Next weekend, the local gallery Artspace will travel through time, celebrating its 30th anniversary with a “Back to the Future”-themed gala.
The nonprofit organization, dedicated to fostering artistic activities in the New Haven community, was founded in 1986. According to Helen Kauder, Artspace’s executive director, the center grew out of the efforts of a cultural task force, assembled by then-Mayor Ben DeLieto after budgetary constraints had forced the last-minute shelving of a city plan to create a community gallery for local artists. Over the course of its 30-year existence, Kauder said, the organization has served more than 6,000 artists.
“When Artspace was first created, it was very much for artists, and by artists. It was a hub — a place where artists living and working in the region could meet each other, share ideas and network with professionals in the art world,” Kauder explained.
Today, Artspace remains a reference point for local creatives, she noted, adding, however, that since its founding, the organization’s mission has grown to place greater emphasis on the broader public in addition to practicing artists. In its three decades of existence, Artspace has expanded to become more community oriented, and now seeks to use art to supplement conversations taking place in the Elm City as well as further afield, Kauder said. Along these lines, she highlighted an upcoming collaboration between Artspace and the Yale School of Public Health, focused on nutrition in New Haven. The project encourages residents to discuss health issues in their communities, and participating neighborhoods will be joined by a live illustrator who will synthesize ideas discussed during the events into a graphic visualization.
“In that way Artspace is now a catalyst,” Kauder said. “Art catalyzes people’s thinking. It catalyzes artistic activities. It shows people that art can happen outside gallery walls.”
Zoe Dobuler ’17, an intern at Artspace, emphasized the organization’s inclusiveness, adding that she thinks it is this quality in particular that sets Artspace apart from other art institutions in New Haven.
“In terms of engaging local artists, and engaging New Haven as a community, Artspace is better equipped to do that than [the Yale University Art Gallery] or the Center for British Art,” Dobuler noted. “It does a good job engaging different segments of the population. For example, it has done an exhibition about gender identity, by queer artists. It has also done an exhibition with people who don’t speak English as a first language. It’s amazing at making the art world a very inclusive space.”
Kauder added that Artspace has established itself as a “cultural landmark” in New Haven, alongside institutions like the Shubert and Long Wharf theaters. In a statement describing Artspace’s role within the New Haven community, Robert Storr, dean of the School of Art, emphasized the organization’s importance as a local arts institution.
“Even the most adventurous of institutions with a mandate to preserve history has a limited capacity to promptly identify, exhibit and make curatorial sense of artistic current events and creative breaking news,” Storr said. “Artspace is this city’s oldest and yet still most agile example of such a venue, a place where anyone and everyone is welcome to see for themselves that things are being made in their midst.”
The organization’s 30th year has provided a moment for reflection, Kauder said, adding that recently, Artspace curators and staff have been combing through the center’s archives and studying how artists have explored particular questions from different perspectives in some of Artspace’s “seminal” shows. For example, Kauder compared last fall’s “Hello World” exhibit, which featured work by queer artists, to the 2003 show “Boy’s Life,” focused on the issue of masculinity. Both exhibits, she said, considered gender and sexuality, though the artists may have taken diverse approaches to the theme.
In order to ensure future financial security, Kauder added, Artspace has also taken the 30-year milestone as a chance to intensify fundraising efforts. The organization has begun working toward a $2 million endowment, and has raised $400,000 to date.
Audrey Storm ’18, one of Artspace’s student interns, said she is certain the institution is “here to stay.”
“New Haven isn’t really known for its art scene, but I get the impression that the people of New Haven want to keep it alive,” Storm noted. “The people that I meet at Artspace all seem so dedicated and so committed to the institution — it will definitely be here for another 30 years.”