Elm City’s art world braces for recession

With the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeting, declarations of a recession and Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s grim warnings, the New Haven art world has been worried about the growing financial crisis and how it will affect the scene here in Connecticut.

In the uncertain economic atmosphere, several members of the arts community interviewed expressed fear about what the future holds for their financial health. While the arts councils and galleries have qualms about the logistics of funding, individual artists are concerned about the costs of day-to-day living for those in creative professions.

The Arts Council of Greater New Haven said it has not seen any immediate effect of the crisis on its budget, but the stakes are high even for a nonprofit organization; it depends on charitable donations to survive.

The council was created in 1964 to improve access to the arts in New Haven, but with a dwindling art market and fewer people willing to give, it may have to scale back its operations. Up until this point, the Art Council’s activities have been constantly expanding. It sponsors events such as the annual Arts Awards around the city and has organized exhibitions in more than five galleries across the city.

Barbara Feldman, the director of development and marketing for the Arts Council, said that the Arts Council was “very concerned” about state funding.

“We’re already working on strategies how we’re going to advocate to the legislature about the importance of preserving the funding for arts and tourism,” she said.

Asked about what she has seen in the past few weeks with regards to the crisis, Feldman said she has seen “a couple of interesting fundraising letters asking people to not forget the arts.”

“Everybody’s worried about small businesses, which provide funding to the larger businesses which do provide some funding; we’ve already seen some banks close, and banks are the major authors of corporate support in this community,” she added.

But she did say that local banks have been performing well, though she still questions whether people are going to be as generous as they have been in the past.

“We in the arts world are particularly vulnerable, because there are basic human needs that are obviously important,” she said. “We don’t want to see ourselves pitted against the needs of hunger and homelessness.”

Despite the vulnerability of the arts, at the Hull’s One Whitney Gallery’s second annual Open Studios Encore, the room was packed for the opening of the exhibit on Nov. 13, and interest in the works was still high.

Barbara Hawes, the organizer of the event, said that the worries in the New Haven art world had been recently compounded by the fact that, in recent sales, works by eminent artists such as Claude Monet, Henri Matisse and Francis Bacon have not sold at the expected price in the big auction houses in New York and London.

“It made us think, ‘Wow, you’d think people in the upper echelon were not going to be affected, but even they’ve been caught,’ ” she said. “Now, we’re waiting to see what the new administration is going to do for the economy.”

The gallery is intended to be a home for Connecticut artists to sell their works. Another New Haven commercial gallery, White Space, declined to comment on the financial crisis.

But Hawes argued that now could be one of the best times to buy artwork. “People are very nervous about the stock market and art is something tangible, uplifting and real … it will appreciate in value, ” she said. She added that she felt that many New Haven artists were going to become “very important” while others were already well established.

Young artist Silas Finch, a New Haven-based sculptor whose work is being shown in the windows of the Open Studios Encore event, was optimistic about the prospects for his art, but said that other artists were not so sure.

“Most of us are just scraping a living, so what the future holds, I don’t know,” he said.

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