New Haven artists often complain that the city arts scene is weak. But City-Wide Open Studios has just finished its fourth year of operation, leading many to realize that enthusiasm for the arts does exist in New Haven — it’s just not always visible.
New Haven’s fourth annual City-Wide Open Studios has drawn to a close after two weeks of operation in October. As part of the largest open studios event on the East Coast, over 300 area artists opened the doors to their studios and also exhibited their works in “alternative spaces” such as empty storefronts, old factories and outdoor lots.
Executive Director Helen Kauder of Artspace, the group responsible for organizing CWOS, said the program aims to give artists a place to exhibit their work and socialize with their colleagues.
“The program gives great visibility to the arts here,” Kauder said.
Kauder said more than $50,000 in sales were recorded in this year’s program.
CWOS also has a revitalizing function. Kauder said that in comparison to 1998, the program’s first year, New Haven now has fewer vacant spaces.
“We’re turning our liability into an asset,” she said.
Lynn Wasser, an artist and CWOS site coordinator, said the program has grown exponentially since it was formed. Part of Wasser’s job is assisting artists in the utilization of the alternative spaces. Exhibiting in old buildings and abandoned stores requires the artists to clean up the area, deal with imperfect lighting and otherwise prepare the space in the time leading to the show.
Kauder, who has been with CWOS since its beginning, has watched it grow from a one-weekend event to a two-week long show. She said the growth of the program has brought with it a diversification of exhibited works as well as an improvement in their quality.
City artists have also been enthusiastic about the program. Matthew Feiner, a collage-based mixed media artist, said he left New Haven nine years ago because he felt the art scene was not supportive of young artists. He returned with the intention of staying for a year, but has been here for three years because his perception of the city’s art scene has changed.
“This program is different from anything that has gone on here before” Feiner said.
He added that CWOS serves an important function in a city that is quickly becoming a suburb of New York.
“It’s hard to get a show in New Haven,” he said. “A lot of New York based, established artists have shows here. For people who haven’t necessarily had a show in a gallery before, it can be hard to get space.”
Pedro Martin De Clet, a mixed media artist and two-year participant in CWOS, said he would like to see the city continue to open art spaces.
“I’m one of those people who is disappointed by all the empty buildings,” he said. “I’d like to see this event grow even more, from a once-a-year event to something continuous.”
Wasser said she sees a similar future for CWOS.
“There’s not as much diversity as I’d like to see,” Wasser said. “City-Wide Open Studios, though, is at the forefront of the art scene.”
Photographer Gail Zucker said that considering New Haven’s size, the city’s art scene is strong.
“In comparison to places like Hartford and Springfield, the art scene here is fabulous,” Zucker said. “There’s an incredible amount of energy here.”