Tucked inside old, run-down office buildings, above downtown pizza restaurants and in the basements of churches are the studios of New Haven’s artists.

Artists, art collectors and curious locals surveyed these forgotten corners of eclectic New Haven art at Artspace’s 2009 City-Wide Open Studios event this past weekend.

The event brought together Elm City art lovers over two busy days of viewing, collecting and conversing about local art. The Open Studios weekend has celebrated the local art community for the past 12 years and continues to draw large crowds of viewers seeking to explore New Haven from a cultural perspective.

Artspace director Leslie Shaffer said New Haven fosters artists because of the affordability of studio space and the close proximity to the broader art world in New York City.

Three hundred artists participated in the festival this year, down from nearly 600 last year. Shaffer did not have an explanation for the decline in participation and said it was natural for numbers to change from year to year.

Despite the drop in involvement, artists said the community’s enthusiasm remained this year. All Connecticut residents were eligible to participate in the festival, and open studios dotted neighborhoods from downtown New Haven to Shoreline. Shaffer said this year, as always, there was a high concentration of artists at Erector Square.

The weekend kicked off with a reception Friday night at Artspace on Orange Street, where Dispersion, a juried exhibition showcasing 27 Connecticut artists, is currently on display. This is the second year Artspace has hosted a juried exhibition — a show that calls for art submissions that are then selected and curated by a juror. Dina Deitsch, assistant curator of contemporary art at Massachusetts’s DeCordova Museum, juried the submissions for this year’s Arstpace exhibit.

Open Studios gives locals a rare opportunity to peek into the working lives of the community’s artists, while also giving artists of different backgrounds the chance to showcase their work. Professionals and emerging amateur artists alike opened the doors of their studios, in addition to displaying work at a variety of venues ranging from galleries to restaurants to the attics of New Haven homes. The art exhibited featured multimedia and performance art, along with traditional media such as painting and printmaking.

Psychedelic Japanese toy paintings and sculptures by emerging artist “Lash” Richard Montanari were displayed next to Peter Webster’s rough, tactile, textured paintings at the “Gang of Four” show above the English Building Market on Chapel Street.

The motley “Gang of Four” exemplifies the value of a supportive art community, multimedia artist Tristan Robin Blakemen said. The four artists that make up the gang range in experience, age and medium, creating a rich collaborative experience, even if only for a weekend show, he said.

Many artists expressed the importance of community-wide collaborative events for the development of their work.

“Criticism from your colleagues is an important part of growing as an artist,” artist Gerald Saladyga said.

Echoed Montanari: “As an emerging artist, I have found the New Haven community to be extremely supportive.”

One artist who recently returned to New Haven after working in New York said the New Haven art community had been small and exclusive but that events like Open Studios have helped to bring artists together.