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Thursday, August 07, 2008

City-Wide Open Studios changes: A conversation with Leslie Shaffer and Jemma Williams, Part 1

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

When the changes to City-Wide Open Studios were announced, 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 but CONNcentric artists are 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

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

When are they going to announce the people that were chosen for the Artist in Residence and CONNcentric exhibits ?

10:25 PM

Blogger Hank Hoffman said...

CONNcentric, according to Jemma Williams, will "probably be juried next week." (She told me this on Wednesday.) New curator Liza Statton is playing a key role in the jurying of CONNcentric—it's a good way for her to get a quick immersion in the range of New haven artists—and she's been in the process of moving this week.

As to AIRS, I believe the plan was to have that juried by this weekend. (But I just checked and there is nothing posted yet as far as i can tell.) I know that Shaffer and Williams are aware that lots of artists are in limbo as to what kind of plans to make pending the decisions made by the AIRS curators.

If anyone else has more specific time frames re jurying decisions, please reply.

11:50 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When a gallery/exhibit gives a date for when the chosen artist will be named its up to them to be punctual. I have a feeling that this is only the begining of how CWOS 08 is going to be run. I was also disappointed to see no Ct jurors used this year.

10:06 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone heard where the AIRS site locations are going to be??

3:41 PM

Blogger Hank Hoffman said...

Two of the three jurors for CONNcentric are from Connecticut. Only new curator Liza Statton is not and it makes perfect sense for her to be part of that jury. Most of the AIRS jurors are local. But, as I plan to note in my post of the second part of this discussion, Shaffer and Williams consider the inclusion of New York-based gallerists and curators on the AIRS jury a plus for local artists: Some 200 local artists will have examples of their work seen by influential New Yorkers.

As of Wednesday, the AIRS sites had not been announced. It was my impression that four are set and they may be trying to confirm the fifth.

11:01 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

so have they annouced the "chosen" artist yet ?

8:33 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Artist selected for AIRS were notified by email late Sunday afternoon.

5:09 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there going to be a list published on the CWOS website of the artist chosen ?

It would be interesting to see who was chosen and if they had any "connection" with Artspace. Kind of like how the Flatfile and best of CWOS shows are run. It would also be interesting to see if there were any artist chosen with zip codes out of New Haven.

6:48 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, it would be nice if the artist community in New Haven had a little faith in Artspace, and waited until CWOS 2008 was over before they began their bitching.

For starters, I think people need to cut the Artspace staff some slack. It's a small staff trying to organize a festival that usually features hundreds of artists (many of whom seem to need to have their hands held every step of the way).

I think Artspace is pretty brave to change the structure of CWOS, and I'm excited to see what results come from these changes. I think the New Haven art scene needs to become more self-motivated.

If you don't like the way CWOS is being run, start your own arts festival, home gallery or arts event.
Make it happen for yourself.

A little competition is healthy for everyone.

5:55 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the sound of Shaffer and Williams' thinking. It makes sense to condense, concentrate, and jury the experience. CWOS in the past has been too democratic, and the high quality/interesting/relevant work has often been difficult to locate in the exhausting melee. A little focus and competitive "weeding out" sounds healthy and more appealing. In the past, I have often enjoyed the "Best of CWOS" shows better than having to go to three weekends worth of hit or miss artwork.

10:25 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will say that I give the A.S. group credit because I can only imagine how tough it is dealing with over 200 artist on a shoe string budget.


More or less by canning the alt space Artspace has said that they dont want to deal with out of town artist. (who by the way pay the same 50.00 and volunter time)

Juried shows are fine but I feel that the aproach that A.S. used this year was not thought out well enough. I still dont know if I made either show or not. Then for A.S. to have this "rent a studio for a weekend nonsense"

You are right that artist should work for the rewards. I get that 100% cause for the past 5 years I have worked very hard promoting myself and getting into some very high end shows/galleries with no outside help.

