Courtesy of ArtEcon Initiative

On New Haven’s west side, art is for everyone, regardless of age or skill level. 

That’s the spirit ArtEcon Initiative Inc. is bringing to the Westville-West Rock neighborhood. The local nonprofit contends that art could look like a beginners’ painting course at a park, or a kids’ cooking class at the neighborhood restaurant, or a dance workshop at the local salsa studio.

Founded in 2016, the organization brings low-cost art programming for a breadth of ages and skill levels by forming and leveraging relationships with both community members and local institutions, from galleries to libraries to parks groups.

“We have classes in different locations throughout the village,” said Kate Henderson, who directs both the ArtEcon Program Director and the Kehler Liddell Gallery. “We had a kids’ cooking class at one of the restaurants. We’ve had kids’ dance classes at another one of the salsa studios.”

ArtEcon formed as an offshoot of ArtLoftsWest, or ArLoW, an affordable housing complex for working artists. The initiative works to provide ArLoW tenants and their neighbors with ample opportunities to explore different artistic mediums and creative cultures.

The group partners with various local and statewide organizations to fund dance, cooking, painting, photography and drawing workshops, which are financed by private donations from over 100 supporters as well as grants from The Pincus Family Foundation, the Mayor’s Neighborhood Cultural Vitality Grant, The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and the NewAlliance Foundation

Kim Healy, the executive director of NewAlliance Foundation, shared her belief in ArtEcon’s mission and said she was proud that her organization provides funding for the nonprofit. 

“NewAlliance Foundation has been proud to support ArtEcon with grants because it’s an important initiative that has strengthened Westville-West Rock which is a diverse and vibrant New Haven neighborhood, rich with talented artists of all ages and abilities,” Healy wrote in an email to the News.  

While grants and donations are used to subsidize the cost of programming for low-income participants and pay workshop instructors, ArtEcon depends on community partners to provide space for programming. Alisa’s House of Salsa, Edgewood Park, Sopa New Haven, New Haven Free Public Library and Kehler Liddell Gallery (KLG) all regularly host events. 

Kehler Liddell Gallery, which opened in 2003, is one of the longest-running galleries in New Haven. It operates as a juried collective, meaning that exhibiting artists must be voted in by a group of peers to gain membership. Henderson, as a director at both KLG and ArtEcon, encourages KLG members to engage with the nonprofit; many of the artists giving ArtEcon classes also hold exhibitions at the gallery.

Chris Ferguson, a New Haven painter, is one of the KLG members who doubles as an ArtEcon teacher. Ferguson has been painting and exhibiting his work for over two decades; to help invigorate the local art scene that has fueled his career, Ferguson teaches basic landscape painting workshops every two months,

“My students are all ages,” Ferguson said. “Some are much older, some middle-aged, some are much younger and also a variety of backgrounds too. I try to help the students to see that you don’t have to be someone who’s familiar with painting and drawing to participate in the classes.” 

In the summer months, Ferguson conducts classes at Edgewood Park. He finds that painting the actual landscape outside, rather than learning from a photo, is a unique and worthy experience for all types of participants. 

ArtEcon provides all materials for those that do not have their own, though the workshops do have registration fees or suggested donations between $10 and $30 that are used to pay staff and reinvest in programming. According to Henderson, ArtEcon uses “grant money or private donations” to provide financial assistance to anyone who can’t afford registration costs.

Currently, ArtEcon is holding open drawing sessions on the first Friday of each month, Painting the Landscape with Chris Ferguson on Oct. 15, Pinhole Photography on Oct. 18 and weekly seated and standing Zumba Gold classes on Fridays. There is also the Let’s Play! series, where Westville children ages 3-8 gather for stories, art and songs on the third Sunday of each month. 

“Being part of the Westville community, I definitely feel like I’m a part of something,” Ferguson said. “I feel like I’m a part of an era in the arts scene in New Haven. I really appreciate that. I’m very thankful for that.” 

Students and community members can keep up with ArtEcon programming by visiting their Eventbrite or Facebook pages. 

Elena is a Junior studying English and Education.