Festival offers nod to ’98’s inaugural City-Wide Open Studios
By David A. Brensilver
Over the course of the past decade and a half, City-Wide Open Studios has become one of New Haven’s more important visual-arts programs. Fittingly, this year’s festival celebrates, by way of its “Crystal Anniversary” theme, the very reasons the event was started in the first place.
“Visual artists need each other,” Artspace Executive Director Helen Kauder said. “Open Studios offers that … a very large-scale way for artists to spend time with each other.”
Covering the inaugural City-Wide Open Studios for the New Haven Advocate in 1998, Arts Paper contributor Hank Hoffman wrote: “Under the banner ’98NH2000, (Marianne) Bernstein hopes to spark artists, particularly visual artists, to connect with each other and reach out to the community. The first major project under the ’98NH2000 aegis is an ambitious City-Wide Open Studios.”
In a recent e-mail, Bernstein wrote: “In the early ’90s, Bitsie Clark invited me to visit the AS220 building in Providence. Housed in a large warehouse building, I witnessed firsthand the energy that results from multidisciplinary collaboration between artists. Isolated as a photographer in my studio at Gilbert Street, I was tired of the same old same old gallery openings, so this was thrilling for me to experience an alternative. That’s when the idea for untitled(space) came into my head – a roving group of artists inhabiting empty storefronts and creating work for the public, free of charge, and participatory – all at street level.”
With Kauder and artist Linn Meyers, Bernstein launched an annual tradition that has attempted to adapt to the times. This year’s festival, for example, will include a speed-networking event that will use the musical-chairs-style dating format to match artists with art-world folks. City-Wide Open Studios also features a ticketed event in which audiences can visit artists’ studios with art experts.
“It’s about access,” Kauder said. “It’s about accessing work.”
Of particular interest this year – not to diminish other festival programming, such as the “alternative spaces” Artspace has made use of in the New Haven Register building at 40 Sargent Drive – is a project in The Lot (near the intersection of Chapel and Orange streets).
“Up the street are the halves, down the street are the have-nots,” Bernstein said of the location, at which a project she’s curating called The Play House will, she hopes, help bridge that divide. The Play House, which will be presented to the public at the beginning of the festival by Artspace and the City of New Haven’s Light Artists Making Places (LAMP) initiative, brings together abstract painter Darwin Nix and tintype-portrait artist Keliy Anderson-Staley and clients of Liberty Community Services, “a supportive housing and services provider offering dignity, compassion and respect to Connecticut’s residents confronting homelessness and disability,” according to its website.
It’s a project she’s curated before, in Philadelphia’s Love Park. Called The Welcome House in that iteration, the “cube,” as it’s also referred to, “makes work about the people and the place” it sits.
During the day, The Play House is where the above-mentioned artists work, using as their subject matter the lives and stories of Liberty Community Services clients, some of whom are also making art as part of the project.
“On some level, it’s been a struggle for us and for the broader downtown community,” Kauder said about The Lot being an intersection where the haves and have-nots meet.
The Play House, Bernstein said, is about “having the people who are kind of invisible here, be seen … breaking down the barriers between life and art.”
There’s a certain transparency to the project, one that fits well with this year’s “Crystal Anniversary” theme, which was attached to City-Wide Open Studios after a majority of respondents surveyed after last year’s program indicated that they’d welcome a festival-wide theme.
“Nearly 300 artists will take part in (this year’s) festival over the course of three consecutive weekends,” a press release issued by Artspace indicated.
The first weekend will showcase artist studios downtown and in Hamden and West Haven. During the second weekend, studios at Erector Square will be the focus, with the spaces in the New Haven Register building welcoming artists and audiences during the festival’s final weekend. Artspace itself will of course be the hub of activity throughout City-Wide Open Studios, including an opening reception and “Crystal Ball” on October 5.
In his 1998 New Haven Advocate piece, Hoffman wrote that part of Bernstein’s goal for ’98NH2000 was “to encourage the revitalization of parts of the community that are in transition … (and) to broaden the arts audience and deepen its dialogue with artists. … Organizers have had to creatively confront issues like how to work with the city, Yale and property owners, how to include a broad assortment of artists from diverse communities and how to make sure residents of all city neighborhoods are encouraged to participate.”
“Life comes from risking and uncertainty and it’s very contagious and it’s happened through time,” Bernstein told Hoffman in 1998.
This year’s City-Wide Open Studios festival, the 15th, certainly seems to be offering a nod to the inaugural program.
City-Wide Open Studios takes place over the first three weekends of October. For detailed information about events and programming, exhibition spaces, and studio locations, visit cwos.org.