Some New Haven artist feel that they should get praise because they are New Haven artist. (even though their art might not merrit any praise at all) But all of the out of town artist that I have met at the Alt spaces over the past 5 years have dedicated themselves to making the best art that they can.

I for one never got a questionare. And I really feel that under the new direction A.S. is headed in it will only support New Haven artist.

Do I think that this new layout is going to be good ? No I really dont. Do I see a drastic change for 09 ? I do esp when the City of New Haven sees on how much lost revnue they will have Oct 08 as compared to Oct 07

10:25 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's fair for artists--particularly those who relied on the availability of an alternative space and weren't aware that wasn't going to happen this year until just last month--to express concern about the logistics this year, and how that effects their individual options and CWOS as a whole.

I think the changes could point CWOS into an exciting new direction. However, I would have liked to have seen at least 3-6 months of lead time for artists to network and make arrangements with local businesses. Far from "demanding handholding", there are actually plenty of alt space alums--many of us former co-coordinators--that would definitely have been up to the task of organizing ourselves and our fellow artists in ad hoc spaces...but that kind of networking and organization (not to mention the trust and logistics involved in sharing/renting real estate) takes time, and transparency. In fact, it would not have been difficult for Artspace to build a cadre of artist-volunteers to have handled the gruntwork involved in finding and securing alternative spaces.

I think this could be a positive change that could make Artspace (and CWOS) a hub for creating partnerships between artists, and the year and beyond. I'm not sure how many deserving artists will be lost in the shuffle this year, with such short notice. (Many businesses didn't see this coming either.) With enough lead time for collaboration, networking, and making arrangements, anyone could potentially still find a venue--individual or group--to show their work, preserving that democratic feel that some of us found intrinsically valuable instead of "exhausting."

I'm much more concerned about limiting CWOS to only one weekend. The only artists who stand to benefit from this are the folks at Erector Square (which will become the de facto heir to the alt space crowds of past years), and those in CONNcentric or AIRS. I think it is actually less likely for individual studios to benefit from the increased publicity, unless Artspace is aggressive about (literally) shuttling folks from the AIRS sites to single and group studios. Erector Square is an entire day's worth of viewing alone; the AIRS sites are so broadly scattered that one will easily chew up an afternoon trying to cover all 5--and who would skip at least a half hour or so at CONNcentric?

In terms of the AIRS and CONNcentric jurying: the results have been posted today, Tuesday 8/12. Within my own discipline, I think close to half of the artists are neither living or working in New Haven (they're based in Hartford, Middletown, Fairfield, etc.)--to address the concerns of the artist who was concerned that New Haven artists would be preferred (and that's a whole different issue--I don't necessarily agree that it would be "unfair" for Artspace to discriminate against "out of town artists" for an event explicitly designed to promote, well, New Haven City Wide Open Studios). I had many of the same concerns over whether or not those chosen would be limited to folks who had exhibited through Artspace in the past, but I think the use of outside jurors for AIRS may have eliminated any bias. (For instance, much to my shock, *I* was chosen for AIRS...and you won't meet a less-connected artist out there!). As well, the way AIRS was juried (jurors were split into teams and asked to curate a cohesive show among 10-15 artists), I don't think it should be seen as "the best of"...certainly the chosen AIRS artists showed merit, but they also happened to create work which fit into whatever theme was chosen on the fly for a site by two jurors. This kind of thematic jurying--by outsiders--might prove to be more inclusive in the long run than the former AIRS or "best of CWOS" shows run in the past.

I think New Haven artists know how to "handle a little competition", they know how to organize to help themselves (and keep the inclusive, indy feel of previous alternative spaces alive, regardless of what's going on with the "official" juried sites), but the lack of information and short notice engendered a lot of anxiety and may keep CWOS from being everything it can be this year. I'm glad Schaffer is willing to switch back to the multi-weekend model if necessary, if only because this is the first year in a long time we've had to choose between showing our own work, and viewing (and supporting) the work of our fellow artists.

6:54 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I just read the "airs" and Conncentric list of accepted artist and wow what a shock at least half a dozen people with ties to Artspace were chosen. Humm..... And just an FYI the majority of them are from New Haven.

