W e can analyze art any number of ways. We can assess form, content and how it connects with the viewer.
When casting our gaze on the Westville area’s annual ArtWalk, what’s worth noting is how this vibrant, multi-hued palette of artists, vendors, small businesses, entertainers and other art lovers hasn’t changed all that much over the years.
What has changed is the canvas they arrange themselves upon. Westville may have the same peaceful suburb-inside-a-city vibe it’s always had, but its markers and some of its landmarks have changed.
On this weekend of arts awareness in the area, it’s interesting to note how many of the participants weren’t around even five years ago.
Lyric Hall, the lovingly revived former silent-film stage which was excavated and renovated in the back room of an antiques store, opened its doors in 2009 and took a year or two before it could be counted on for multiple bookings each month. Lyric Hall’s website only went live last year.
A Broken Umbrella Theatre, which settled in the area in 2008 and did several shows dramatizing specific incidents in Westville history, is holding an open house at its work studio (and sometime performance space) in The Smokestack on Blake Street. The open house includes an “Artists@Work” opportunity for children to see the troupe build theater sets and decorate their new bus, with the promise of “painting, popcorn and pink lemonade.” A Broken Umbrella maintains its Westville roots but now has a new workspace downtown on Chapel Street in the back of the old Horowitz Bros. building. Its most recent show was The Library Project, staged at the main New Haven Free Public Library, and its next project is also downtown-based: the bicycle-themed Freewheeling, produced in conjunction with the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in June.
Keys on Kites Tattoo & Gallery, which has brought a fresh group of young artists to the area, has been in Westville for a little more than a year.
The ArtLoftsWest (ArLoW) housing complex, which rents only to artists and supports its own on-site gallery space, is another convenient arts gathering spot around which festivals tend to be born. Yet ArLoW’s about a decade old while ArtWalk is turning sweet 16. The festival even predates the organization which now oversees it, the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance.
So some of the iconic treats of ArtWalk as we now know it are relatively recent innovations. The festival itself has been around since the late 1990s. What was Westville like back then? Kind of the same, only there were fewer galleries and more antique stores, fewer eateries and more of other types of businesses.
But there was always an arts community, one that was eager to share its works and ideas with others. According to Chris Heitmann, executive director of the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance, the first few ArtWalks were based around special gallery exhibits in the building which is now home to Lena’s Cafe and the Kehler Liddell Gallery. “Then it expanded to the park,” Heitmann says—meaning the Westville end of Edgewood Park, which these days has a thriving weekly CitySeed farmers market on Sundays—“then to the rest of the village.” ArtWalk is now signified by its “Artists & Artisans Market,” its music stages, its sidewalk sales and other outdoor elements which put the “Walk” in ArtWalk.
While all those other aspects of ArtWalk are back this year, Heitmann also suggests that “we are kind of returning to that original model of getting people out on the streets, encouraging them to tour the galleries.” Year-round art galleries in the neighborhood (DaSilva, Kehler Liddell, Keys on Kites) have timed the openings of new exhibits to the festival, while several locations not generally known as gallery spaces (Lyric Hall, Webster Bank, the Chris Volpe Photography Studio above West Village Opticians) are hosting exhibits especially for this occasion, replete with the customary wine-and-cheese-and-chat opening receptions. There are also two large interactive art opportunities to which ArtWalkers can contribute: “Before I Die New Haven,” an international project which invites visitors to complete the statement “Before I Die I Want to…,” and “I Map New Haven,” which invites people to create their own unique eight-by-eight-inch map of the city.
Other highlights of the Westville ArtWalk this weekend:
• “Select Readings by Local Authors,” sponsored by the New Haven Review, 7 p.m. Friday at Aquila Motors on Fountain Street.
• Over 20 different activities for kids on Saturday, from a “pretzel necklace” workshop with Elm City Market to “Colonial Games” with New Haven Museum to kid songs performed by Robert Messore.
• A 12-mile bike tour of “Public Art of New Haven,” led by Elm City Cycling, beginning 1:30 Saturday at the Edgewood Park Skatepark.
A full schedule, covering dozens of separate events, can be viewed at the ArtWalk website.
“I don’t want to say it’s new—it’s what we’ve always done—but we’re refocusing on art, the showing of art,” Heitmann says, meaning that ArtWalk is fully living up to both halves of its splendiferous name.
16th Annual Westville Village ArtWalk
Westville, New Haven, centered on Central Ave between Whalley & Fountain (map)
Friday, May 10, 5-10pm & Saturday, May 11, 11am-5pm
Written by Christopher Arnott. Photograph courtesy of the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance.