22 Years Young

W hen Artspace first launched City-Wide Open Studios 22 years ago, organizers had no idea whether it would stick, executive director Helen Kauder says. 

Not only has it stuck, it’s reached well beyond city limits, with this year’s four-weekend extravaganza showcasing Connecticut artists from 54 towns in multiple New Haven-area locations. But at the heart of CWOS is the same mission it began with: to “connect the dots and invite artists to stand shoulder to shoulder and be counted,” Kauder says.

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This year’s theme, “Older but Younger,” is a phrase that applies as much to the event itself as to any individual artist or project. Even as the old mission holds, CWOS is bringing in “younger” ideas. Tonight, for the first time, its opening party is joining with the popular New Haven Night Market on lower Orange Street. It’s also launching its first collaboration with Creative Arts Workshop, and it’s welcoming 75 new artists to go with hundreds of festival veterans. And the printed program’s centerfold isn’t a map this time around; it’s what Kauder delightedly calls a “pin-up” of 91-year-old artist Ann P. Lehman, welding a metal sculpture. Lehman reportedly still works in her studio every day, “and I think in that sense shows us that no matter the age, that kind of daily ritual of finding connection to one’s creative wellspring is the thing that can keep us young,” Kauder says.

The “Older but Younger” theme is intended to help CWOS’s attendees, expected to number about 10,000, to “land together on some shared platform and engage in a conversation around a set of ideas,” Artspace curator and gallery director Sarah Fritchey says. The theme also offers an opportunity for artists to challenge ageism in art and other fields. Issues of age and aging are most overtly explored in 12 special commissions, which include a search for the “fountain of youth,” a chance to experience yourself as part of the fossil record and a “participatory installation” telling the stories of four seniors, among others. All involve a collaboration between at least two artists whose ages are 25 or more years apart, Fritchey says.

CWOS kicks off tonight with a celebratory exhibition of one small work from each of this year’s 400-plus artists at Artspace. Generations of Rhythm, a commissioned “tap dance performance uniting diverse dancers young and old,” will be performed at the corner of Orange and Crown Streets at 6:15. In addition, Town Green District’s New Haven Night Market will pop up with food and shopping booths. For those who prefer window shopping, 16 transformed Ninth Square shop windows will be on display in the Windowed Worlds project.

Next weekend is Westville & Private Studios Weekend, with 32 artists in Westville—including six working in POD storage container studios—and 48 more throughout New Haven opening their work spaces for all to see. The weekend also includes a Literary Happy Hour, art-making workshops, dancing, biking and a Westville block party.

“Older” venue Erector Square is up next, on October 19 and 20, where kids can try a CWOS scavenger hunt, and adults can try to find their way through the maze of buildings, with nearly 100 artists’ studios. WPKN will broadcast live from Building 3 (there are eight, most of them connected), and local food trucks will serve up their fare.

“Younger” venue Yale West Campus hosts the grand finale, Alternative Space Weekend, November 2 and 3, with more than 230 artists and nine of the event’s special commissions, which culminate in artist talks, workshops, a performance and a parade. In addition, U.P. Roots, “a lively collective of young, local artists of color,” will use storytelling to “gently uproot” Connecticut’s underground arts scene.

Bridging the weekends are additional events. On Tuesday, October 15, a “Rideshare”—“the idea is that you’re hitching a ride with an artist to really learn about their practice,” Kauder explains—brings microscopic ocean life to the drawing board. No matter your age or artistic skill, if you’re single, you’re invited to Elm City Speed Dating with CAW on Wednesday, October 16—which includes an art project, of course. A special edition of PechaKucha, in which presenters use 20 slides shown for 20 seconds apiece to examine a topic of their choosing, takes up the “Older but Younger” theme on Wednesday, October 23, at Long Wharf Theatre.

A change that hasn’t happened yet also distinguishes this CWOS. It’s Kauder’s last year with Artspace. Her own creative practice, she says, is making administrative budgets. It’s not the kind of work you’ll find hung in the grid on the Artspace walls, but it’s every bit as vital to the organization’s mission.

Kauder hasn’t landed yet on her next project, but she expects to stay here in New Haven and remain part of the arts community. She plans to attend future installments of CWOS, which she calls the most “democratic” show in town, gathering not only older and younger but also work across media and professional experience, from “artists who call themselves Sunday painters” to artists who are teaching fine arts and have degrees from renowned art schools. “If you say that you are an artist, you are welcome,” Kauder says.

If you don’t, that’s great, too. “This is a community art show,” she says, “and I think part of the fun is coming here and seeing what catches your eye.”

City-Wide Open Studios: “Older but Younger”
Oct. 4: Grand Opening Reception
Oct. 12-13: Westville & Private Studios Weekend
Oct. 19-20: Erector Square Weekend
Nov. 2-3: Alternative Space Weekend

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 1 and 2—the latter featuring work by Dale Weirdly—photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 3, featuring key CWOS organizers Randi McCray, Elinor Slomba, Helen Kauder and Sarah Fritchey, photographed by Dan Mims.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is a writer and communications pro whose perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the Green and a coffee milkshake. She posts twice-weekly content for book clubs in her Substack newsletter, Better Book Clubs.

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