T he trappings of the visuals arts—paintbrushes, pottery wheels, fancy cameras, tiny glass beads—have always made me nervous. “I’m not very artistic,” I say. “It’s not one of my talents.”
The people at the Creative Arts Workshop beg to differ. And after visiting their facility on Audubon Street in New Haven, I have to admit they may have a point.
“This is not an art school for artists,” says Katherine Spencer Carey, Public Relations Manager for the nonprofit. “This is an art school for everybody.”
Even for the artistically disinclined, it’s hard to feign disinterest in the face of these fascinating prospects. Just thumbing through the fall roster of classes is itself an exercise in creative awakenings. Before you’ve even registered, the world is suddenly alight with possibilities you’ve never considered: Stained Glass for Beginners; Hand-Building with Clay; Drawing the Portrait Made Easy; Japanese Lampmaking; Basic Hand Bookbinding. You can even take a course that teaches students to create a garment from sketch to completion. Children’s classes serving ages two through teenager cover a range of classes nearly as varied as for adults.
Beyond the weekly classes—which traverse both daytime and evening hours—there are special workshops held throughout the year. These concentrated sessions allow students to learn, usually over one or two days, the basics of an art form or concept, from the uber-specific, like the Plexiglass Intaglio Monoprint workshop scheduled for December 2, to the philosophical, like the Creative Mastermind 101 workshop scheduled for November 11, which promises that students will engage in group exercises to help “remove creative blocks.”
The center even encourages date nights with their pizza-and-art Fridays. Instead of hiring a babysitter, on specific Friday nights parents can drop their children off from 6- 9 p.m. for an art project and pizza dinner.
In addition to learning a new and exciting skill, taking a class means the privilege of hanging out in the CAW building, which includes three stories of beautiful studios and galleries bustling with students, teachers, dedicated staff members and volunteers, proud and ever-willing to talk about this place and their passion.
“Volunteers are the lifeblood of this organization,” says Carey. And right now they are very busy. From October 27 to December 24, the Workshop hosts the 44th annual Celebration of American Crafts, an exhibition of works by over 300 artists from across the country. This is holiday shopping at its best; one-of-a-kind jewelry, blown glass and handmade toys are a few of the items that will be available for purchase in the building’s galleries.
The Celebration features three events, as well: “Celebrate Style!” on November 11, a champagne reception and fashion show featuring works by exhibition artists, an evening of shopping and chatting with Connecticut-based artists on November 15 and “Crafternoon,” a “multi-crafting” event (a.k.a. a gathering of different artists pursuing their various arts) on December 2nd.
There’s a palpable excitement in the air at CAW as preparations are made. Smiling volunteers decorate the ground-floor gallery and everybody’s spreading the word. “You’ve heard about the Celebration, right?” they ask when I approach the front desk. Next to the organization’s bi-annual gala, the Celebration of American Crafts is their biggest event.
It’s clear that organizing the Celebration requires a momentous amount of work, although those involved seem overjoyed to do it. Their enthusiasm is catching. Once it’s all over there may be a lull, but I’m willing to bet it won’t last for long.
After all, this is a place where busy is the norm. On a Tuesday afternoon one dimly lit room holds a class of about ten who are quietly learning the art of photography. Up in the bookbindery, where colorful reams of parchment line the walls, a studio artist is tending to a current project. On the first floor parents chat while dropping off their children’s for a youth-oriented sculpture class.
There are empty studios, as well, like the large painting studio, where the natural light is both calming and inspirational, just waiting for someone to come along and create something, as it does in so many rooms in this perfectly suited building.
As it’s free of students for the moment, I unexpectedly imagine myself there doing what I thought was the unimaginable: holding a paintbrush.
I know, I know. I claim that I’ve given up on my inner craftswoman. It just isn’t me, I think. But as I look at the high ceilings lined with skylights, it feels like I’m beginning to change my mind.
Creative Arts Workshop
80 Audubon Street, New Haven (map)
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.