Artspace to lose two top staff members

After nearly a decade at the helm of New Haven’s avant-garde flagship Artspace, two of the gallery’s top staff members will be bound for new ports this summer.

Executive Director Helen Kauder and Gallery Director Denise Markonish are both scheduled to leave the gallery in July. Their departure signals the end of an era for Artspace, in which it moved from the basement of Caffe Adulis to its current location in the old Chamberlain Furniture factory on the corner of Orange and Crown streets. The gallery is now seeking new leadership with an eye to perpetuating a host of innovative programs that have reached beyond the usual gallery clientele.

Markonish, who joined Artspace in November 2002, said she was amazed by the richness and intensity of New Haven’s artistic community when she arrived from her previous job in Boston.

“The art scene in New Haven was one of the biggest surprises when I got here,” Markonish said. “I’d really had no idea what it was going to be like, but it’s huge. And Artspace tries to support all those artists, to give them some exposure so people know what’s actually going on with the arts in New Haven.”

Under Markonish’s guidance, Artspace has regularly featured exhibits that harness the diverse styles of area artists in an attempt to explore specific themes. “Don’t Know Much About History” tackled various interpretations of the past, while “Factory Direct” examined industry and “Why Look At Animals?” turned a curious eye toward nature.

“I really look forward to being able to show the work of some New Haven artists at my next job,” said Markonish, who is headed for a position at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

Artspace has also supervised numerous projects to involve New Haven’s youth in the arts. The annual summer apprenticeship program, entering its seventh year, allows a dozen local high school students to work with an acclaimed artist-in-residence for several weeks. The program’s first resident was Sol LeWitt, the famed exponent of Conceptualism who passed away Sunday.

“Artspace is about creating a kind of forum for audiences and artists to meet,” Kauder said. “It’s also the only kind of space in Connecticut that gives visibility to the arts in a major downtown area.”

Arguably one of Artspace’s longest-running, most successful programs, City-Wide Open Studios has for the past 10 years afforded New Haven residents the chance to meet more than 500 area artists and to enjoy their work in a variety of settings. In October 2006, patrons were treated to receptions not only at Artspace but also at the artists’ home studios, at the site of a former toy factory and at an abandoned middle school.

Efforts such as City-Wide Studios and the summer apprenticeship have helped make New Haven a minor cultural gem, Kauder said, where artists are able to find new and innovative ways to connect with their audiences.

Yale students play their part in advancing Artspace’s mission. Katherine Wells ’08 is currently helping to organize “50,000 Beds,” a joint project between Artspace, Real Art Ways in Hartford and the Aldridge Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, where Kauder will become deputy director over the summer. The brainchild of artist Chris Doyle, “50,000 Beds” will dispatch more than 40 artists to hotel rooms around Connecticut, where they will make short films about their experiences. It is scheduled to open at the end of July.

“This project is pretty unusual in that it involves 3 different galleries,” Wells said. “It’s a lot of work, but it should turn out to be quite interesting.”

The project is part of Artspace’s ever-widening scope under the guidance of Kauder and Markonish.

“One legacy of ours over the last 10 years, I hope, is that New Haven has really become a magnet for the arts,” Kauder said. “And I think that’s only become more and more true.”

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