Arts & Ideas: A ticket back to Box City

We walked past the corner of Chapel and Temple yesterday, the former site of Café Bottega. My daughters both lit up and proclaimed “It’s Box City!”

A long-vacant empty storefront is what it was. But for one marvelous weekend at the outset of the 2001 International Festival of Arts & Ideas a fortnight ago, Box City emerged Brigadoon-like in the economically downbeat streets of  New Haven.

Mabel and Sally are not accustomed to thinking inside the box. Yet they are proud and loyal residents of Box City, which returned for the opening weekend of the International Festival of Arts & ideas. They’ve taken part in the festival’s communal construct-a-city activity each time it’s happened, diligently receiving their building permits from architecture-savvy on-site volunteers, then designing and decorating their own edifices, which get placed in a cityscape where small businesses (especially pet shops) outnumber residences seemingly 10-to-1.

Only real gripe I heard about Box City this year is that nearly all the building materials were new, when this is a real opportunity to indulge in some creative recycling of boxes, paper and various decorations.

Box City lives on in the girls’ bedroom, since they arrived at the appointed apocalyptic moment when Box City was being demolished on Chapel Street, and brought their buildings home with them.

Who knows, maybe next year the whole Arts & Ideas festival will take place in Box City rather than New Haven.