T he city’s community of artists and arts administrators is pretty tight. Once you’ve gotten into it, it seems you can’t kick a pebble on the sidewalk without it careening off the shoe of someone else involved with galleries and showings.
On the quieter side of upper State Street, City Gallery embraces that reality, then pulls it in a little closer, then pulls the rest of us into it. Which makes a lot of sense, because City Gallery is actually a collective. The cooperative’s nineteen revolving artists show their works and run the space as a team. It’s a roster of very fine local talent including contemporary artists Phyllis Crowley, Bobbi Friedman and recent exhibitor Tom Peterson, who were at the gallery when I visited, and also Kathy Kane, whose work is pictured above during a past exhibition there.
The one-room gallery, which opened in 2003, was initially inspired by a desire for more venues to show in within the city, and it’s turned into something more. Peterson says, “What’s great about City Gallery, I think, is that we all seem to feed off each other. It’s a real family.” Like most families, there’s both encouragement and real-talk. “We usually have critiques about once a month where everyone gives great feedback to each other. It’s really helpful and gives us the opportunity to keep growing. Phyllis was actually my teacher a few years ago; I’ve really noticed the growth in my own work ever since.”
Perusing Peterson’s catalog of work, it’s clear that his eye is as sharp as ever. As we sit together in the center of the space, Peterson’s striking photographs for his new series Uptown, featuring blankly glamorous fashion mannequins framed against the sharp angles of city skyscrapers, hang brightly on the gallery’s walls.
The room itself is filled with a natural, warm light; the sun creates angles of its own from the paneled window panes. As inviting as the space is, City Gallery’s artists can’t help but notice that some passersby are hesitant to come inside and explore it. To the artists, this challenge, faced by many galleries and museums, only encourages them to work harder to connect with the surrounding community. Peterson says, “It’s so important for us to make everyone feel comfortable here and encourage them to ask questions. It’s rewarding for us to hear that.”
Indeed, the gallery offers the extraordinary opportunity to directly commune, without appointment or sales pressure, with the artists. Even if the currently exhibiting artist isn’t around that day, Crowley says she’s happy to call the artist up on the spot and relay questions or comments when she’s on duty.
It’s increasingly important for New Haveners to engage like that. The Elm City is an arts destination—major annual festivals (International Festival of Arts & Ideas in June and City-Wide Open Studios in the fall, for examples) attract attendees from all over, and more projects are being commissioned across public spaces, like the recent Night Rainbow installation organized by Site Projects and the various efforts commissioned by Artspace in its Chapel Street “pocket park,” The Lot. Of all people, Elm Citizens need not be afraid to walk into a bright, appealing gallery.
Especially one that gives back beyond its own walls. Along with regular gallery hours, lively opening receptions (there’s one for Paulette Rosen’s Birds Watching this Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m.) and artist talks and demonstrations, one of City Gallery’s contributions to New Haven’s arts culture is its annual holiday exhibition and fundraiser, Give Art, where every work on display is $100 regardless of size, shape or medium. The idea is to make giving (and, naturally, receiving) art easier and more accessible and, ultimately, to get fine art out into the community—not just on the walls of those who can already afford it anyway. During the exhibition, the gallery also collects and donates non-perishable food and personal care items for the Connecticut Food Bank.
City Gallery is its own collective, yes, but it cares about a broader collective called New Haven. So take a stroll or a drive up State and step into City. It’s a nice give-back to an arty band of give-backers, and the takeaway is an essential part of the New Haven experience.
994 State Street, New Haven (map)
Thurs–Sun 12-4pm or by appointment
(203) 782-2489 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Courtney McCarroll. Photograph courtesy of Kathy Kane.