Because I live in New Haven, I —and thousands of other people—had an early exposure to several artists whom millions heard a whole lot about last week when those brilliant artists won “genius grants” from the MacArthur Foundation.
Kyle Abraham, the dancer/choreographer and founder of his own Abraham.In.Motion company, was a featured act at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas festival in June of 2012. Abraham.In.Motion performed its then-new work The Radio Show at Yale’s Iseman Theater.
Tarrell Alvin McCraney attended Yale School of Drama. Two of the three works in his world-renowned Brother/Sister At least two of the three plays were given public performances at Yale, starring and directed by other YSD students. One of those productions moved to the Public Theater in New York.
Vijay Iyer is a Yale graduate. Not from the musical school, mind you; he studied Math and Physics. Iyer’s combo played in New Haven this past April as the headline act of the first annual Yale Jazz Festival. I covered that show here.
Note that this is not just one enlightened institution or group or university bringing these talents to town. Once is a non-profit arts festival. One is a graduate school. One is a student-run jazz series.
Moreover, when each of these guys came to town, these were all-out New Haven experiences. They weren’t just breezing in and out of theaters or concert halls and not noticing what city they were in.
Abraham, for instance, spent an afternoon (weeks before Art & Ideas began) leading master classes at the Educational Center for the Arts magnet program. I observed one of those classes, and he was not just totally involved in the teaching but impressively flexible, switching from a live piano accompanist to recorded hip-hop music when he saw the students having trouble. During the festival, he did lectures and talkbacks, elaborating on his layered and theatrical dance pieces.
McCraney refined and perfected his magnum opus at the School of Drama, but he could also be seen regularly at the Yale Cabaret, helping out his friends and roommates with their passion projects. Two of his own scripts, Without/Sin and Run, Mourner, Run, has their world premieres at the Yale Cabaret.
McCraney—whom I used to run into fairly frequently on the streets of New Haven, and whom is a genuinely nice person—was back in town earlier this month to accept a whole other award with a big cash prize attached. He was part of the inaugural batch of recipients of the Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes at Yale.
Iyer’s Yale Jazz Festival wasn’t held in one of the university’s hallowed concert halls but in an old church, St. Paul & St. James’, at the corner of Chapel & Olive about a mile from the main Yale campus. The audience was wonderfully diverse, the environs warm and relaxing, the festival a true community enterprise.
I imagine that many other 2013 MacArthur Foundation grant awardees have visited or attended Yale or have other New Haven connections. (The full list is here.) These are the three I happen to have encountered.
Nice place to live, New Haven.