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With the help of Deborah Berke, dean of the School of Architecture, two graduates of the Yale School of Art are giving back to their University and the wider New Haven community by constructing a cutting-edge art space called NXTHVN in New Haven’s Dixwell neighborhood.

Founded by artists Jonathan Brand ART ’07 and 2018 MacArthur ‘Genius’ grant recipient Titus Kaphar ART ’06, NXTHVN aims to bring together professional and amateur creators alike to make art and promote ideas and techniques. Deborah Berke Partners, a design firm run by Berke, is working with Kaphar and Brand to renovate a former manufacturing plant at 169 Henry St., which NXTHVN purchased in May 2017.

“NXTHVN is going to be a place … where very serious artists make their work,” said Maitland Jones, a partner at Berke’s firm. “But it’s also going to be a place where people hang out, or meet people who are different from them, or meet people across the gulf of age, or socioeconomic status, or access to the arts, which is to say total neophytes will rub shoulders with professionals.”

According to NXTHVN’s website, the new $8 to $10 million center on Henry Street will contain 19 studios, a communal working space, a theater, a gallery and a locally owned coffee shop. Its offerings include curatorial and studio fellowships, both of which offer $35,000 stipends to curators and artists to promote their work in New Haven and in New York City. According to Jones, NXTHVN’s building should be completed in the late spring of 2019.

Jones said that NXTHVN will not exist as a bubble for professional artists, but will rather be a space that serves the New Haven community in a diverse set of ways. While NXTHVN is an arts center, it could also host lectures and cocktail parties, Jones added.

“The relationships between users and the way the building relates to its community crystallize when we begin to give it architectural form,” Jones said. “The way we’ve arranged this building is going to have a profound effect on the social discourses within it.”

According to Jones, NXTHVN originally contacted Berke Partners because they admired the firm’s work on the University’s Green Hall, which  hosts the Yale School of Art. The building boasts soaring windows and a minimalist interior.

About a third of the original building, which was once owned by laboratory supply company Macalaster Bicknell, will be demolished. New additions will be added to the old structure, blending older architecture with a more modern space.

A variety of partners, including the City of New Haven and the Yale University Art Gallery, have sponsored NXTHVN’s efforts. According to Peter Crumlish, executive director and general secretary of Dwight Hall, Dwight Hall has also aided NXTHVN’s development through both advice on organizational structures and financial assistance.

“I met Titus and he described his vision, and he really knew very clearly what he wanted,” Krumlish said. “Dwight Hall can offer fiscal sponsorship — which is something we do periodically for new projects while they’re getting on their feet, and he took me up on that.”

According to Jones, the project’s emphasis on community building is particularly evident in NXTHVN’s externship offerings to students at the nearby James Hillhouse High School. Jones said that students who enter the program will be able to shadow and interact with professional artists.

Kaphar, NXTHVN’s president and co-founder, is a renowned artist whose paintings feature African-American subjects in historical contexts. Kaphar’s work, which has won him several distinguished awards like the 2016 Robert Rauschenberg Artist as Activist grant, is currently on display in museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Seattle Art Museum.

Brand, also a co-founder of NXTHVN, works predominantly with sculptures and drawing, and a significant portion of his work is renderings of bicycles and other vehicles.

Valerie Pavilonis | valerie.pavilonis@yale.edu