Just ask Mulder......The truth is out there.

9:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This conspiracy theory stuff needs to stop. It's an arts festival in New Haven people. It's not the Venice Biannale.

The whole Artspace connection thing doesn't have any merit. A majority of the jurors were from outside of New Haven and the Artspace staff, with the exception of the new curator (who probably has no prior experience with any New Haven or CT. artists) had nothing to do with the selections for AIRS or Conncentric.

This whole line of thought is a waste of time. Maybe the people bellyaching because they didn't get in should spend less time complaining and more time in their studio.

1:27 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can you say that the Artspace connection has no merrit ? Esp when someone involved with the juring of the Conncentric show was chosen for the AIRs show ? Or how a previous employee of Artspace was chosen or how that a gallery that represents that previous employee also represents two other AIRs artist ?

I wouldnt have even had mentioned it if it was one or two artist but 7 or 8 out of 100 chosen artist ?

This not only is bad for the people that were not chosen but it lessens the value of the artist that were chosen.

10:44 AM

Blogger Hank Hoffman said...

In a town like New Haven--which is in some real ways a small town--it was inevitable that artists with connections to Artspace would be chosen for some of the AIRS and CONNcentric slots. First of all, so many artists in New Haven have connections to Artspace. And, second, so many good artists have connections to Artspace. Of the artists whose names I recognize on those lists, there isn't a one who isn't deserving on the merits of securing acceptance into a juried show.

12:16 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone needs to stop complaining about this nonsense. To the people that are upset about "the Artspace connection" you just have to deal with it. Thats how the world spins my friend.

And to the people supporting ArtSpace let us know how these new changes workout this year. Lets see if the new layout actually works.

Going to be interesting either way. Now back to the studio !!!

3:16 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

we all get that new haven is a small town but gheesh give me a break. Half a dozen people chosen for both shows had very strong ties with artspace. I think that its in poor taste that if you work at artspace the co owner of your side gallery is chosen to show. Or if you are a jury member of Conncentric you get chosen for Airs.

To me that should never happen. I also cant figure out why only 60 (give or take) artist were chosen for conncentric when CWOS said that something like 100 artist would be showing at that exhibit.

10:15 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the co-owner of your side gallery..."

I can only assume that you're referring to me.

I really don't see how my inclusion in the AIRS program is in poor taste. I paid the same fee to apply, I went through the same registration process and I was juried by two people who have no connection to me. They decided on my inclusion based on the merits of my work, not because I know someone who works at Artspace.

I do think, however, that it is in very poor taste to go onto a blog and make thinly veiled references to people who were chosen (over you, I would imagine) to participate in AIRS or Conncentric, and question their (my) right to be there...

And anonymously at that...If you're going to make pathetic, bitter statements like that at least have the courage to use your name and stand behind what you say.

4:29 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


I never had any intent on pulling the "my art is better then their art" nonsense. Thats not the type of person or artist that I am. I know that my photography is top of the line and I dont need Artspace or anyone else to confirm that.

The purpose of informing this blog about what was going on at Artspace was that I feel that people should be made aware that they are playing favorites. I would have never said anything if it was one or two artist with connections that got chosen but I felt the need to say something when I saw 6-8 people with Artspace connections get into the show.

You cannot change the fact that you do have a business partnership with someone at Artspace or how a Conncentric worker ironicly ended up getting chosen for Airs.Its called a conflict of interests.

As far as your comment on me not putting my name out there well I might be able to clairify my reason in doing so. You see the "art scene" in Connecticut is very small and if I ever want to get gallery representation or new clients it would be in my best interests to remain anonymous. Wouldnt you agree ? Its got nothing to do with not backing up what im saying, its more so about having the presence of mind to realize that putting my name out there could hurt my future endeavors as a photographer. I hope that you can understand that.

There is no need for you to pound your chest. No need to undermine someones valid concerns either. My concerns/comments are valid and in a way you have proven them in your reply, so thanks -

11:16 PM

Blogger Hank Hoffman said...

