Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Monday, August 11, 2008

City-Wide Open Studios changes Part 2: A conversation with Leslie Shaffer & Jemma Williams

50 Orange St, New Haven, (203) 772-2709
City-Wide Open Studios 2008

One of the points Artspace Director Leslie Shaffer and Communications Director Jemma Williams make to me during our conversation is that the Artists-in Residence component of City-Wide Open Studios is now more open than in the past. Previously, Shaffer notes, there were 6—10 artists-in-residence. More to the point, they were invited rather than chosen through open, juried competition. This year there will be 60—80 artists participating. (A comment to my previous posting indicated that the artists chosen by the jurors were notified by email on Saturday night.) And all the applicants had images of their work perused by directors from New York galleries.

As to how the jurying process worked, Shaffer says, "I left it up to them. I gave them space, a computer, a partner and a worksheet. I said 'I'd like you to please find 10—15 artists to put together to make some interesting discussion.' It was a challenge for them because it's an abstract process, and they were given a timeline.

"Each group came up with a different strategy. Some looked at [the work] by medium, some looked at by content," says Shaffer.

"The jurors were tasked with trying to identify an interesting thread or theme running through an artist's work," Shaffer tells me. The siting of different artists might be determined, in part, by medium. For example, a lack of wall space may make a space more appropriate for sculpture or 3-D work. The jurors were to come up with 3—4 sentence comments for the artists regarding possible themes/threads the jurors see in their work.

"The artists will be given the space to install, create new work, put up exactly what they put on the Web site or do with whatever they like, for the most part," says Shaffer.

"It's an opportunity. I like engaging people in new dialogue," says Shaffer. "I hope these exhibitions put together will help artists see their work in a new perspective. Artists showing next to someone they've never shown next to creates a conversation. They get to know each other. For the audience, it's exciting, too."

As to the changes in the Main Exhibition, Jemma Williams says that with CONNcentric, "We're trying to make the exhibition here more exemplary of what artists are working in and showing. It's actually limiting to have everyone in a cookie cutter kind of 18" by 18" square." Artists chosen for CONNcentric may end up showing between 1—3 works, depending on the size of their works. CONNcentric will be up for three months rather than one, giving Artspace the opportunity to do some programming in conjunction with the show. Unlike previous years' willy-nilly juxtapositions (which I kind of liked), Shaffer says CONNcentric will be "thematically organized."

"Artists will drop off their work—one, two or three, depending on size—and the curators will curate the space," she says.

Williams and Shaffer note that their surveys showed that the maps in the New Haven Advocate insert were used more often for seeking out artists to visit than the Main Exhibition.

The corollary to the Main Exhibition's inclusiveness this year will be a bound, printed artist directory and its online equivalent. Williams asserts that the directory will actually have significant advantages for artists over the previously inclusive exhibit.

"It will be a full-color book available throughout the year, not just an Advocate insert. It will be an alphabetical listing. Each person will get a full page with a full-color image and an artist statement," says Williams. There may be cross-referencing by medium, neighborhood, even location in the state. Every registering artist may have a page in the book.

I continue to have some skepticism as to how this will all play out. I think the fact that local artists have gotten less traffic than the old Alternative Spaces and Erector Square has always been a matter of logistics. It's easier to visit a lot of artists in a contained single location than it is to visit studios dispersed over a wider geographic area (and including single artists in their homes).

This is also an awful lot to try and see in a three-day period. That is particularly the case if you want to stop and have conversations with artists about their work, as I often do. (And artists themselves won't be able to participate at all as visitors.)

The diffusion of ad hoc sites for showing art and the prod to artists to self-organization is the real wild card in the deck. It could work out wonderfully. But there are certainly a number of questions. First and foremost, will there be enough available spaces for all the artists who want to participate? As of this morning, there are three locations listed on the CWOS space-sharing blog. According to Shaffer and Williams, businesses that are opening their doors will likely be doling out the space on a first come, first served basis. Some sites, such as the Marrakech social service agency in Westville that has posted on the blog, may have content restrictions (Marrakech: "No derogatory, controversial or sexual content please"). Others may be more suitable for certain kinds of work—painting or sculpture. While empty storefronts or unused studio space may be perfectly suited for ad hoc shows, I'm more concerned about the efficacy of showing in open businesses. Will it feel intrusive to peruse the artwork in that environment? Will the setting be conducive to conversations with the artist(s)?

But for Artspace, this new model is a beginning not an ending.

"This is a first step. We're trying it and if it needs to grow, it will certainly grow," says Shaffer. "If everyone comes to us at the end and says 'this was a huge mistake, we need to go back to three weekends,' we will figure out how to make that happen."

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sympathetic to new directors and curators at Artspace wishing to implement their own programs and visions. It would be unfortunate if they were saddled with previous notions of what City Wide Open Studios should be. However, as an artist who has been involved in CWOS at least 8 times, I can't see how a juried show (or two) is a different approach. The "openess" in City Wide Open Studios was one of its strongest- and potentially weirdest!- aspects. I was also shocked that I wasn't selected (ouch) for either AIRS or ConnCentric. My installations have always been well received crowd pleasers! I have rented a space at erector Square- as have many other artists-and hope to have a large crowd. We'll see how it plays out.

5:10 PM


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