Creating ripples through artistic community

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Photo by Robert Peck.

In the four months since its opening, an artistic initiative spreading throughout a bare Chapel Street building has grown to connect dozens of regional artists.

Since October 2011, the “Ripple Effect” art project housed at 756 Chapel St. has woven a web of creative interaction between artists in the Greater New Haven area. The project, which will continue until March, allows artists to “tag” and “poke” one another

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through works in a diverse range of media using the building’s three stories as a canvas. When one artist references another in his or her work, the tagger sends a letter inviting the referenced artists to add to the project, continuing an ever-growing chain of “ripples.” To date, 40 artists have contributed.

The project is the brainchild of Debbie Hesse, director of artistic services and programs for the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. Hesse said she created the project to bring together artists from multiple disciplines and regions.

“I would never be able to reach so many people from different [areas] of the region, from more urban artists to family collaborations from Westport and Madison to serious installation artists,” Hesse said. “I love being able to just set up the parameters and allow the project to create itself.”

Hesse said she had the idea for Ripple Effect several years before the project’s inception. She said she wanted to create a project that had a strong, driving concept while remaining process-oriented. She added that using terminology like “tag” and “poke” was a nod to social networks like Facebook and Twitter, which she hopes will help to clarify the exhibit’s interactive structure.

Arts Council Executive Director Cynthia Clair said she is pleased with the response the project has garnered in the arts community.

“Ripple adds another layer of activity to a mostly vacant space on Chapel,” Clair said. “Artists have responded to the space with a phenomenal range of work.”

Two such artists, David Sepulveda and Steve DiGiovanni, contributed a series of “wire jam” figures, made by twisting long lengths of metal wire into intricate shapes, to the building’s first floor. DiGiovanni said the creative process became playful as the ad-hoc, improvisational atmosphere of the building inspired him and Sepulveda. He said he wished the project could remain open longer, so that the collection could continue to grow.

Hesse said the environment of the building plays an important role in the creative process. Ripple Effect’s host building at 756 Chapel St., which currently houses a men’s clothing store on the first floor, was built in 1877 in an Italianate Victorian style. In the past, it has been home to numerous businesses including a barbershop, a dentist’s office, soda bottling machinery and a restaurant.

Insook Hwang, a local artist who contributed a wall drawing titled “Hi Love Kiss” to the building’s second floor, said in an email that she believes the energy of the building, now filled with art, will contribute to the development of businesses downtown.

“I feel this show will make a good example of how art and business can help each other, because we made the space full of people and energy,” she said. “At the opening, I was really happy to see people smiling at my works, which is my purpose in art: making people happy.”

In addition to the Ripple Effect display, 756 Chapel St. also accommodates performances and events through other community arts projects.

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