New Haven, CT

Contact Name
Shelli Stevens
Project Dates
October 2-25 , plus community planning before and after.
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2015
Marketing, Design, Event, Networking, Real Estate, Technology, Workforce Development
City-Wide Open Studios, now in its 16th year, is our 21-day festival that invites all artists from the region to meet the public. CWOS is unique because artists without access to a working studio (predominantly low- and moderate-income artists) can also participate. Each year, Artspace finds different historic but vacant buildings for these artists to use as alternative studios. Artists work side by side to create temporary installations, meet one another, and often develop new collaborations as a result. Festival admission, the Official Map & Guide, and guided bike tours are all free. Anchoring CWOS is a central exhibition hub featuring one representative work by each participant. 10,000 people visit and up to 500 artists participate, making CWOS one of the largest open studios in the US.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
City-Wide Open Studios aims to give an opportunity to artists, who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to exhibit, a chance to show their work in the community. It provides those interested in the arts to meet artists inside their workspace, see their new, old and in process work, make conversation and interact on a deeper level than they might if solely experiencing the work in a gallery of museum setting. The Alternative Space weekend in particular gives artists, who don’t have a studio workspace the opportunity to show their work in a setting that facilitates the creation of new site-specific work. Artists have the chance to engage with the Connecticut community as well as interact with fellow artists both on their weekend and on any other weekend that they are interested in visiting. Building a network for artist is the bones of what makes CWOS successful. An alternative community is made during the month of October that continues on throughout the rest of the year.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
While the goals didn't change the certainly evolved throughout this years festival. We were able to engage with the local community and with artists all over CT fostering a deep connection between them that they may never have had the chance to establish. CWOS continues to develop and change each year, building new paths through communities of artist and visitors.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
The City of New Haven’s Office Economic Development.
The Goffe Street Armory Planning Committee
Elm City Cycling
Project More
Town Green Special Services District
New Haven Public Schools District, and Hillhouse High School in particular
Erector Square (Real Estate developer of factory turned into arts studios)
350 Participating artists from Greater New Haven.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
New Haven’s greatest challenge lies in its great income inequality. As measured against 365 other metropolitan areas, New Haven ranks 301st among communities where disparities are the starkest, according to a new report from think-tank Data Haven. This determinant of individual well-being is accentuated by the segregation of our residential neighborhoods, perpetuating polarization and distrust. Though the GSA is in a high-poverty neighborhood, it has many distinctive assets that offer the promise of bridge-building and eventual mixed-use redevelopment: the large public Hillhouse high school (prized for its Marching Band even as a low-performing school with 73% of students eligible for Free/Reduced lunch); a park with a modern bandshell and popular horseshoe pit; the busy City-Wide Field house (site of the Special Olympics); a cluster of active churches, including one with an award-winning Steel Pan ensemble; senior housing; and proximity to a new public-private effort to develop a business corridor two blocks away. The site is less than 1 mile from the Yale campus, and historically relevant: It housed the Governor’s 2nd Company Foot Guard from 1929 till 2007. More than half of all CWOS artists will exhibit at the Armory; its breathtaking Drill Hall will serve as entrance meeting point for local food carts, musicians, and the Our Town guided tours. We believe CWOS at the GSA, illuminated with outdoor projects in the weeks leading up to the public opening, will bring residents from both poor and more affluent areas together to take pride in local talent, improve perceptions about the site, and build bonds between audience and artists.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
San Francisco’s Art Span was the original inspiration in its multi weekend format in which different parts of the city are showcased on different weekends. Also the food/cycling tours offered in New Orleans which promote heightened understanding of alternative transport options and the safety of artist neighborhoods. Finally, we continue to admire the 4Arts festival on Governor’s Island NYC which annually and temporarily activates the former army barracks there with art installations.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
CWOS was implemented through a collaboration with the city of New Haven, the expertise of CWOS staff, the help of a number of community organizations and the overwhelming support from the neighborhoods where our festival took place. Beginning in June we began recruiting volunteers and staff members for the October festival. The Armory clean up and restoration began in July with engineer and artist Scott Schuldt as the lead working with students from the surrounding universities, Americorp’s Artspace Public Ally, Project MORE, among others to make the Armory presentable and safe for artists and visitors. Artspace worked with local graphic designers, university students, artists and community members to promote, market and design CWOS.
Many of our volunteers went out into the community in the days before the Armory weekend to invite locals personally to Open Studios in the attempt to make a palpable connection with the Beaver Hills community that surrounds the Armory.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
As the City has come to appreciate the value of the Armory (which it has done by seeing what artists have been able to create during CWOS) they have been increasingly willing to share resources with Artspace for the annual event. For example, in this coming year, they have agreed to contribute the Parks Deparment’s cherry picker and the Department of Public Works’
generator—in years past, these were budget items we had to absorb.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
One of our challenges has been that the great draw of the Alternative Space means that the smaller private studios scattered throughout th ecommunity often have a hard time attracting sufficient traffic. A festival goer will do the calculation and realize for his/her limited time, many more artists can be seen at the Alt Space. This has led to artists abandoning their own studios and decampint to the Alt Space.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
In order to reverse this, incentivize the artists to put the welcome mat in their own spaces and promote the discover of more sites in the community, we've enhanced the touring portion of our festival with guided tours led by curators.The curators review the artists work in advance, and may do a preview visit and then lead groups that sign up for guided van, bike, or walking tours. Artists are given 30-40 minutes of a professional studio visit, receiving valuable feedback, while our audiences listen in to the conversation. This new dimension, added to address a challenge, also enables us to bring nationally recognized expers from the region to New Haven and take stock of local talent. Some of these out of town curators are contemplating including some of our artists in their forthcoming shows (eg in Providence, RI, Stamford, and Hartford CT).
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
-Start early and hold tight to deadlines. Motivating people, especially artists to commit to things early is an incredibly hard feat, but if you can find a way to get details situated earlier, actually running a festival or event similar to this will become more doable.
- Less in never more…get as many volunteers and staff members for your project as you can. Overstaff is you have to. It is better to have too many people than to be running around with too much work to do. Make a plan early, task each volunteer or staff person specific duties, it will motivate them even more to show up if they know they are responsible for something, even something that seems small or trivial. Every person is crucial to making it all happen. You can’t do it without a solid group of volunteers.
- Partner up. Getting other organizations involved in the physical festival is incredibly important for fostering long-term relationships between nonprofits. We had quite a few organizations help us prior to the event and many participating in the project during the festival. It also makes for better marketing when other organizations want to be a part of your project. That kind of support gets you funding and a positive name in the community.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
Artists sell work.
Audiences look forward to this annual festival—some say its their favorite event of the year.
Nationally respected curators discover local talent.
Neighbors are proud to live near the Armory.
The City is now looking to develop new uses for the space at other times.
Perception of the neighborhood has improved. This year, for example, we held an evening event at the Armory and attracted new suburban audiences. We heard from them that they felt safe having parked on the street, in contrast to their expectations.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
With the overwhelming positive feedback from artists and the local community it is without doubt in my mind that we not only meet our goals as an organization in regards to Open Studios but evolve every year into a more positive and consistent resource for artists and the New Haven community. There were countless times during the installation at the Armory as well as during the festival when locals from the neighborhood came in to talk to our staff and express their deep appreciation for our presence. It was sobering to listen to our neighbors tell us how deep and impact our festival has and has had on their community. Because of CWOS's deep influence on artists and the community we have become for artists.!
Below are some quotes from participating artists, visitors and community members in reaction to this year's Open Studios:

'Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this years CWOS Alternative Space Weekend. The whole process,from planning to execution of my piece, was, is, invaluable to me. I'm grateful for all your help in making it happen from earning your initial trust with the proposal and the generous financial assistance, to the exposure granted to my work with its placement at the front of the armory and inclusion in curator-led tours. Because of your interest and backing, I was able to execute a larger project, take more risks, critique with peers...and, at the end of the day, enact something that is already propelling me deeper and with more commitment towards the questions I strive to live through art. It makes a difference. I appreciate having met all of you, and for our open and probing conversations. I am so moved by your individual backgrounds and involvement in the arts. I'm so impressed by Artspace's capabilities. Your organization builds a genuinely collaborative community, a context both serious and extremely fun. And, it's all very pro artist, even after doing this so many years. Little, for example, referring to the site specific works as commissioned pieces. Such language permits the 18 of us to use that word too, and especially at an "emerging" state...subtleties of language like that, in connection to your space, are significant. As big as City-Wide is you do not underestimate the impact of little details on people's practices. In fact, you celebrate them. On a number of levels the whole event truly is a grand celebration of artists. All of you are passionately entrenched in your work. And, it's felt." - Allison Hornak, CWOS commissioned artist

"Thank you for making my ward shine!" - Alderwoman Claudette Robinson, Ward 22 (Goffe Street Armory)

"I think it was all just encouraging--to know that there is an active, interested audience; to see how many people who might not normally go look at art come out for open studios; and simply how many interesting artists and viewers there are around here. It fuels my work even more to have had that introduction to so many people." - Chris Barnard, (Transported Weekend Artist), featured in that weekend's curator-led tour
How did you measure this success or progress?
Through post program surveys. Each artist fills out a weekend report and shares feedback, visitors counts, sales figures and suggestions.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
CWOS 2014 returned to the Goffe Street Armory for the second year and the response from the surrounding community was quite humbling. The sheer number of people living in the area around the Armory who asked to "keep coming back" really struck a chord with the whole Artspace and CWOS staff. While this was a goal outcome it was, nevertheless, a rewarding one.