Appreciating Artists at Work

Welcome to the district.
Welcome to the district. // Yale

Coffee in hand, I walked with a friend past TDHeav and took a right. A little off the beaten path for most Yalies and across from Koffee? with a K, a photography public art installation lines the windows of an empty building. Located in New Haven’s Audubon Arts District, the exhibit, “Artists at Work,” features photos by Chris Randall of local New Haven artists practicing their craft. The installation aims to show artists as integral parts of the workforce and inspire young artists to “pursue their dreams” and a career rooted in their creative passions.

The first picture is of dancer Adele Meyers. The image is the size of a poster, and her leg is gracefully kicked back. She appears confident and at ease in her motion. In an accompanying blurb in the window, she answers a series of questions. “I have been an artist as long as I have been alive. I do not differentiate who I am from what I do,” she says, responding to the question of how long she has been an artist.

The next window reveals a photo of historian and biographer Debby Applegate, a woman armed with a pen and a smile. The following images show a violinist, a spoken word poet, a graphic designer and a flamenco dancer. A singer holds a microphone to his lips. A painter stands proudly in front of his exhibition, arms behind his back. An actor practices lines while pointing at his reflection in the window. Behind each photograph, the empty rooms of the vacant building loom.

The conversation that the window installation explores — the role of the arts in our community and economy — is particularly relevant at a time in which the arts are being criticized as unimportant more than ever. An exhibit of this nature has a lot to offer in way of countering this marginalization. Indeed, the exhibit’s greatest asset is that it provides fledgling creators with the images of role models in their industry. Ultimately, these hopeful artists can envision the value of their creative talents within the marketplace, as it speaks to a variety of different, profitable paths, such as graphic design and trade book illustrating.

The execution of the space, however, is ineffective. The location — an empty storefront — makes the installation feel more like a promotion for the building than an ambitious artistic endeavor. The photos and text themselves come across more as an ad campaign than an exhibition. Each photograph is not particularly aesthetically interesting. Each seems to portray the career more than a portrait of the individual. They are not remarkable for their composition. This lack of intrinsic beauty of the pieces, coupled with the installation’s clear agenda, challenges the importance of the art itself.

The actual timing of the exhibit is also puzzling. An installation that can only be viewed while outdoors is inane in the winter. The average passerby is thinking only of reaching the next heated location, not about stopping to admire a poster in the window.

Because the spirit of the exhibit is valuable — its construction simply subpar — the series of photographs would likely fare better online. As the project’s goal is to generate conversation among viewers and extol the work of local artists, an online ad campaign would project these goals to a much larger audience. Perhaps a forum for discussion and even mentorship could emerge from a website. The exhibition as it is, however, fails to pique the interest of the casual New Haven onlooker.

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