Artists Judith Kruger and Joy Bush met about a year ago through a mutual friend — and their common interest in taking nature walks and creating art from an environmental lens quickly striked a conversation. Today, their collaboration project, “A Place in Time,” finds itself among the various installations featured in The Exchange, a Connecticut-wide treasure hunt that takes residents from one artistic exhibition to another. 

The Exchange is the inaugural curatorial endeavor of SomethingProjects, a program that nurtures nomadic exhibitions of local art and challenges the community to critically explore the social issues that artists convey through their work. Co-directors Howard el-Yasin and Suzan Shutan hosted 24 Connecticut artists — across mediums and cities — in their treasure hunt, which has been ongoing since Aug. 15, 2022 and will last until Nov. 1, 2022. All participating artists were asked to write creative clues that help guide public visitors to their work, though if a challenge gets too difficult, the SomethingProjects has all the geographic coordinates published on their website. 

“We wanted to create a project that celebrated the acts of giving, receiving and exchange,” Shutan said in an interview. “There are so many artists in Connecticut that don’t really know each other, and The Exchange is a great way for artists to meet each other and have dialogue.”

El-Yasin and Shutan, who have been friends for about three decades, are no newcomers to the Connecticut art scene. Both artists in the Greater New Haven area, they take pride in sharing the work of local artists whose efforts they said may go unnoticed, as well as helping forge strong connections within the art community. They were happy to see that many of the submissions they received for The Exchange were not individual, but rather team projects that featured the collaborative work of multiple artists, they said. When considering submissions, el-Yasin and Shutan met individually with every artist group to discuss their ideas and offer suggestions on how their projects could be made more interactive to the public.  

Still, the name “The Exchange” encompasses more than the artist-artist “kind of exchange,” according to el-Yasin. He mentioned that a large motivator behind The Exchange was a desire to subvert traditional models of how spectators enjoyed art. Instead of featuring their artists’ work in “white cube” galleries indoors, he and Shutan wanted to experiment with presentation mediums that could strengthen both interfamilial relationships and the relationships that people had with their neighborhoods. The product was an artistic treasure hunt that residents could enjoy while simultaneously connecting with nature, an aspect of everyday life that had been largely inaccessible during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“There are ways of finding and experiencing art that we often take for granted,” Shutan said, citing walks in the park and family trips as engines for art exploration and appreciation. “What people forget is that you don’t have to go to New York and Boston for great artwork.”

She values drawing “new forms” of tourism to Connecticut, and said that SomethingProjects was in part an effort to bolster cities’ economic development. This development is a two-way street — she said that The Exchange was also fortunate to receive a grant from Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development to support its endeavors. 

In reinforcing an evolutionary philosophy of art that walks the fine line between being “ordinary” and “magical,” many of the installations in the Exchange were designed in a way for the public to physically interact with them. El-Yasin and Shutan hoped that by establishing this layer of intimacy, visitors would come to appreciate the idea that an artist’s imagination and voice extend into the community, unraveling the common challenges and joys that unite us despite our differences. 

Kruger and Bush’s installation, which is an environmental sanctuary stretching from parts of northern New Haven to Lake Wintergreen to Hampden, invited the public to leave their own creations and on-site marks, while other artists like Allison Hornak and Sierra Dennehy left prompts and questions “meant to initiate reflection about [the idea of] ‘refuse’ and our relationships to it.”

“[Visitors] added so much beauty to the place. They made little construction and sculptures from the natural materials they found around them. And when we first went back to see our installation, I almost burst out crying because it was just so wonderful that people actually participated,” Bush said.

Kruger added that after hanging several notebooks on trees for public visitors to leave comments in, they found two of them nearly completely filled with kind words and drawings. 

Though Kruger and Bush’s work specifically explored themes of free-spiritedness and environmentalism, The Exchange was alive with projects reflecting various themes, such as female labor, motherhood and the construction of personal identity. El-Yasin and Shutan are hopeful that in the coming years, SomethingProjects will continue supporting artists in their journey communicating these sociopolitical issues that matter to them and their worlds. The duo is currently working on two other initiatives: a curatorial exhibition at the Ely Center for Contemporary Art, which will open this Sept. 11, and a neighborhood platform for Open Source, previously CityWide Studios, in WestVille called “Hello Neighbor.” 

The Exchange’s installations can be found in both outdoor and indoor locations in Beacon Falls, Easton, Fairfield, Darien, Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury, New Haven, Meriden, North Haven, Hamden, Branford and Washington Depot.

The clues to The Exchange’s artworks can be found here.

Brian Zhang is Arts editor of the Yale Daily News and the third-year class president at Yale. Previously, he covered student life for the University desk. His writing can also be found in Insider Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, BrainPOP, New York Family and uInterview. Follow @briansnotebook on Instagram for more!