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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

City-Wide Open Studios 10th anniversary, Friday night opening

City-Wide Open Studios Main Exhibition
50 Orange St., New Haven, (203) 772-2709
City-Wide Open Studios
Opening reception Fri., Oct. 12, 5—8 p.m. Ends Oct. 28, 2007.

Much of this post has previously been published in the Oct. 2007 issue of The Arts Paper, put out by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. Changes have been made to reflect new information.

October is the month that goblins come out. And witches and princesses, superheroes, ghosts and commercial rubber-masked movie slashers.

And, in New Haven, artists. The last three weekends of the month have become the traditional dates for City-Wide Open Studios, a program of Artspace. And this year is special: it marks the 10th anniversary of City-Wide Open Studios.

CWOS has become the state's premier visual arts festival. The three-week long endeavor enables hundreds of artists to showcase their work—and often the process of creating that work-—for thousands of visitors. Artspace, located in New Haven's 9th Square district, is the hub. Every participating artist gets to show one work in the Artspace main gallery for the duration of the event. Artspace is the departure point for bus and bike tours and the go-to point for maps to studio locations.

For new Artspace executive director Leslie Shaffer—who succeeded Helen Kauder, a co-founder of CWOS, in July—the event gives her "the opportunity to see all the artists at one time." Formerly the Curator of Education at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., Shaffer has attended Open Studios events in Baltimore in the past. She likened it to a "treasure hunt" where visitors "get a diversity of artists, and find artists who were unfamiliar to you in the past."

A "media blitz" is planned for the 10th anniversary, Shaffer says. There will "special paraphernalia and collateral material--stickers, coffee sleeves, shirts and tote bags," designed by Rachel Berger. Berger, Schaffer says, has been "very creative in her interpretation of '10th' and has found lots of interesting reference material to pull into the campaign." According to Artspace Program Coordinator Laurel Coniglio, a pullout guide in the Advocate alternative weekly newspaper chain will include a centerfold "listing the names of all the artists who have ever shown at Artspace from 1986 on, including exhibitions, the Flatfile or CWOS."

CWOS is also receiving 10th anniversary funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. The money will be used for the Lasso Project, a public art exhibit in 9th Square storefronts (including Artspace windows) that will begin concurrently with CWOS and extend into December. Lasso Project co-curator Joseph Smolinski sees it as something of a "City-Wide Open Studios alumni project." All of the nine or so participating artists have been involved in CWOS in the past and most of them are also alumni of either Yale, Southern Connecticut State University or the Educational Center for the Arts magnet arts high school.

The artists are Johanna Bresnick, Bonnie Collura, Michael Donovan, Frank Gardner, Baptiste Ibar, Marie Lorenz, Tavares Strachan and Kitty Sweet Winslow.

"Open Studios always invigorates the city. It changes it into something else," says Smolinski. "Abandoned buildings suddenly become these art galleries. In the same way, this project is trying to engage interesting spaces around 9th Square and create installations different from what you would normally see in those windows."

Because the works will be designed to be seen from the outside looking in, organizers are creating an audio tour. There will be phone numbers viewers can call from their cell phones to get information about a specific project. It is a way, Smolinski says, of making the art more accessible to the public.

As in the recent past, Shaffer says the CWOS schedule is designed to showcase artists in different locations on the successive weekends. The CWOS opening is on Friday, Oct. 12, at the main gallery. That first weekend is devoted to artists who have studios in the Erector Square complex in Fair Haven. Individual studios and small studio complexes in New Haven neighborhoods and some nearby suburbs are the focus of the second weekend, with bus and bike tours available. The final weekend is devoted to the alternative studio space.

The alternative space has become a fixture of CWOS. Each year a different location is secured to host hundreds of artists who don't have a CWOS-accessible studio arrangement. Past vacant properties that have become temporary art exhibition malls have included last year's Hamden Middle School, the Pirelli Building and the Smoothie Building.

Originally, the plan was for this year's alternative space to be housed at Prescott Bush, a former New Haven Housing Authority elderly housing complex in the Newhallville neighborhood that is slated for renovation. But according to Artspace Communications Director Jemma Williams, organizers were forced to make a late change of plans. Some of the cabinetry that CWOS organizers had expected to be removed was being retained, significantly reducing the available wall space.

"We would have been forced to downsize the number of artists who requested the alternative space," says Williams.

