City artists open doors to public

Artspace, New Haven’s center for contemporary and community art, held Local Studios Weekend this past weekend, inviting the public to visit artists’ studios throughout the greater New Haven area.

Local Studios Weekend was part of Artspace’s 10th annual City Wide Open Studios program, a community-based arts festival that began Oct. 9 and will end on the 28th. Attendance was strong throughout the weekend, although very few Yale students made it out to see the studios, artists said.

The private studios were scattered throughout New Haven and its surrounding areas, from West Haven to downtown to Hamden. Studio venues ranged from galleries to vacated warehouses to backyard lawns, and Artspace hosted bus and bike tours to facilitate studio visits. The buses attracted older viewers, as they allowed riders to see numerous studios with minimum walking in between.

“We’ve been going to this ever since it began, and we usually take the bus,” said Brian Kolbin, a lifelong New Haven resident who came as part of an art club for singles. “Local Studios Weekend is one of the many wonderful facets of the New Haven art community.”

Community was a major theme of the weekend. Anyone who wanted the public to see his or her art simply had to fill out an Artspace application form. There was no judgment process or jury examination, and all artists who applied were admitted.

For Leslie Shaffer, the new executive director of Artspace, such openness is designed to attract a wide variety of artists and to create a sense of community and cooperation among all those who participate.

Many artists appreciated the community atmosphere of the event. They were in their studios to engage viewers in discussion about their works, they said.

“Open Studios is fantastic,” said Chris Joy, a working artist who put two of his pieces on display Saturday afternoon. “It’s a community-building thing … Even people who don’t participate still talk about it. You can tell they feel guilty for not showing their pieces.”

For Todd Jokl, an art instructor and coordinator at the University of New Haven, the community aspect of Local Studios weekend helps to give his students perspective on their own work and their status as artists.

“Any college environment can become very insular, and students need to break out of that sometimes,” said Jokl, who also works on the Artspace Visual Arts Committee. “Local Studios is a nice way for students to have their work seen by other people.”

Yale had a mixed presence in Local Studios. Many of the artists who opened their studios for the weekend have had some association with Yale in the past, either as undergraduates or as graduate students at the School of Art. Some Yale art instructors also put their work on display for the weekend.

Still, very few current Yale undergraduates were present at the studios. Some said that the low attendance indicated a larger disconnect between Yale undergraduates and the New Haven art community.

“The Yale community is separated,” said Katherine Wells ’08, who currently works as an intern at Artspace. “I think most Yale students rely on the British Art Center and the Yale University Art Gallery so much that they don’t really realize that there are other opportunities for art in New Haven.”

Howard el-Yasin, a student services officer at the Graduate School who displayed his work Saturday afternoon, also expressed disappointment that there were not more Yale students participating in Local Studios Weekend — or the New Haven Open Studios program in general.

“It’s too bad that Yale students don’t take advantage of this,” said el-Yasin. “The arts are really one of New Haven’s strengths, and students are missing out.”

Local Studios Weekend was the second in a succession of three public events that punctuate the three-week City Wide Open Studios. The first took place two weekends ago, with the artists of Erector Square Studios opening their doors to the public for two days; the third will occur next weekend, when Artspace will conclude City Wide Open Studios by hosting over 300 artists at the former Hamden Middle School.

For Shaffer, Local Studios Weekend plays an important part in completing City Wide Open Studios.

“Local Studios Weekend completes the package that is Open Studios,” she said. “By allowing any artist, professional or otherwise, to participate, Local Studios gives the public access to art they might not otherwise see.”

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