50 Orange St, New Haven, CT 06510
Established in 1984, Artspace is celebrating its 30th year in New Haven. Founded by a group of artists focusing on the visual and performing arts, the institution now plays a wider role than that of a gallery; it has evolved into a creative space for local artists to gain attention and appreciation. Artspace is dedicated to helping New Havenites discover the unknown artists who might be their next door neighbor, bringing his or her talent into the limelight. A free museum with a variety of commissioned and exhibition programs, Artspace fosters appreciation for the vital role artists play in improving the community.
Initially, New Haven’s venerable Shubert Theater had planned to dedicate a permanent gallery space for local artists. When this plan did not come to fruition, the founders of Artspace stepped in to build an alternative showcase with the goal of preserving and nurturing the arts. For the founders, the name “Artspace” was playful and ironic, given that the organization operated without a physical home for the first few years. Various “art spaces” were appropriated during this time, including former factories and public venues such as schools, libraries, and parks. In 1987, Artspace purchased a new facility at 70 Audubon Street and became part of the newly formed downtown arts district.
In 2001, Artspace and the City of New Haven collaborated to renovate and redevelop a historic furniture factory from the Civil War era. With support from the Connecticut Department of Economic Development, the New Haven Development Commission, and the New Haven Planning Commission, Artspace refashioned the 5,000 square foot space it now occupies at 50 Orange Street. This flexible exhibit facility features a rotating set of thought-provoking exhibitions.
Artspace is a consummate goodwill ambassador for the greater New Haven area, bringing diverse and eclectic artists and art lovers together under its colorful and creative umbrella. The mission of Artspace is “to catalyze artistic activities; connect contemporary artists, audiences, and resources; and to enrich art experiences and activate art spaces.”
Today, Artspace mounts about five exhibitions per year, yet some of their most critical work takes place outside the gallery’s walls. One of the major programs Artspace runs is City-Wide Open Studios (CWOS). Taking place over the course of four weekends, CWOS is “an unjuried, uncensored opportunity for artists in the community to show their work,” according to Sarah Fritchey, Artspace’s Visual Arts Coordinator. “So many times we sort of retreat into our own zones, and [this is] the time when everyone comes out of the woodwork…we want that communication to happen so there’s a stronger arts community.” Each weekend’s events take place in a different location in the New Haven area: the event opens with a central hub exhibition kickoff at Artspace, followed by an Erector Square weekend, a Transported weekend–comprising a guided tour of local artists’ studios–and an Alternative Space weekend that takes place in a space in New Haven that is not being used.
The 2014 CWOS Alternative Space weekend took place at the Goffe St. Armory, a 200,000 square foot open space rife with rich New Haven history. Located in a traditionally lower-income family housing area, the space was a perfect location, Fritchey said, to engage with the broader New Haven community, as per Artspace’s mission. “How do we engage and add to a community by offering an engaging educational experience to those who may not have access to it regularly? It’s about saying, let’s open this up, let’s invite people to participate in an Artspace event that might be too far out of the city center to come to openings here. It’s about bringing art out and bringing viewers in.”
Aside from CWOS, Artspace engages with other communities throughout New Haven, particularly the city’s many student communities. The Student Apprentice program provides an opportunity for New Haven public school students to work with a local artist during the summer in putting together an exhibition. Alumni of the program have gone on to work as artists and curators; some have even joined the Artspace team. In recent years, Artspace has partnered with Albertus Magnus College in a new student curator program in which students and their professors mount exhibitions together. For the first time in Fall 2014, Artspace and the Yale University Art Gallery collaborated formally in creating Connecticut (un)Bound, an Artspace exhibition that redefines and restructures the concept of books while focusing on Connecticut issues. Fritchey believes that communication and public engagement is not just an aspect of Artspace’s work–it is the primary goal and must be executed fully. “It can’t just be a concept, it can’t just be a mission; it has to actually happen.”
Drawing upon its unique history and current activities, Artspace looks toward a bright future of continuing to champion the arts in New Haven by realizing its mission more fully. Its three-fold mission is well underway, but Fritchey is eager to bring this mission’s goals to fruition through the creation and institutionalization of additional programming endeavors that will widen the scope of the artists and audiences currently involved with the space. She was invited to join Artspace in January 2014 and is one of several new additions to Artspace. Their presence signifies a shift in how Artspace conceives of itself and its role as an active facilitator of New Haven’s arts community. As a trained curator, Fritchey will be able to sustain Artspace’s status as a public space in which audiences interact with the work of emerging contemporary artists. She will also take on a more active role in ensuring that Artspace in turn interacts with these audiences as well as artists themselves. Building upon a foundational model of open calls, public tours, volunteer programs, and student apprenticeships, Fritchey looks forward to continuing to visit one artist’s studio every two weeks, using social media to broaden Artspace’s visibility by reaching new audiences, and executing programs that will allow both artists and audiences to increase their involvement with the arts and Artspace.
Slideshow photography by Sarah Eckinger, Alexandra Schmeling, Jennifer Cheung, Micah Luce, and Artspace.