Facing necessity and time constraints, CWOS arranged to once again site the alternative space at the former Hamden Middle School, the same location as last year. This is the first time a space has had repeat use. The contract with Hamden requires that the space be returned to the same or better condition as last year. This may put an unfortunate crimp in some artists' creativity.

"We're trying to dissuade people from painting in crazy colors and painting the floors," Williams says. The plan is to make the spaces white and encourage artists to return them to white if they make any changes for the weekend.

"We're limited to what we're allowed to do in the space," Williams notes. "We don't want to limit artists but we're obligated to our contract."

According to Shaffer and Coniglio, there will be a new twist at the alternative space this year. There will be a community room and family workshops for local residents. Plans for an oral history project about former tenants of Prescott Bush had to be scrapped and attention instead will be turned to the surrounding Hamden neighborhood.

For most of the participating artists, CWOS is a spur to create new work. Eileen Eder, a highly regarded painter who has shown in her Erector Square studio from CWOS' inception, says that the recognition that she has repeat visitors from year to year is an incentive to have new paintings on hand. They needn't be finished works.

"People want to be in your working space, not in a clean gallery," Eder says. Having work in progress, no matter what stage it's in, can be interesting to visitors and a spur to conversations about artistic process.

"Whether you sell anything or not—and that's certainly nice—there is a reward in itself just knowing you have a group of people who are interested and appreciative," says Eder. "And a large group at that. I have easily 300 people coming through my studio on the weekend."

Kevin Van Aelst, a conceptual photographer, is a more recent participant in CWOS, having shown in the alternative space the past two years. Coming from out of town—he lived in the Hartford area when he first participated and has since moved to New Haven-—Van Aelst found CWOS a perfect forum both for exposing his work to a wide public and connecting with the community of local artists.

"It lets people gain respect for New Haven culture," says Van Aelst. "And the fact that so many artists here know each other and have a camaraderie helps that a lot. It feels like a giant, close-knit community."

For more information check out City-Wide Open Studios online at

From the CWOS Press release:

City-Wide Open Studios 10 Program Schedule
Complete details and an official Map and Guide with all CWOS locations will be available at Artspace and in the New Haven Advocate on October 4th.

• Grand Opening, October 12, 5-8 p.m.
Come to Artspace to celebrate the kick-off of the 10th annual City-Wide Open Studios. Mingle with artists and art enthusiasts, and see one piece by each of the 400 artists involved. Cash Bar.

• Main Exhibition, October 9-28, Gallery hours: Sun.-Tues., 12-5 p.m.,
Wed.-Sat., 12-8 p.m. featuring one work by all participating artists, on view at Artspace.

• Weekend One, Erector Square, October 13 and 14, 12-5 p.m.
315 Peck Street, New Haven. Features 80+ artists with studios at Erector Square, New Haven's largest studio complex, in the former Erector Set factory.

• Weekend Two, Local Studios, October 20 and 21, 12-5 p.m.
Highlights artists in their individual studios and small studio complexes. Studios on New Haven's West side, including West Haven, Westville, and downtown, will be open on Saturday, October 20. Studios on the East side, including East Rock, Wooster Square, North Haven, Hamden, and East Haven, will be open on Sunday, October 21. Bike tours leave from Artspace at noon on both days.

• Weekend Three, Alternative Space, October 27 and 28, 11-6 p.m.
Former Hamden Middle School, 550 Newhall St, Hamden. City Wide Open Studios culminates on the last weekend of the festival at the Alternative Space, which will feature 250 artists spread throughout the former Hamden Middle School, utilizing classrooms, libraries, science labs, the kitchen, and various offices.

The Lasso Project, Oct. 12-Dec. 14, 2007, 24-hour access
Throughout the decade, Artspace has followed the careers of artists participating in City-Wide Open Studios. Many have gone on to make significant marks in the art world beyond our Open Studios festival. To celebrate these creative successes and City-Wide Open Studio's 10th anniversary, Artspace presents The Lasso Project: A New Haven Alumni Exhibition. This highly visible project reconnects nine artists to the city through exciting commissioned installations. In the spirit of City-Wide Open Studios, Artspace has located vacant sites in the Ninth Square and asked the Lasso artists to create new work for these locations. With Artspace at the center of the project (50 Orange St) visitors can easily access each of the nine sites. The experience is highlighted by a cell phone-based audio tour containing artist's descriptions of their work. All sites are free and accessible from the street, 24 hours a day, for the duration of the exhibition.


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