The kickoff of the Seventh Annual City-Wide Open Studios on Friday gave art lovers the chance to meet local artists and enjoy a variety of artwork, including sculpture, watercolor and video, while listening to live jazz.

Artspace, a regional non-profit organization that organizes contemporary art events, held the grand opening reception of this year’s main exhibition at a former furniture factory turned art gallery on Orange Street.

Pieces included politically and ethnically influenced works and poetry as artwork. The crowd at the grand opening was equally eclectic, including students, New Haven locals, families and well-known art collectors.

“There is not any specific overall theme,” Artspace spokesperson Sarah Willett said. “There is huge diversity in the work, in terms of what is created and the medium used.”

The Open Studios are displaying the work of about 500 local artists for the next three weeks at locations around New Haven. Viewers can see a sample of work from each artist at the main exhibition and decide their interests in order to sign up for a free guided tour of the artists’ personal studios.

Artspace curator Johanna Bresnick said the main exhibition is designed as a way for gallery visitors to get a sense of every artist.

“[It is a] thumbnail of each artist’s work, a small taste so people can see what they are interested in,” she said.

Last weekend, 60 artists’ personal studios throughout New Haven were open for tours. Next weekend, the program will feature 100 artists with studios at Erector Square, a former toy factory that is now New Haven’s largest studio complex. On the last weekend, 300 artists will display their work in temporary studios in downtown New Haven.

“[The organization of the show] gives an intimate look at the way artists work and live,” Bresnick said.

Artspace Executive Director Helen Kauder helped create Open Spaces in 1997. Inspired by a similar idea in Northern California, Kauder said the founders tailored the concept to the New Haven community.

“The alternative space component is unique to New Haven,” she said. “It is a forum for artists to get a lot of visibility and meet each other — It brings the audience and artists together.”

Open Studios, a well-attended event, allows curators from galleries outside of New Haven to see the work of lesser known artists. Kauder said that she expected at least 1000 visitors at the main exhibition grand opening on Friday.

Bresnick said she expected Steve Holmes, curator for Real Art Ways in Hartford, Conn., to attend the exhibition to select artists for one of his gallery’s upcoming shows in June 2005.

While an important resource for the New Haven arts culture, Kauder said the Open Studios are particularly meaningful to the wide array of artists involved.

“It persuades artists to keep going, and gives [them] hope,” she said.

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