Westville’s Own Masterpiece

Westville’s Own Masterpiece

T his Saturday is a special occasion to stroll the streets of Westville and delight in the wonders of…car doors?

Indeed. Fourteen artists have been selected to “paint, weld, upholster, rivet and graffiti salvaged car doors” in the yard outside Aquila Motors on Fountain Street. Seems fitting, since in the 19th century this historic New Haven neighborhood was dominated by the Westville Wheel and Wagon Works.

The car-door-art exercise, which redefines the concept of cultural mobility, is one of three “Live Art Demos” which exemplify the “Art” side of ArtWalk, an annual celebration of uplifting, upscale splendor in what was historically a factory neighborhood on the fringe of New Haven. The other public art projects assembled before your eyes include a painting and pottery demonstration from Creative Arts Workshop (similar to the ones the school/gallery presents at its own Open Houses  on Audubon Street) and a mural overseen by the hip-hop store Channel 1 and the Westville-based Keys on Kites Tattoo & Gallery.

sponsored by

Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven

The other aspect of ArtWalk is decidedly no-car-required. The annual gathering of art-lovers, which kicks off Friday evening and continues into Saturday, is a chance for Westville to show its cultural wares and to gather as neighbors and share the wonders of this unique corner of New Haven in the shadow of West Rock.

“We’ve planned this for months,” says Chris Heitmann, Executive Director of the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance. ArtWalk is organized through a steering committee and a core group of volunteers, dedicated to “celebrating the neighborhood and showing local and regional artists.” As an orchestrator of live events spreading the word about Westville’s extraordinary concentration of arts and culture, the 15-year-old ArtWalk has been around longer than the WVRA, a non-profit concerned with stimulating small business and cultural opportunities in the neighborhoods and upholding the area’s vibrant history and quaint charm. An all-volunteer organization for its first decade, the WVRA expanded its mission over the years, supporting the CitySeed Farmers Market in Edgewood Park (now a year-round operation), becoming part of the statewide downtown revitalization project Connecticut Main Street and generally serving as what Heitmann calls “a clearing house for information in the neighborhood.”

Gazing out the large windows of the WVRA office on the ground floor of the Arlow artists-housing complex at 838 Whalley Ave., Heitmann explains how a single big project in the neighborhood—the artist-friendly building, or the Farmers Market in the park across the street–can have lasting “social, economic and cultural impact. Even though there’s all this great stuff going on now, there’s always more we can do: great retail stores and restaurants, maybe another entertainment venue.”

When ArtWalk began, Heitmann said, “the organizers realized the arts scene was flagging. They wanted to showcase the neighborhood’s assets. Now, it has become a regional draw,” with the year-round appeal of galleries, antiques shops, boutiques, restaurants and coffeehouses.

“ArtWalk is a tradition in the neighborhood,” Heitmann says. “As director of WVRA, if I didn’t do anything related to ArtWalk, it would happen anyway. ArtWalk has grown up around the neighborhood, and the neighborhood has grown up around ArtWalk.”

Now more of a validation than an introduction, ArtWalk still serves a need. “A lot of people don’t know Westville. They may know New Haven, they may know Arts & Ideas, but they don’t know Westville,” Heitmann explains. “There’s a lot of new energy here now—families, creative professionals…”

Heitmann had a seven-year stint as Senior Associate for NYC-based Projects and Public Spaces prior to starting his position at WVRA in December 2008. He and his wife Cyra Levenson moved to Westville in 2006 “looking to do something in the neighborhood where we set down roots. WVRA is always working on community projects. In a way, we just kind of set the table—an artistic potluck of sorts.”

This year, that ArtWalk potluck includes:

• Over a dozen music acts, on three outdoor stages and several indoor ones. Among them are the Haven String Quartet (Friday at 6 p.m. in Lyric Hall, 827 Whalley Avenue), Mission Zero & The Rock n Roll Circus (Saturday at 2 p.m. on the Edgewood Park Stage), Dr. Caterwauls’ Cadere of Clairvoyant Claptraps (2:30 p.m. Saturday on the Central Avenue stage), and student ensembles from the New Haven Music Academy (11 a.m. Saturday on the Edgewood stage) and Edgewood School (11:30 a.m. on the Central Avenue stage).

• The aforementioned Artists & Artisans aggregation, from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday at the corner of Central Avenue and Fountain Street. The art-market offers not just a swell overview of the local arts/crafts community, but a chance to pick up last-minute gifts for Mother’s Day.

• Theater performances by A Broken Umbrella Theatre (the family-friendly, local-history-based Head Over Wheels at noon, 2 & 4 p.m. in the troupe’s smokestack space at 446A Blake Street) and Elm Shakespeare Co.’s (David Mamet’s classic American Buffalo, Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 4:30 & 8 p.m. in the Kehler Liddell Gallery, 873 Whalley Avenue).

• Exhibitions and special events at the many established gallery spaces in Westville, including Wunderlee Arts (924 Whalley Avenue) and DaSilva Gallery (899 Whalley Avenue), Kehler-Liddell Gallery and Keys on Kites.

• Activities for children all afternoon Saturday , from “button jewelry” to a beehive-style climbing structure to a “Great Hole of China Beanbag Toss.”

Nice day for a walk.

15th Annual Westville ArtWalk
In and around the center of Westville village, New Haven (map)
(203) 285-8539
5-10pm on Friday 5/11, 11am-5pm Saturday 5/12

Written by Christopher Arnott.

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Christopher Arnott has written about arts and culture in Connecticut for over 25 years. His journalism has won local, regional and national awards, and he has been honored with an Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. He posts daily at his own sites www.scribblers.us and New Haven Theater Jerk (www.scribblers.us/nhtj).

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