New Haven, CT

Contact Name
Elizabeth Nearing
Project Dates
October- May, Annually
Networking, Marketing
Long Wharf Theatre (LWT) & the New Haven Free Public Library (NHFPL) are working together to broaden access to both organizations and combine assets to stimulate meaningful conversation throughout New Haven.
Community Conversations: Events at NHFPL branches to discuss issues in New Haven that connect with the plays produced at LWT.
Micro-branch: A curated mini-library in LWT lobbies during each show. Anybody with a Connecticut library card can check out a book and return it to their local library.
Library Pass: Each NHFPL branch has a pass that can be checked out to see a show at LWT for free.
Community Ambassador Program: A city-wide initiative to engage with people who might not otherwise have a chance to go to the theatre and spark conversations around the the work they see.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
At the inception of this partnership, participation in Long Wharf events only reached small groups: those who purchase a ticket, those in self-selected public schools, and—key—those who feel like Long Wharf is a place where they are welcome and belong. By collaborating with the NHFPL, Long Wharf hopes to throw its doors wide open, demonstrate how the “high” art of theatre is relevant to every strata of our community, and inspire passionate conversations about our modern times. The New Haven Free Public Library provides free resources for the City’s residents. In addition to access to knowledge, it provides classes, gatherings, and events that respond to the needs of its community. However, its main currency is literature—the empowerment that learning from, and improving ourselves through, the written word affords. By creating this meaningful connection with a major regional theatre, the Library hopes that these new connections through literature will stimulate new relationships, spark courageous conversation, and foster vibrant discourse among diverse segments of the Greater New Haven community.

By aligning existing resources at each institution in a mission-driven collaboration, they create a cultural touchstone that enables its community to actively engage in discourse about timely and relevant issues affecting us today.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Our long term partnership includes continuous evaluation and change while our central goal of broadening access to both institutions remains in tact. Throughout each season, we listen to our ambassadors, our colleagues, and our community; reflect on the impact of our programs and community conversations and continue to outreach to new partners, neighborhoods and audiences. This all fuels the changes we make.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
This partnership was founded through the support of Co-Creating Effective and Inclusive Organizations (CEIO). In addition to grants to each organization, CEIO provides extensive resources including training, mentorship and guidance to see through the development of a true partnership.

This project’s success owes so much to so many; from our ambassadors to the librarians who talk to their patrons about the opportunity to check out a LWT Pass, to the speakers at our Community Conversations to the community participants who see theatre, discuss it and engage with their neighbors and their City.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
The City of New Haven was recently cited as “the “Creative Capital” of Connecticut” in the National Endowment for the Art’s How to Do Creative Placemaking guide (November 2016). The case study in this report shares how New Haven is approaching economic revitalization, especially in its downtown district, with artists, nonprofits arts organizations and for-profit creative entrepreneurs with its Project Storefronts initiative.

The LWT and NHFPL partnership, a nonprofit theatre arts organization and city department collaboration, is in wonderful alignment with Project Storefronts.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Components of our project were inspired by successful programs at other organizations. Our library pass program was drawn from the successful museum pass check outs at NHFPL and public libraries nationwide. As libraries are expanding their collections to include experiences as well as print materials we decided to experiment with using a similar structure to get new people to the theatre.

Secondly, our community ambassador program is inspired by a similar program started by The Foundry Theatre in New York City. We are the first to build such a program based on a partnership with a municipal organization.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
The program was piloted for LWT’s production of CLYBOURNE PARK in May 2013. We brought in our first group of community ambassadors through librarian and theatre nominations and held our first community conversations in response to readings of the play at each local library branch. Also as part of the pilot, theatre passes were made available for checkout at library branches and a micro-branch collection was on display at LWT and available for checkout to theatregoers with any CT library card. This production provided a clear dramaturgical connection to events in New Haven, as it centered around issues of gentrification and changing neighborhoods.

