Even in the absence of retailers, New Haven is putting empty storefronts around the city to good use.
Project Storefronts, a program initiated in April 2010 by the city’s Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism, is a “marriage between economic development and the creative,” said Margaret Bodell, the manager of Project Storefronts. Through the project, the city negotiates with local business owners to lease empty store locations for 90 days, allowing arts-related businesses selected through a competitive application process to occupy the locations.
“These spaces allow [artists] the opportunity to test the viability of new, innovative business and retail initiatives,” Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy said. “They also educate [artists] about what it takes to be a successful businessperson.”
Murphy said the project began as an effort to revive inactive commercial areas in the city. She added that the project seeks to increase foot traffic around sponsored locations, draw shoppers and entice potential tenants to open businesses in nearby areas. The Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism chose arts businesses to fill the spaces in order to encourage creativity and awareness of arts and culture around the city, Murphy said.
Project Storefronts’ main initiative is “Studio 756,” a collection of various artistic projects housed in 756 Chapel St., Bodell said. This location plays host to numerous artistic events related to Project Storefronts, including weekly information sessions about goings-on in the local artistic community led by Bodell and the recently completed “Ripple Effect” exhibit, a multimedia project created by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. In April, the location will host a series of jewelry-making workshops.
Since Feb 14, 756 Chapel St. has housed “Intercambio,” a community arts organization focused on informational exchange between different artistic disciplines, Murphy said. Intercambio holds performances, arts workshops, readings and vendor fairs and aims to provide cultural support for artists in the New Haven area, she said.
Arts Council Executive Director Cynthia Clair said that in 2010 the Council awarded Project Storefronts an Arts Award, which annually recognizes individual artists and organizations in the Greater New Haven area for their work in the visual, performing and literary arts.
Bodell said Project Storefronts, currently in its early stages, will seek to expand its scope after becoming more established. Currently, the spaces contracted through Project Storefronts are limited to the Ninth Square District, she said, adding that one goal of the project is to expand into other parts of the city.
Bodell said other Connecticut cities, including Bridgeport, Hartford and Torrington, have all begun experimenting with similar programs that bring the arts to economic initiatives. The Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism hopes to act as a resource for these cities as they expand their own projects, she added.
“New Haven is trying to mentor [similar projects] and share our information,” Bodell said.
Project Storefronts is funded by the city, the New Haven Economic Development Corporation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the New England Foundation for the Arts.