a Je T’aime cupcake and why Oh Shito! may be the hot sauce to rule them all and our love for Chef Azhar Ahmed’s falafel.
But this is what we have. Enjoy it. We’ll see you next year.
10. Orchids Bloom Over Sylvan Avenue & NuSpiral Collective
Artist Kwadwo Adae with Jaylin Greene and Josiah Baez.
In August, the artist Kwadwo Adae completed his first-ever mural in the city’s Hill neighborhood, a 45-foot high rendering of orchids on the Hillside Family Shelter at 124 Sylvan Ave. A collaboration with Christian Community Action (CCA), the work bloomed out of Adae’s own belief that “everyone deserves to come home to flowers.” He chose orchids for their longevity. Several neighborhood kids helped him complete the design.
The building, which sits at the corner of Sylvan Avenue and Stevens Street, provides temporary housing to families seeking support, including those fleeing domestic violence. As a public artist, Adae said it was important to him to involve youth in the community, which has become a consistent part of his practice. The mural is funded by a $20,000 Racial Equity and Creative Healing (REACH) grant from the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.
Read our coverage of the project here and here. Read about Adae’s Three Graces mural, painted with students at High School in the Community as a healing space, here.
This year also saw the creation of the Nu Spiral, helmed by Isaac Bloodworth, Joy Meikle, Ala Ochumare-Harris and MiAsia Harris. Founded in response to CT Murals, the collective worked with the city to install murals on upper Whalley Avenue, Grand Avenue near Franklin Street, and Front Street at Middletown Avenue. They include work by Candyce “Marsh” John and longtime collaborator Jesse Wolf, Demeree “D.” Douglas and apprentice Alana Ladson, and Carlos Perez. Read more about them here and here.
9. Día de Muertos
Top: Julia del Palicio at the Semilla Collective's Festival of Resistance. Bottom: Guadalupe Celo Qualteca (front) with members of Culturas del Pasado, Voces del Presente. . Lucy Gellman File Photos.
In early November, immigrant rights activists, musicians, and revelers gathered for Unidad Latina en Accíon’s 12th annual Día de los Muertos parade, an annual tradition that has withstood two years of pandemic interventions to keep going in the heart of Fair Haven. Held this year in an old warehouse at 26 Mill St., the hours-long observance paid homage to both migrants who have perished and New Haven activists George Edwards, Art Perlo, and Robin Latta. Read about it here.
For the first time, ULA also held a preview of the event with artists from Tlaxcala on the New Haven Green. They did so as part of Rhythm Exchange, a new biweekly initiative from the International Festival of Arts & Ideas that ran through November. Read about that here.
It wasn’t the only large-scale celebration that New Haven saw. Laughter, dancing, and hours of son jarocho also set the scene for the Semilla Collective’s second annual “Festival de la Resistencia” (Festival of Resistance), held at Bregamos Community Theater in Fair Haven. After weeks of preparation, the night became a celebration of both Día de los Muertos and the work Semilla has done for worker and immigrant rights in the past year. Read about it here.
8. Proyecto Cimarrón Enters The Fray
Addys Castillo. Naomy Velez is pictured in the background. Lucy Gellman File Photo.
Proyecto Cimarrón is a new collective dedicated to the history, radical legacy, teaching, and liberatory work of Puerto Rican Bomba. Formed in late 2021, the group both celebrates the breadth of a diaspora and amplifies the alive-ness of the art form, particularly its roots in social justice. In April, members held their launch party and first Bombazo at the Black and Brown Power Center on Chapel Street. Members include Addys Castillo, Carlos Cruz, Asher Delerme, sisters Kica and Monica Matos, and sisters Naomy and Natasha Velez.
In the months since, they have personified bomba as a form of resistance. They played in May Day on the New Haven Green, then gave a rousing performance during the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, when they opened for Las Cafeteras. Read about their work here, here, and here.
7. DiasporaCon & Elm City LIT Fest
Five-year-old Z'mir Wright and the artist Candyce "Marsh" John, who joked that she was an alien, at LIT Fest in October. Lucy Gellman Photos.