Following the success of the pilot, LWT and NHFPL designed year two of the partnership where we designed one community conversation to take place at a library for each show of the season. With each year, came evaluation and reconfiguration and years 3 and 4 were no exception. In year 3 we moved towards a deeper dive into community conversions around two shows with topics relevant to New Haven residents and this structure continued in year 5 alongside the micro-branch at LWT for each play and the theatre passes for checkout at each library.

Now as the partnership is in full force- ambassadors meet all together six times a year for the final dress rehearsal of each play, we produce at least ten community conversations and the pass is used almost a thousand times throughout the season.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
The following first full season we made an attempt to do library programming for each of LWT’s six season shows. We quickly learned that it was far more effective to focus our energy on two of the more civically relevant shows in each season. Now we spend our summers reviewing the seasons and mapping out programming in advance with staff members from both organizations.

With the community conversations finding their stride with this current format, we turned our attention to reflecting on the makeup of the ambassador group. This year, the fifth year of our partnership, we did significant outreach to mix up our ambassador group and identify new participants. We specifically targeted agencies doing relevant civic work in our city to have representation in this group and worked with the LWT Education team to identify our first 2 high school youth ambassadors.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
In our initial pilot of the program we had meetings with four or five staff members from each organization as well as consultants assisting to guide our process. As the pilot ended, one of our major challenges was to figure out how to make sure the partnership had staffing support from each organization to continue the work with as much energy as our pilot.

Throughout each season we confront both real and perceived barriers to participation and are constantly examining and reexamining what keeps people from attending the theatre in particular. Transportation is a huge obstacle that we’re still problem solving. Another is representation on stage. The stories we produce and promote need to have connection to people of all backgrounds in our city.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Over time both organizations have appointed community engagement managers who have become the single point person for the project. This allows for much clearer communication and problem-solving throughout the season. Each point person is able to communicate to the rest of their institution for the needs of all components of the partnership.
In addition, the decision to focus on two of the six plays each season has given us the ability to curate events that are much more directly related to the lives of New Haveners.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Have a single point person at each organization each with strong collaborative ability.
Dedicate resources from both sides/ prioritizing the partnership from both sides - major part of both Community Engagement Managers jobs.
Develop programming WITH your community - integrating community input into program development.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
As the partnership has progressed we have noticed a significant increase in our pass usage. The nightly talkbacks at LWT are more diverse, as are the the single ticket buyers at LWT throughout the season. For shows where we do intensive programming these trends are even more palpable. We start to see audiences that look like a true sample of our city.
We are able to have conversations about theatre throughout New Haven and conversations about New Haven in LWT--conversations that have started to break down some of the perceived barriers of what a regional theatre can be thus welcoming new people into our spaces.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
We have successfully brought new people to both places-broadening access to both spaces. For the Library, these programs have enhanced their role as a public institution and space for civic dialogue. In addition to our original goals, this partnership has changed the way both organizations think about this kind of work. It has provided a platform for both organizations to create more and deeper community partnerships throughout the city. Both organizations now have a designated Community Engagement Manager who is able to grow this partnership and expand to others.

While we anticipated this collaboration inspiring more people to hear what we have to say, the perhaps most important effect is that it has become an avenue for both organizations to listen to our constituents in a new more open and accessible way.

How did you measure this success or progress?
Our self-evaluation metrics are as follows:
- How many people attend each community conversation.
- How many people checkout and use the theatre pass.
- How many books are checked out throughout the run of a show at each micro-branch.
- Ambassador guest surveys-including age, race, gender, town and whether they have previously attended LWT or NHFPL.
- How many patrons stay for talkbacks.
- How many additional partners we bring in throughout the season.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
The internal impact of this project was unanticipated by both organizations. The ambassador group has gone from an external group to an integral part of creating programming and gaining feedback and perspective for the work we do. Beyond that, this partnership is the core of our community engagement work for both organizations and community engagement has become a more vital part of our missions and strategic plans.