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The International Festival of Arts & Ideas is Summer Fun for the Thinking Person

By S. Mathur

Summer days mean that school's out. But that's not a reason for New Haven CT to dial down the cultural and intellectual activity that makes it such a magnet. Every June, for fifteen days, the International Festival of Arts and Ideas brings theater, music and vibrant discussion to the city's public spaces. With so many leading arts organizations and intellectual institutions already located in New Haven, the Festival has sought to create its own unique synthesis, looking at art and at the ideas it explores.

Art Priromprintr, the Festival's Director of Marketing and Communications says: "We try to think of the larger questions or issues being explored, whether they be a new kind of artistic and intellectual exploration, an important issue in the world today, or just plain fun. So for example, we brought the Afropop singer Angelique Kidjo to New Haven for the sheer fun of her performance, but also explored her humanitarian work with African women, which she tries to do both in her music and through her non-profit foundation. And we brought Roger Guenveur Smith's fantastically powerful solo show Rodney King, and expanded with panels and interactive conversations about race, democracy, and freedom in the world today."

The city of New Haven offers the perfect setting for this celebration of art and ideas. The iconic New Haven Green, considered one of the country's 10 most beautiful public spaces, is the venue for concerts, and art and creative events. New Haven is also famous for its theater scene, and the Long Wharf and Shubert Theaters host major Festival events. And the courtyards, art galleries, and theaters of Yale University are venues as well as the subject of guided walking and bike tours.

Each year the Festival attracts more than 100,000 visitors. Most of the events - about 80% - are free. But it's a good idea to pick up free passes to ensure a seat. The talks in the 2015 Festival, on the theme of past and future, covered race, activism, the environment, civil liberties, and honored special people and moments in New Haven's past and present.

Tackling serious issues in the medium of culture and art, the Festival is also just plain fun. Creative events invite families with children to participate and learn. A memorable performance in the 2015 Festival, Priromprintr recalls, was "... Angelique Kidjo with the new French-Cuban duo Ibeyi was just an incredible night of music outside on the New Haven Green. They were fun and they were spectacular musicians, and there was even a brief thunderstorm that drenched us all, but I think that made the artists and the audience even more excited about being there!"

The Festival's strong bond to the city has tangible benefits for the local community. It generates an estimated $34 million worth of economic activity each year. The Festival Fellowship Program enables a group of low-income high school students each year to participate in the process of organizing the Festival, acknowledging their efforts with an award ceremony at the conclusion.

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