With boxes of spray paint in tow, graffiti artists arrived at Coogan Pavilion in New Haven’s Edgewood Park this weekend with the goal of covering the pavilion — and the quarter pipes, handrails and banked ramps of the adjacent skate park — in color.
Organized by local nonprofit Site Projects, the two-day event — which took place alongside talks from artists, dancers and others involved with the American hip-hop scene — was open to the public as a part of the organization’s “Art in the Park” series.
The skate park at Coogan Pavilion is a popular hangout for New Haven youth from the surrounding Westville neighborhood and is a prominent feature of New Haven’s skater scene. Until recently, it was covered with spray-painted tags. Site Projects’s weekend-long event drew members from all over New Haven, including the skaters who frequent the park.
Site Projects, which has been an active part of New Haven’s art scene since 2004, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. According to Executive Director Laura Clarke, Art in the Park is just one facet of Site Projects’ plans to mark their 10th year in the Elm City.
“When we started, we said that New Haven had fantastic theater. It had everything you would want from museums, and great performing arts. What it didn’t have was temporary art in public places that was really chosen for and accessible to everybody. That’s where we saw a niche,” said Clarke, who is also one of Site Projects’ co-founders.
To do this, Site Projects commissions work from prominent international artists for installation in “spaces not typically associated with art,” according to its website.
In its 10 years of activity in New Haven, Site Projects has tackled a variety of installations and events — from Jason Hackenwerth’s jumbo balloon dinosaurs installed alongside the Peabody’s fossil collection in 2006, to Yvette Mattern’s laser light sculpture, “Night Rainbow,” which cut across the New Haven sky for three nights in April of 2013.
But according to Clarke, although the projects have consistently delighted the community, not all of Site Projects’s undertakings have come easily.
Because they rely primarily on private donations and grants, the recession threatened the progression of one of Site Projects’s most well-recognized contributions to the city: Italian muralist Felice Varini’s “Square with Four Circles.”
“It was supposed to cost about $200,000. In 2008, we weren’t too worried about that,” Clarke said. “But in 2009, the crash happened. We didn’t know what to do. We were stunned.”
Instead of giving up, she said, the group sought money from donors outside of New Haven.
Varini’s large red mural, completed in 2010 and still painted onto surfaces in the alleyway next to Zinc Restaurant on Chapel Street, continues to be one of Site Projects’ most well known installations.
“I think it transforms the urban space from an alley to a work of art that you want to return to,” said Ivy Sanders-Schneider ’17, who frequently passes the mural on her way to DJ at WYBC Yale Radio.
The success of the Varini mural contributed to Site Works’s new focus on permanent installations, such as their graffiti project in Edgewood’s skate park. As coordinated with New Haven’s Parks Department, the murals will be around for a minimum of one year, after which the community will decide whether to keep or paint over them.
Rebecca Levinsky ’15, a member of the Yale Center for British Art student-guide program and a former production and design editor for the News, said that the experience of seeing art in public is inherently different from viewing it in a museum. Although she is not familiar with Site Projects, she said there is value in the type of public art the organization is commissioning.
“When you see art in a museum, it’s not just you and the art. It’s you and the art and the descriptive texts,” she said. “When you take the effort to approach art in the public, it’s just you and the artwork.”
In the organization’s 10th year, Clarke said, reflection on their past work is as important as planning for the future of the organization.
“We want to talk about how public art has changed in New Haven, and in the country, and even around the world. The role of Site Projects changed because people have started bubbling up who want to participate in community art. I’ve always said that one day there won’t be a need for Site Projects anymore.”
As part of its plans for this year, Site Projects has announced a series called “Catalyze + Celebrate: Commissions + Conversations,” intended to spur conversation about the role of art in the public realm. The organization also plans to launch ArtSites:NewHaven, a curated digital app dedicated to documenting New Haven’s public art, both commissioned and non-commissioned.