In early October, the local gallery ArtSpace kicked off City Wide Open Studios (CWOS) — a month-long contemporary art event in New Haven. The party, one of ArtSpace’s “artSPACE underground” soirees, featured live music and performance art in addition to installations that showcased a variety of mediums. A live band was set up in one corner, wine and grapes stationed in another. Modernist and traditional art was plastered on all of the walls — it was a classic opening night with an urban flare.
But while CWOS is “Connecticut’s leading visual arts event” (just ask the website), New Haven boasts a vibrant arts scene year round, in part because of the close relationship between Yale and the local arts community.
Joseph Smolinski, a professor at the University of New Haven and a multi-medium artist, moved to New Haven in 2002. He participated in CWOS in 2003, where he met several other local artists and curators.
“It was relatively easy to become connected in the New Haven art scene,” he said in an e-mail.
While New Haven is a small city, Smolinksi said he found that Yale’s art institutions provided interesting exhibitions and lectures that enhanced the community.
For Insook Hwang, an artist who combines traditional media with digital animation, it was the university itself that brought her to New Haven. Her husband is a scientist doing research here at Yale.
Even though she has lived in New Haven for four years, Hwang, too, has exhibited at ArtSpace and also teaches a mixed media class at Albertus Magnus College and the Educational Center for Arts in New Haven.
“I feel that New Haven and Yale are now my second hometown,” Hwang wrote in an e-mail. “They are very warm, welcoming, intellectual and nurturing.”
The Arts Council of Greater New Haven provides local artists the opportunities to present their work by supporting local artists and venues for them to showcase their work.
“I think we have a really lively, exciting arts scene here … we have a great community of artists, and the art institutions at Yale are very much a part of the local arts scene,” Council Executive Director Cynthia Clair said.
She cited the Yale Repertory Theater, Yale’s museums, the art students, and other Yale organizations that interact with New Haven to showcase their work as examples of this relationship.
But even though this relationship certainly exists, sometimes it’s a one-way street. Many students at the School of Art said they had little experience with the local arts because they were fully invested in their studies at Yale.
“We’re so smothered in our art all the time,” Kyle Coniglio ART ’12 said. “We’re just so focused on school that we don’t really have time to really participate in the New Haven art scene.”
When they do, the Yale artists generally take on opportunities that require a smaller time commitment so they can focus on in-school projects. For example, The Study at Yale, a hotel across the street from the School of Art, started to feature works by graduate students earlier this month. Students are even encouraged to prioritize projects at the School itself.
“Sometimes people will be offered shows in New York,” Caroline Chandler ART ’11 said. “But for the most part, it’s kind of frowned upon because you’re supposed to be focused on doing work here.”
Still, New Haven is the proud home to a flourishing arts community. With many places to showcase their work, artists make up a huge portion of the unique character of this city.
“There are certainly a lot of opportunities to show work, especially for a new, emerging artist,” Debbie Hesse — a local artist, curator and member of the Arts Council — said. “It’s all about being resourceful and bold.”