Elm City Artists’ gallery is portrait of new art scene

The former site of Clinton’s Piano at 60 Whitney Ave. has received a new boost of energy from an emerging scene in New Haven — the visual arts.

A group of eight painters who call themselves the Elm City Artists opened a gallery in the 4,000-square-foot University Properties space in November 2003. While they originally anticipated the gallery to be a short-term, holiday-season project, high sales and positive public feedback convinced Yale and the group of artists to lease the space for six more months.

Elm City Artist John Cooney said the success of the gallery has far exceeded his expectations. He said since their opening, the gallery has sold 30 paintings and received numerous compliments.

“Almost everybody that comes in just loves the space — not everyone can afford, or not everyone decides to buy, but it’s very encouraging,” he said.

In the past, he said his group had gone to other galleries or worked independently to sell their art, but as a result was not very successful. Currently, the artists take turns covering gallery hours and selling each other’s work. At least 25 people visit every day, and the gallery is selling just as well now as it was during the holiday season.

“We’re all looking forward to having a successful six months,” he said.

Cooney, who was born in New Haven, said the city’s art scene has been progressing well.

“I like what’s going on now — New Haven seems to be interested in the arts, and Yale has helped us an awful lot with this,” Cooney said.

David Newton, director of University Properties, said while the gallery is a short-term project, he has been pleased with the gallery’s contribution to the Audubon-Whitney District. He said the area, which now contains establishments such as Gourmet Heaven II and The Toy Store on Audubon, has become a safer and more welcoming area, similar to the ways in which the Chapel Street and Broadway districts have improved over recent years.

“The visibility of artists along a well-traveled street allows us to keep it open, lit and attractive,” Newton said.

He added that University Properties is currently searching for a more long-term occupant for the space, bearing in mind the “family-friendly and arts-oriented” nature of the district.

Susan Smith, executive director of the Creative Arts Workshop on Audubon Street and associate master of Branford College, said she was glad to see the gallery open because it helps give much needed exposure to the visual arts in New Haven. Although the city encourages a lively performing arts scene, the visual arts scene lags behind. She said with more galleries such as the one on 60 Whitney Ave., which is on street level at a prime location, the visual arts could thrive.

“I’ve been here 20 years, and the arts have sort of come into their own as far as the city and business community realizing that they have a ready asset here — they’re promoting the city through the arts,” Smith said.

The Elm City Artists have been meeting for the past eight years to draw and paint. Cooney said the artists do a variety of artwork that is mostly representational, including expressionistic, impressionistic, realistic and some modern art. The Gallery is open from 11 to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.

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