This April saw the inaugural DiasporaCon, New Haven’s first-ever Black comic book festival and conference at Quinnipiac University. Over six hours, panelists, artists, writers and comic book geeks gathered to celebrate Black comic books—and a bevy of heroes that look like them, and like New Haven. Dozens attended, and all went home with at least one complimentary comic book. Read about it here.
The conference was (and still is) an outgrowth of Elm City LIT Fest, which took New Haven by storm in late October of this year. Dedicated this year to Afrofuturism, it brought a sense of adventure to Stetson Library and the Dixwell Community Q House, with a celebration of Black books, poetry, music and food that lasted an entire Saturday.
From Stetson to the Q House gymnasium to plazas on both sides of Dixwell Avenue, artists put their spin on “Black To The Future,” a central theme meant to lift up Afrofuturism in all its forms. Particular highlights include author Tochi Onyebuchi and a panel from composer Joel Thompson and BAMN Books’ Nyzae James, and an outdoor stage that hosted poetry and music all day long.
Like the 2021 festival, held at the old Stetson Branch Library, it continued to grow its footprint with a vendor fair, author panels, workshops, and live performances throughout the day. Read about it here.
6. LGBTQ+ Youth Conference + Black & Brown Queer Camp
Top: Molly Calderone, Julian Vazquez and "fun auntie" Jayde Holt at the LGBTQ Youth Conference. Lucy Gellman File Photo. Bottom: A scene from Queer Camp. Al Larriva-Latt File Photo.
In late May, the New Haven Pride Center brought a reimagined Connecticut LGBTQ+ Youth Conference to Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) on the cusp of summer. After months of planning, the conference unfolded at SCSU’s Lyman Center with two full days of workshops, drag shows, keynote presentations, and queer networking. Its inaugural theme was “Artivism.” Four hundred young people attended.
It took the place of True Colors’ long-running spring conference at the University of Connecticut, which folded when the organization shut down abruptly last year. In the wake of that closure, the Pride Center scrambled to bring advocates, peer leaders, educators, and artist-activists together to serve hundreds of young people. They are planning another for next May. Read about it here.
Over the summer, queer youth also celebrated the half decade mark for Black and Brown Queer Camp, an eight-day program for 13 to 30 year olds in Connecticut. This year, it was organized by Black and Brown youth workers and facilitators from the New Haven Pride Center, Citywide Youth Coalition among others. Read our coverage of it here.
5. Winfred Rembert's Generous Spirit Lives On
Rembert's widow Patsy speaks at a panel at NXTHVN in October. Lucy Gellman File Photo.
Blessedly for the city, the late artist Winfred Rembert has continued to give back to New Haven since his passing in March 2021. For his children, wife and the growing community that loved him, it is a reminder that his generous spirit is still here.
Rembert died last year at 75 years old; read more about his exceptional life here, here, and here. In his absence, the artist’s laughter-infused footprint has continued to grow. His memoir Chasing Me To My Grave, as told to the philosopher and Tufts University professor Erin Kelly, was published last year and received the Pulitzer Prize for biography in May.
Since, there have been suggestions from Site Projects New Haven that it is well past time for a Rembert mural in the neighborhood where he spent the last decades of his life. In October, the Yale Justice Collaboratory looked to his work as a template for carceral reform, abolition, and restorative justice. Meanwhile, his son Mitchell has been working to carry on his dad’s legacy through carved, tooled, and dyed leather works of art like those for which his father was known. Read more about that here.
4. The Shubert’s Year of SIX
Anniya Taylor-Beam, Yamilet Ramirez Rosas and Matthew Judd at the Shubert Theatre for a performance of SIX in September. All of them are seniors at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School. Lucy Gellman File Photo.
In March and again in September, the Shubert Theatre marked first: a teching a Broadway production before it went on tour in its College Street theater. The play was SIX, a musical about the six (ex) wives of King Henry VIII that rose to Broadway stardom after a popular run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In September, the Shubert was able to team up with the tech theater crew at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School down the street to give students a behind-the-scenes look at how a show comes together.
