From the Start: The International Festival of Arts & Ideas

The International Festival of Arts & Ideas delights audiences with outstanding entertainment and inspiring programs, and The Community Foundation has been there from the start.

L-R: Founders of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas Jean Handley, Roslyn Meyer and Anne Calabresi in the early days of the Festival. Photo courtsey of IFAI.

We laugh. We sing. We dance. Our eyes are opened. Our minds are changed. Each year, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas delights audiences with outstanding entertainment and inspiring programs. The Festival celebrated its 23rd anniversary this year, and The Community Foundation has been there from the start.

Festival founders Anne Calabresi, Roslyn Meyer and the late Jean Handley knew the festival needed to engage a diverse audience, celebrate and build community and advance economic development.

They approached The Foundation in 1996 for a grant to "create an inclusive annual Festival, showcasing many art forms and education experiences." Since then, The Foundation has supported the Festival every year. As of 2018, total grants and distributions have reached over $4 Million from unrestricted competitive grant processes and donor advised funds.

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven has supported the Arts in our region for more than three-quarters of a century.
The first designated fund to provide grants in perpetuity to a local Arts organization was established at The Foundation in 1942 by bequest of stock; more than two-dozen have since followed.

In the 1980s, The Foundation issued an Arts Challenge that prompted community arts groups to broaden their funding sources and set-up a permanent Arts endowment fund. Every dollar raised for the new Arts Fund by participating arts organizations was returned to them by The Foundation with a bonus. Since being established, the Arts Fund has distributed nearly $5 Million to a variety of visual and performing arts nonprofits.

In the 2000s, The Foundation joined other public and private sector funders to launch The Greater New Haven Arts Stabilization Project. Eight arts 'anchor' institutions — including the Festival — each received financial and technical assistance and reported an improvement in total working capital by $5.8 Million.

In 2013, The Foundation adopted a three-pronged approach to strengthen the region's arts community which involves raising new, local funds, developing audiences and continuing general operating support to community-building organizations like the International Festival of Arts & Ideas.

For more than two decades, the Festival has introduced area residents from both the city and the suburbs to extraordinary music, dance and theater, expanding our artistic horizons and broadening our understanding of other cultures. The Festival annually includes more than 200 events, 80 percent of which are presented free of charge.

Citizenship - local and global - was a dominant theme of the 2018 Festival, which was explored across a variety of performances and related events. Read more about that in the story, "Arts and Ideas Celebrates Immigrants," part of our Inspiration Monday story series.

Just like the Festival founders did, today's supporters continue to believe in the festival's ability to heighten our understanding, imagination and celebration of diversity.

Did you know?

Arts and cultural activities don't just provide entertainment value. One study of NYC's lower-income neighborhoods found that child abuse/neglect and serious crime rates decreased by double-digits and obesity rates dropped by 5 percent when cultural resources were present.

Source: The Social Wellbeing of New York City's Neighborhoods: The Contribution of Culture and the Arts, Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert (a UPenn Social Impact of the Arts Project Report, March 2017)

This article is part of a series of stories celebrating The Community Foundation's 90th Anniversary.