June 6, 2018

Q&A with Chad Herzog, co-executive director of New Haven's International Festival of Arts & Ideas

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Chad Herzog, co-executive director of New Haven's International Festival of Arts & Ideas

New Haven Biz talks with Chad Herzog, co-executive director of New Haven's International Festival of Arts & Ideas, about his efforts to bring arts and humanities, food and fun, to the Elm City for the annual two-week event. This year's festival starts Saturday and runs through June 23. Find the full schedule here.

Q: You've been involved in various arts programming and promotion for a few years now. What about the International Festival of Arts & Ideas is challenging and what is the most rewarding?

A: This is my third year in New Haven. The single most challenging and also the most rewarding aspect of my work at Arts & Ideas has been, and continues to be, getting to know as much as I possibly can about our city's myriad communities and their own unique experiences and perspectives about the place we all call home. Our diversity is perhaps nowhere more apparent, or more joyous, than on the nights we come all together on the New Haven Green to the most amazing musical performers from around the world.

Q: Do you have any anecdotes from previous years that sum up your experience?

A: Calling it an anecdote would do this story a disservice, because it's an important one that I think is emblematic of our year-round commitment at the festival to serving our community. A couple of years ago, shortly after I started working at the festival, I met an artist named Toto Kisaku who lives in Middletown. He'd been imprisoned for staging plays that were critical of the Congolese government, and ultimately fled the country. He was getting some bad legal advice at the time, and through another connection at the festival, we were able to introduce him to an attorney at Yale who in turn introduced him to a legal team from Quinnipiac University. They helped Toto navigate the process of seeking political asylum, which was granted just this March. So it's especially thrilling that Toto's new show, Requiem for an Electric Chair, which based on his own experiences being imprisoned, will have its world premiere at the festival this year.

Q: How do you approach programming?

A: We start planning a festival three years before it actually happens. So I hadn't been in town very long when we began imagining what the 2018 festival would look like. A theme that runs through this year's programming is the idea of citizenship. Not the ID card we carry in our wallet, but our responsibilities to each other as neighbors here in New Haven, in the United States of America, in an increasingly technologically connected global village that nonetheless sometimes seems more fractured than ever.

We like to say, "this is your festival." Whether it's exploring a new part of the city on one of our dozens of walking and bike tours; engaging in mind-expanding conversations led by some of our greatest thinkers; or experiencing the best of what's of new and exciting in theater, dance and music, there's more than one something for everyone at Arts & Ideas.

Q: What are some events this year that no one should miss?

A: Rock and roll and dance fans alike will delight in Pepperland, the new work by Mark Morris Dance Group that celebrates the Beatles' classic album St. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Theater lovers won't want to miss a new production of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, which had its premiere in Venice, staged with five actors of various genders, ages and ethnicities playing Shylock to explore the complex humanity of the Bard's most controversial character.

And children of all ages will be enchanted by the magic of A Billion Nights on Earth, a remarkable adventure on which a parent and child travel the world through a portal in their kitchen.

Q: Why do you think the festival has thrived for more than 20 years?

A: I think it's accessibility. For two weeks every June, venues across town - theaters, museums, lecture halls - open their doors to festival audiences from New Haven, across New England and all over the world. More than 80 percent of our programming is entirely free and our ticketed performances have a variety of affordable price points. Every year, more than 100,000 people from all walks of life come together for experiences they simply can't get anywhere but here at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas.

Wendy Pierman Mitzel can be reached at news@newhavenbiz.com

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