Teching a show is a process by which producers, crew, and cast test out and finalize every aspect of a performance, from set, lighting, and sound design to last-minute costume tweaks. When students came back to the theater for a run of the show, many of them bubbled with excitement over the trade secrets they now knew, from mic placement and an on-stage band to a confetti cannon that exploded at the end of the show. Read about that here.
It is just one part of the Shubert’s story of transformation this year, which also includes a season that looks and feels more like New Haven. This year, the theater has worked to grow its educational partnerships with Gateway Community College, Stetson Branch Library, Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas and Long Wharf Theatre, among others. It celebrated both international and New Haven acts with the same fanfare and prestige.
This month, it pulled off one more tecching miracle before the end of the year: a revival of A Soldier’s Play, which is now running in Washington, D.C. Read about that play here.
3. A Year of Death By 1,000 Cuts
Photo courtesy of the West Side YMCA and M.A.D. Content.
This year, playwright Steve Driffin coined this phrase: “Betting on Steve.” It turns out that he was onto something. In February, Driffin premiered Death By 1,000 Cuts: A Requiem for Black And Brown Men at Quinnipiac University. It followed an eight-year process that has included men’s support and bereavement groups, dozens of one-on-one interviews, fragments of poetry, and hundreds of edits. Read about the premiere here.
That performance, held on a bone-chilling weekend in February, was just the beginning. In April, Driffin brought the work to the Whitney Center, a retirement community in Hamden where the performance was followed by an emotional talk back. In June, he brought the work to Long Wharf Theatre, just months before it moved out of its 222 Sargent Dr. stage for good. Then in October, it made it Off Broadway.
In between performances, he was recognized by the Bitsie Clark Fund for Artists for his work. That momentum looks like it will continue into next year: Driffin has already been asked back to New York. He credits performers Rodney Moore, Stephen “Gritz” King, Sharmont “Influence” Little and Jason Phenix Hall for helping bring it to life. Read more about it here.
2. The Stetson Branch Library Reopens
Top: Chris "Big Dog" Davis performs a Christmas concert at Stetson in December. Bottom: Two-year-old Tanner Carberry and his grandmother, Dr. Belinda Carberry. Lucy Gellman File Photos.
In March, the new, two-story Stetson Branch Library opened its front doors at 197 Dixwell Ave. as an anchor of the Dixwell Avenue Q House. After years of anticipation and a few sneak peeks, it welcomed the community back with open arms and hundreds more square feet of space. It had big shoes to fill—the old Stetson Branch became a community center, after-school homework hub, skateboarding training site, and so much more—and it has filled those several times over.
Since opening its doors, the branch has become a beloved spot for summer festivals, mind-opening panels (composer Joel Thompson, thank you for making our hearts sing!), rafter-raising concerts, multimedia workshops for kids, and meetings of the Elm City Freddy Fixer Parade Committee, Inc. In no small part, that is owing to Branch Manager Diane Brown and a staff that is rarely still as they care for the community.
1. It’s The Nikki Claxton Choreography For Us
BRAMS students during a Black History Month Performance in February.
There’s something about giving young people a front-row seat to their own power—about encouraging them to harness and use it—that is unique and extraordinary. On the stage and in the classroom, dancers at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School (BRAMS) have taken this year to reconnect to their bodies and their minds through dance. Nikki Claxton, as well as fellow dance educator Hannah Healey, has helped shape that.
In February, she gave her students a chance to dance out their fears, frustrations, and deep anxieties around police brutality in America, and what it meant to be young, gifted and Black if the first thing cops see is still the color of a person’s skin. In June, they took on everything from climate change to lyrical dance, a feat of both Claxton and fellow teacher Healey.
And earlier in December, she worked to choreograph a number around suicide prevention, with a focus on young people and mental health. During a run-through of the number earlier this month, a viewer could have heard a pin drop, even in a room of wiggly, rambunctious middle school students.
“They brought the emotion that I’m looking for,” Claxton told this reporter at the time about her Winterfest student dancers. “You never know who you’re going to meet, or when you can just be a shoulder to cry on. I’m so proud of them … what we do is real life.”
Read all about that performance here. Happy end of 2022, everyone. We made it.