Arts and Ideas Celebrates Immigrants

Immigrants are taking center stage at the Arts and Ideas Festival.

Immigrants are taking center stage at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas. The annual June festival brings more than 200 events to the city, including a full range of performing arts, dance, exhibitions, and lectures. The Festival marks its 23rd anniversary this year, and The Community Foundation has been a supporter from the start.

Performance artist Toto Kisaku

This weekend features the world premiere of Requiem for an Electric Chair, a one-man play by Toto Kisaku, who just this month received asylum by the immigration authorities. Kisaku fled the Democratic Republic of Congo with his son after facing a death sentence for questioning the practice of child exploitation in his country.

During the Festival's first week, WNPR host John Dankosky moderated the panel discussion, "Is Immigration Good for the Economy?" with Yale Professor Economics Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, Will Kneerim, director of employment and education services at Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS); and Shannon Dooling, an immigration reporter working with WNPR's Dankosky-led New England News Collaborative.

The discussion referenced The Community Foundation report, Understanding the Impact of Immigration in Greater New Haven, highlighting the positive contributions of immigrants. Mobarak's research has found that immigration leads to increased income per worker and does not significantly decrease or increase the employment levels of native workers.

Earlier in the week, "WE ARE: A Nation of Immigrants," an outdoor exhibit of 60 larger-than-life photographs of immigrants living in Greater New Haven, opened on the New Haven Green. More than 100 people attended the exhibit's opening ceremony to listen to speakers including Gladys Mwilelo, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"[These] photographs say a thousand words about who we are," Mwilelo said. "I feel like being here gives me the opportunity to be a part of the bigger message," she continued. "I am looking at you, and I am a refugee."

The Community Foundation provided a $20,000 grant to help fund the installation and reinforce its strategy in support of immigrant integration in Greater New Haven and its ongoing work of making Greater New Haven a welcoming community.

Chris George, Executive Director of IRIS discussed with a panel of guests refugee resettlement in Connecticut.

The festival's opening week also saw IRIS Executive Director Chris George lead the discussion: Refugee Resettlement – A Noble American Tradition Under Attack.

To learn more about the International Festival of Arts and Ideas organization, visit its profile on

Did You Know?

This Thursday, Iris and Sanctuary Kitchen are celebrating World Refugee Day at Trinity on the Green. More details here.

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.