Daggett Street Diaspora

“What New Haven makes, makes New Haven.”

That was the slogan gracing a 1952 brochure for the local Seamless Rubber Company, which manufactured a broad range of rubber goods starting in the 1870s. According to Edward Cahalen, a product developer at the factory in the 1930s and ’40s, Seamless supplied 95% of the surgeon’s gloves used by the Allies in World War II. For decades, the company was headquartered in the Hill, in a factory at the top of Daggett Street near Congress Avenue.

Where the factory—now known as Daggett Street Square—once manufactured goods, in more recent years the building had been a factory for art and culture. That was before the Livable City Initiative pulled the plug this past March, forcing nearly all of its resident artists to find new homes and workspaces. While there’d been an artist community living in Daggett Street for decades, the property was never zoned for the residential use that’d taken root. After a small fire drew the attention of the fire department, inspectors from the LCI found numerous code violations.

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The installation- and fabric-based artist Laura Marsh, 33, one of the booted tenants, notes the increasing difficulty of finding affordable artist studio space in the city. A native of Pennsylvania, Marsh came to New Haven to attend Yale, and has ended up staying for 6 years now, becoming the director of Seton Gallery at the University of New Haven. Along with her husband Phil Lique, she’s now moved into a live-work space on Chapel Street, but it’s twice as expensive.

A theme echoed by many of those evicted from Daggett Square is that the production of art is a fundamentally messy act. At Daggett, they made messes, and that was part of the charm. Marsh’s art deals with the shifting notions of national identity and allegiance. At a time when such ideas have permeated the national discourse, Marsh takes traditional symbols and dissects and reconstitutes them, reflecting on the complicated nature of what it means to be American.

For Julian Larson, 24, the eviction from Daggett Street was a familiar feeling. Larson had been a part of the People’s Arts Collective, based at the intersection of College and Crown Streets until late 2013. PAC lost its space when its building was demolished to make way for a new block of high-end apartments. Larson’s large-scale canvas art draws from diverse influences, from the Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky to the wildstyle graffiti born on America’s city streets.

Many of those who came to Daggett had been involved in the People’s Art Collective, and have now been twice displaced, Larson says. The PAC, Larson notes, wasn’t just about making art. It was also a safe space for queer youth, people of color and undocumented youth to hold political discussions and, of course, pursue various types of art.

Now living on an edge of Fair Haven, with significantly less space to make things than at Daggett, Larson has taken the work to the streets. Along with the Fair Haven branch of the New Haven Free Public Library, outdoor public spaces have become studio spaces. This works well enough in warmer months, but winter will demand new solutions. Perhaps Larson and other PAC artists will be able to continue doing work in a back room inside downtown supply shop Artist & Craftsman, which has allowed them to use it for free.

Still, Larson sees the evictions from Daggett Street as part of a larger set of changes taking place in New Haven, and contends that the evictions at Daggett Street were an extremely aggressive maneuver—even while holding out hope that the city will put more effort and funding into creating affordable, accessible spaces for artists to live and work.

Jon Stone, also 24, made art and hosted small music shows in his first-floor studio on Daggett Street for about a year before being kicked out. He’s since moved into the Edgewood section of town, setting up a small woodworking shop in his basement. A strong sense of time and place runs through Stone’s art, and the history of industrial production at the Daggett Street factory is more than an idle connection for him. “In an art community, everyone has tools. Everyone knows how to build stuff,” he says, because that’s what art requires.

When hosting music shows at Daggett, Stone named his apartment after another dear, departed New Haven institution: the Yankee Doodle coffee shop. Regional pride also runs through the music of 10,000 Blades, the band Stone has fronted since 2010. Song titles and lyrics reference local landmarks like Happy Harry’s Liquor Warehouse in Hamden. In addition to making his visual and musical art, Stone works a number of odd jobs around the city, including being the gardening coordinator at the Barnard Magnet School on Derby Avenue, not far from his new home on Elm Street.

If that old brochure for the Seamless Rubber Co. is correct, then a city is only as good as what it makes, whether it’s rubber gloves for war medics or boundary-pushing cultural works for the people. And while it seems the members of Daggett Street’s diaspora are still doing their part to keep New Haven the cultural capital of Connecticut, they’re now having to do it more separately, and at greater personal cost, and with a little less morale.

Daggett Street Square
69 Daggett St, New Haven (map)

Written by Michael Lee-Murphy. Photos 1, 4 and 5 by Dan Mims; photos 2 and 3 by Michael Lee-Murphy. Photo 2 depicts detail of a 1911 city atlas held by the New Haven Museum.

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Michael Lee-Murphy is an Irish-born, Connecticut-raised, and Montreal-schooled reporter and writer. He blogs at A Furious Return to Basics.

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