Hundreds of New Haven students, artists and art-lovers gathered Friday evening to mingle over free kombucha and discuss the 363 works that were put on display to celebrate the city’s vibrant arts scene.

Last Thursday saw the opening of Artspace’s 17th annual City-Wide Open Studios festival, a nearly monthlong event that allows New Haven artists of all experience levels to showcase their work in local spaces. This year’s theme is “Transported/Illuminated,” which refers to Artspace’s collaboration with another arts celebration named “Light Artists Making Places,” as well as the festival’s effort to transport viewers around the city to various art exhibitions.

“What’s great about CWOS is that it’s not a curated show,” said Katie Jurkiewicz, Artspace’s public relations coordinator. “It’s an opportunity for any artist who wants to get out there to put whatever work they’d like to show the community.”

Helen Kauder, Artspace’s executive director, said that New Haven has one of the highest ratios of artists per capita of any region of the country, adding that one of CWOS’s goals is to make the local community aware of this distinction through the large quantity of artwork featured in the festival. CWOS serves not only as an opportunity for the larger community to come to know local artists’ work but also for the artists to meet each other and plan collaborations, Kauder said, noting that this increased networking provides additional support to the local arts community.

This weekend, the festival’s “Alternative Space Weekend” offers artists the opportunity to showcase their work in the Goffe Street Armory, a vacant property that has been prominent in New Haven history. For next weekend, which is named the “Transported Weekend,” the festival will offer to transport visitors to various artists’ studios that are located across the Greater New Haven area. The festival will then end with its “Erector Square Weekend,” during which visitors will be able to visit many artist studios that are housed in a former factory on Peck Street.

CWOS’s engagement with New HavenAlexandraSchmelingartspaceshow-8 is one of its most important features, Jurkiewicz said. Of the nearly 400 artists participating in this year’s festival, some are established professionals, some are just beginning their careers and others are still students, she said. Artspace handles publicity for these artists and holds events to help promote their work, she noted. Jurkiewicz also said that nearly all of the festival’s events are free and open to the public, which allows participation from a large portion of the New Haven community.

CWOS’s only ticketed event this year will be a keynote address given by Tom Eccles, the executive director of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and the former director of the Public Art Fund in New York City. The event, which will be held this Friday at the Goffe Street Armory, will also feature guided tours of selected installations at the Armory. According to Jurkiewicz, this is the first year CWOS has included a keynote address.

This year, CWOS will continue to run bike and bus tours, offering an increased number of curated gallery tours, including one led by the University’s first lady, Marta Moret SPH ’84. Fritchey explained that the expansion in curated tours aims to help viewers who are not well acquainted with art learn more about the works they see and ask the artists the right questions.

Fritchey explained that because this year is Artspace’s second time using the Goffe Street Armory as an alternative space, the featured works will involve a greater degree of engagement with the space. She added that many of the 18 commissioned works — including a 23’ x 23’ kinetic balloon titled “Floatastic” and a series of 10 audio recordings coming out of lockers in the Armory’s former locker room — are site-specific and aim to use the space to its maximum capacity. The Armory’s layout requires some artists to share rooms, and learning how to negotiate space and potential collaborations is a valuable exercise, Fritchey said.

Local artist Leah Caroline, who is participating in CWOS for the second time this year, noted that the festival provides an opportunity to meet fellow artists and possible collaborators in the Elm City. Caroline will exhibit several nature-themed cyanotypes she made this summer in addition to her work on the collaborative project of a 12’ x 12’ pentagonal sukkah, a temporary hut traditionally created for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Last year’s CWOS theme was “reveille.”