Artists find space, selves in Elm City

At times, we all despair. We see science slowly taking over all realms of knowledge, all of the vacant city properties. But before relinquishing all hope, why not take a stroll up to Science Park? On the weekend of Oct. 24, Science Park will be filled to its 200,000 square-foot capacity with artists. Many artists. As many artists as there are stars in the sky!

These 300 creators are but a fraction of the participants in this year’s City-Wide Open Studios. The six-year-old event was the brainchild of artSPACE executive director Helen Kauder, who drew influence from San Francisco Open Studios in modeling its New Haven analogue.

“1998 was a low-point in New Haven arts,” Kauder said. “Galleries were closing and there was general sense of a lack of opportunity. Open Studios was not only a way for people to hop around the city and learn about the art scene, but also to buy art at an affordable price.”

This strategy has proved immensely successful in New Haven’s case — last year, artists made more than $50,000 in sales from the event. But the financial yield is not the only draw of the event.

“Artists are excited about this for many reasons,” Kauder noted. “Some are hoping to sell; some to connect with other artists. Others are really interested in what the public has to say.”

In its present form, CWOS features artists from over 40 cities and towns in Connecticut, spanning the Shoreline, the Valley, and Fairfield County. Last year, it also attracted over 10,000 visitors. The coming together of so many art-lovers creates a unique forum for community dialogue.

“I started studying painting in New York City three years ago while I was working in the design arena,” Loretta Staples ’79 said. “Rent was very expensive, yet I didn’t think I could find a community of artists elsewhere. Last year, I happened to be visiting New Haven during City-Wide Open Studios. I was surprised to learn that there was so large a community of artists in New Haven. It wasn’t like that 20 years ago.”

Staples has since moved to New Haven and now lives on 75 Daggett Street in a renovated warehouse rife with local artists. For Open Studios, she plans to display small ink drawings as part of the Daggett Street exhibition.

Ben Guerette, a two-time CWOS artist, alternates his time between graphic design and video art.

Guerette’s art is anything but pre-planned — he assembles thousands of clips and mixes them to music in the gallery space itself. Last year, Guerette transformed part of the Pirelli Building into a “multimedia lounge” with dense, atmospheric sounds complementing abstracted film sequences. This year, his project is even more ambitious.

“I’m going to set up two screens and video cameras that viewers can walk between. Their recorded images will become a part of the audio-visual collage,” Guerette said.

In addition to participating as an artist, Guerette is serving as a CWOS site coordinator. He and 15 others are in charge of transforming 25 Science Park into the Alternative Space for more than 300 artists. The five-story, 200,000 square-foot building, once home to the Winchester Repeating Arms Factory, now finds itself in the ownership of Lyme Properties and on the path toward harboring a biotech company. In the interim, CWOS will transform the building into a thriving arts colony.

“The Alternative Space is a really unique aspect of the program,” Kauder said. “New Haven has a stock of historic, architectural spaces, and transforming them into alternative gallery spaces is one way of celebrating them.”

The area surrounding the 86-acre Science Park will also be transformed in the artistic frenzy. This past month saw the completion of a new half-mile section of the Farmington Canal Trail. The section, which begins behind Hammond Hall, home to the Yale sculpture facilities, runs up to Science Park before continuing into Hamden. During CWOS, this half-mile will be installed with sculptures of 12 Connecticut artists, as well as a series of oil drum pieces.

“Participants were told to take a standard oil drum structure and do what they want to wanted to it, be it welding or painting,” Erin Colley, CWOS press representative, said. “The project has generated both individual and collaborative pieces that will be on display until Nov. 1.”

CWOS commences its vast array of events tonight, with an opening exhibition from 5 to 8 p.m. at artSPACE, located at 50 Orange Street. For the first time in its history, the program will unfold over three weekends.

“In past years, people could not see all of the events over one, or even two weekends,” Kauder said. “This new calendar gives each group its due.”

Each weekend will be divided into specific localities. On Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 11 and 12, from 12 to 5 p.m., select artist studios and studio complexes will open for exhibition. Art-goers can jump between the spaces or take the guided bus and bike tours that CWOS offers.

The second weekend, Oct. 18 and 19, will focus on the Erector Square space, which will be open from 12 to 5 p.m. The complex, originally home to the Erector Set Factory, contains the largest concentration of artists in New Haven.

In its final weekend, the Alternative Space will premiere the works of 300 artists. Visitors may attend on Friday, Oct. 24 from 4 to 8 p.m. and from 12 to 5 p.m. on Oct. 25 and 26. The new portion of the Farmington Canal Trail is just the way to get students and faculty up to the space and more greatly involved in the vibrant New Haven art scene.

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Stephanie Dziczek
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