Poetry, music come free when Exact Change gets aboard

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
April 14, 2008

NEW HAVEN — Riders on the 1:30 p.m. bus from the Foxon Road Wal-Mart to the New Haven Green had an unusual trip Sunday as poets accompanied by guitar and bongo performed live.

The four buses arrived at the Green at about 2 p.m., and the participants continued to perform near the corner of Church and Chapel streets.

Exact Change was an effort of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, put on in partnership with Connecticut Transit.

The members of the Carlos Hortas Collective on the Wal-Mart bus came up with a theme for the afternoon that they chanted in between poetry: “Exact change is what you need for the ride/ Poetry comes free with your dollar twenty-five.”

The spoken-word poetry performances touched on topics from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to health care, to the role of the arts in society.

Carlos Hortas, leader of the group, said the goal was to engage with members of the New Haven community.

“Poetry is very good for this type of event because we all are just used to performing by ourselves without much backup,” Hortas said. “It’s basically taking what we normally do onto the bus.”

Jose Monteiro, director of community cultural development for the Arts Council, said Sunday’s event grew out of a similar one last fall that involved one bus that traveled from the Green to Lighthouse Point Park.

After having increased from one bus to four, Monteiro said he hopes the event will continue to grow in the future.

“It was very exciting, just as far as being able to bring arts to people who may not otherwise have the full experience of the downtown arts,” Monteiro said. “It’s art for the people of New Haven and by the people of New Haven.”

Cindy Clair, executive director of the Arts Council, rode the bus from Wal-Mart Sunday. She said the performances had two main motivations.

“One is to encourage people to take public transportation who don’t normally do that,” she said. “And also (to) give folks who normally take the bus hopefully a fun arts experience, and I think the surprise element is one of the really fun aspects of it.”

On the bus from Wal-Mart, some riders were pleasantly surprised by the performance, while other seemed less enthusiastic. After getting on, one woman asked, “Are they allowed to do that in here?”

Luis Galarza-Crespo, 17, said he enjoyed the show and appreciated the poets’ message.

“I like it — they’re speaking the truth,” he said. “It makes the ride more interesting. It brings life to New Haven, because culture’s dying out, that urban culture.”

Kelly Carter, of New Haven, was less happy with the performance. She said she was tired after staying up with schoolwork for her paralegal program.

“I think they should do it out in the open, not on a city bus, because not everyone wants to hear yelling and screaming,” Carter said.

Some observers had planned the trip specifically to see the performance Sunday. The Arts Council advertised with notices in local newspapers and posters on some buses.

“Not enough people in the community are exposed to stuff like that,” Natalie Jimenez said. “They kind of had no choice today.”

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