Personally, I think it would be unreasonable to expect Artspace-connected artists to have to recuse themselves from these type of juried events. These aren't Supreme Court cases. At any rate, I think the choosing of some six to eight artists with greater or lesser copnnections to Artspace is hardly evidence that the fix was in.

9:22 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If, out of 100 folks juried into AIRS and CONNcentric, only "6-8" (i.e. less than 10%) have any kind of Artspace connection, I actually think that's proof that the use of unaffiliated jurors worked. I don't know that you'd do any better without asking affiliated artists to recuse themselves....which hardly seems fair for an event of this scale.

Again, due to the thematic, site-specific jurying for AIRS, I don't think anyone should waste a lot of *sturm und drang* on whether or not they were chosen, who was chosen instead and whether they are "good enough", etc. (I certainly don't think acceptance into AIRS means I'm necessarily "better" than excluded artists.) This wasn't even a portfolio review. Maybe next year, your submitted 3 jpgs and 50-word statement will fit some curator's vision for an abandoned space--and those chosen this year have no guarentees of a repeat acceptance.

Time now to focus on whether or not everyone else who would like to show can collaborate and find spaces (I'm glad to see the 8/21 networking meeting) in time for the directory. It's saddened me to see some of the "usual suspects" not registered as participating artists yet, and I wonder how much of that is due to space concerns.

1:41 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You see the "art scene" in Connecticut is very small and if I ever want to get gallery representation or new clients it would be in my best interests to remain anonymous. Wouldnt you agree ?"

Not really. I think it would be better to accept the jurors decisions and move on with a measure of grace. Why even bother posting that kind of negative speculation?


I hope you find a way to enjoy CWOS 2008.

6:18 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

" A measure of grace " I would hope that you would have done the same. We all know that there were certian artist that recieved better treatment then others in this years jury process. Yet you feel the need to tell the world that "connections" had nothing to do with it.

As long as you feel guilt free I will be able to enjoy CWOS 08

7:36 AM

Blogger Hank Hoffman said...

I suggest that this line of the discussion—favoritism or no favoritism—be closed.

But it would be useful if any folks want to share experiences on trying to get space to show.

10:25 AM

Blogger james said...

For starters, I think people need to cut the Artspace staff some slack. It's a small staff trying to organize a festival that usually features hundreds of artists (many of whom seem to need to have their hands held every step of the way).

11:40 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Word on the street seems to be that participation will be down this year. I have two different alt sites I've offered to find "tenants" for, and have come up empty, and unless Artspace isn't updating it regularly, the space share blog seems to have a lot of listings that are still going unused for the last week.

10:51 AM

Blogger m said...

Was I shocked and horrified by the level of detailed allegations about who got into "Conncentric" and "airs".
I am in "Conncentric"; I am in the Artspace "flatfile". I have no idea what kinds of connections or special in’s this gives me. I am offended at the idea that someone who did not get in would sling rocks at me like this.
Yes, some people at Artspace know me- and why?
Because I donate time during cwos, and I generally support the space in any way I can.
We (I) need such places- places with good quality programs and interesting exhibits- precisely because new haven IS a small place!
Do I think all of this swayed the jury to include my work in "Conncentric"?
I do not.
I don't think they included me because I'm a swell gal who tries to be helpful and supportive. Nope- I think it might just be that they LIKE MY WORK.
I do however, think that one might make artists, jurors, curators and gallerists alike think twice about including one by being an insufferable, negative, nasty jerk. Even if your work is wonderful. That being said, I do not actually believe this to have happened to you, any more than I believe that folks were selected by where in CT they live.
None of these people have enough free time to be that Machiavellian!
And while I am not sure that making CWOS all on one weekend is the greatest plan, I am willing to see how it goes and assess from there- as I am sure the Artspace folks will too.
This is an open-studio event, not, as pointed out, the Venice Bienalle.
Do your work, show it well, and try not to radiate ill will from every pore.

12:06 PM


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