50 Orange St, New Haven, (203) 772-2709City-Wide Open Studios 2008
When the changes to City-Wide Open Studios
, I was struck by what appeared to be a drastic downsizing
of the event, both in terms of time allotted and participation solicited.
Instead of three weekends—divvied up between Erector Square, local artists and a large Alternative Space—there would be one, Oct. 3-5. There will be no big Alternative Space, home to artists without studios to open (or artists who, for whatever reason, didn't want to open their studios). Instead, the New Haven area has been subdivided into five neighborhood areas (Downtown, Westville, Fair Haven, West Haven and Hamden/Newhallville) and each neighborhood will host an Artist-in-Residence Site, or AIRS. Unlike the Alternative Space of years past, the AIRS are juried. About 10-15 artists will be chosen to show in each of the AIRS. The Main Exhibition, in Artspace's galleries at the corner of Crown and Orange streets in New Haven, had always included works by every registered artist or artist group in past years. This year the show, dubbed CONNcentric
, is juried and will feature over 100 artists. Artists who aren't chosen for an AIRS or for CONNcentric
are encouraged to find their own space, with or without the assistance of Artspace. (As of this writing, the blog
Artspace has created to help connect artists with space is live but doesn't yet have available space. Artspace Communications Director Jemma Williams
says that will happen this week.)
My concerns: That it will be impossible to take in all the riches that CWOS
has to offer in one weekend; there was a reason why it expanded to three weekends. That the jurying of CONNcentric
and AIRS, coupled with the demise of the Alternative Space, would not only have the effect of weeding out "non-professional" artists (my description) but might have been intended to do so. The potential result seemed to portend an off-putting elitism.
But Artspace Director Leslie Shaffer
and Jemma Williams, who met with me (at their invitation) to discuss CWOS
, say the changes are the result of in-depth consultation with participant artists following last year's CWOS
. All artists had the opportunity to fill out an online survey that included both multiple choice questions and more open-ended queries. After the surveys were tabulated, Artspace followed up by convening focus groups. Artists were chosen randomly, every 10th name alphabetically.
Williams says there were a few "big common answers":
• Artists weren't happy that the audience wasn't expanding from "just friends of other artists."
• They wanted to attract a "more professional, or even curatorial audience.
• "Local studio artists felt they never got the audience the other two weekends got."
Williams also says focus group participants were asked whether they minded if the model was changed and whether they were tied to the three weekends. Most respondents, according to Williams, were amenable to changes.
Shaffer and Williams are adamant that CWOS
is just as open to wide-ranging grassroots participation as in the past. Williams says that despite the necessity for artists to take a more proactive role in securing exhibition space, "they have as much opportunity as they want to put in the effort to get."
"I know it's a shift but it's just a physical shift, not a philosophical shift," says Shaffer.
"We're trying to broaden it," says Shaffer. Over and over in the consultation process, she notes, artists asked, "'Why don't you advertise outside New Haven? Why aren't we on NPR, CBS Morning News
, the Today Show
? How can we get the audience that's coming in other cities--collectors, curators?'"
Given the current budget for CWOS
—$150,000—and staff, it is only possible to aggressively market one weekend to that target audience from New York and Boston. (Shaffer notes that CWOS
has built a strong local audience.)
"How do I choose which of those weekends to put all the marketing effort into? And how do I tell this audience [of collectors and curators outside New Haven] if I can only choose one weekend, which weekend is best for them?" Shaffer says. The choice was made to pare down to one weekend and try to organize it so as to maximize the circulation of visitors.
The goal is to make CWOS
a "destination event" in concert with "community partners," the city and state offices that work year-round to gin up tourism and community and economic development. Organizing the event around neighborhood "clusters"—with the added draw in each locale of the Artist-in-Residence Site—will hopefully attract visitors to the under-attended local artist studios. In conjunction with the community partners, Artspace plans to develop an efficient system for shuttling visitors among locations.
Shaffer and Williams say they are getting the word out to businesses about the event and encouraging them to offer space. Can they host an artist or artists or offer storefront space? Can they be open all the hours of the event or, if not, what hours? They are taking note of vacant storefronts and contacting landlords. Williams adds that artists or groups of artists can be doing the same thing, saying, "It's just a phone call, a yes or no answer." (Of course, it's one thing for a landlord to get a call like that from an organization with some community cachet like Artspace and another to get a similar call from some unknown artist.) At any rate, it has become increasingly difficult, Shaffer points out, to find large vacant venues like those used for past Alternative Spaces.
"There is a lot of vacant space, unfortunately. But it is spread out, not in big 150,000 square foot chunks," says Shaffer.
I mention that one artist who contacted me felt that the timeline for "homeless" artists to find space was too short, and that the blog was yet to offer any options. There may literally be hundreds of artists competing for these spaces. Over 100 artists will be showing one to three works in CONNcentric
, depending on size of work, and 60-80 artists will be chosen for the AIRS. Artists chosen for AIRS cannot also show in CONNcentric
eligible to seek out spots in the independent locations. Williams says some 200 artists applied online for the AIRS and CONNcentric
slots, three-quarters applying to both. (In past years, CWOS
has had upwards of 400 participants. This year's final deadline for registration is Aug. 29.)
Shaffer and Williams acknowledge there is a time crunch this year, attributing it to the extended consultation process and reorganization of the event. Williams says she has been focused on assisting artists with the AIRS and CONNcentric
registrations but now that that deadline (this past Sunday at 11:59 p.m.) is passed, concentration will be turned to making the blog a resource.
"We hope people see this as a beginning," Shaffer says, adding that planning for next year's CWOS
will start the Monday after this year's ends. "It needs to have a year-round person in the office, which has never been the case. We've had temporary directors of Open Studios, who start in July, and it's just not soon enough."I will post a part two of this piece as soon as possible. Rather than wait until it was all finished—which I do in my spare time—I thought I would get this posted, and then return to the discussion in the next few days. HH
Labels: Alternative Space, Artspace, City-Wide Open Studios, Jemma Williams, Leslie Shaffer