There’s a new space for arts events on Chapel Street. Is it an art gallery? A place for workshops? A pop-up record store and small concert space?
All of the above, according to Shawn Szirbik and Allen Camp of Hull’s Art Supply and Framing, who have turned over a second-floor space above the store to be a space for New Haven’s arts community to use — for free.
The idea for Hull’s Second Story, as Szirbik is calling the space, began when Hull’s second-floor tenant, a recording studio, moved out last year, said Szirbik, who bought Hull’s from the previous owner in 2016 after working there since 2001.
“When they left, I said, ‘do we want to collect rent, or do something better in the community?” Szirbik said. He thought about the Grove and its co-work space several blocks away on Chapel. It inspired their own ideas for the space.
“If it isn’t about anything specific,” Szirbik said, “then it can be about everything.”
Szirbik and his employees hatched the idea of just offering it to people in the New Haven arts community interested in holding events downtown, from art shows to workshops to small concerts. For free. It made sense. Gallery space for the city’s artists was at a premium downtown. And Hull’s was already a stop for supplies for many working artists, from seasoned professionals to Yale MFA students.
“They always come into the store and we talk to them all the time,” said Camp, who’s an employee at the store charged now with managing the scheduling of events at Second Story.
The Hull’s staff took a year to renovate the space themselves (“except the floor,” Szirbik said). The space was originally two offices; they opened it up into one long space, composed of two galleries connected by a doorway. Szirbik hit on the idea of calling it the Second Story both because it is on the second story and because it represents a new chapter for Hull’s.
“Shawn loves puns,” Camp said. “That’s a fact,” Sziribik said.
In addition to wanting to do something for the arts community, Szirbik said, he felt that allowing people to use the Second Story makes good business sense, for Hull’s and for the block. “If someone can bring 10 or 15 people to the door, chances are they’re going to shop,” he said — at Hull’s, at Book Trader, at any of the restaurants with which Hull’s shares its stretch of Chapel Street.
“We intend it to be a free space for arts events,” Szirbik said. “It’s more than a gallery. You can teach a class. You can hold a meeting.” They are open to any feasible arts-related ideas for the space. You could say it’s a blank canvas.
Both Artspace and the Arts Council of Greater New Haven have already shown interest in using the space in the future, and Camp and Szirbik are interested in entertaining more requests. There are some logistics to be worked out. Currently Hull’s can’t dedicate an employee to watch over the space, so anyone using it has to either lock it up or staff it themselves. But it has good lighting and lots of wall space to hang art pieces, as well as plenty of floor space to set up tables and chairs.
“The only rule is if they mess up our new floor, I won’t be happy,” Szirbik joked. Hull’s itself plans to run classes out of the space starting in the fall. But Szirbik and Camp are just as interested in seeing what New Haven’s arts community does as word gets out that the Second Story is available. It has, in fact, already started.
From May 11 to May 13, the Second Story became an impromptu record store courtesy of Belltower Records, selling vinyl across decades and genres while also hosting two concerts of live music — Alexander and Kath Bloom on May 12 and Adam’s Malec on May 13.
May 11 found Wesley Nelson of Belltower Records enjoying a steady flow of customers. “This is our first day and we have a lot of friends around town,” he said. “People have been really supportive.”
Nelson has lived in New Haven for 11 years; his wife worked for Szirbik for a number of them. “We were asking Shawn for business advice, and the subject was broached to do a little pop-up,” Nelson said.
The 34-year-old Nelson began collecting records when he was 14, though he recalls buying his first record at the age of 4 at a Strawberries in Bristol.
“It was a Whitesnake 45,” he said, laughing. “I just thought the snake looked cool.”
He had already sold one of the records in his collection he was most excited about, a 1969 LP called Blues Obituary from UK band the Groundhogs. He reported slight regrets about the sale. “I should have kept it for myself,” he said.
Hull’s Second Story is currently hosting Nectarine, an collective of illustrators and narrative artists brought together by New Haven residents (and husband and wife) David and Heather Ferreira.
The show runs until June 2 with a reception June 1 from 5 to 8 p.m.
David is an illustrator and teacher; Heather is a designer and printmaker. “Heather and I had this idea of starting a gallery,” David Ferreira said. As they looked into what a physical space would cost and the energy needed to run it, they realized that a full-time gallery “wasn’t right for our lifestyle. But combining their talents and the network of fellow artists they had been developing over their careers, The Ferreiras set up Nectarine as an online gallery in November 2017, featuring artists from the state, the region, and as far away as Georgia.
Meanwhile, Ferreira was friends with Szirbik and the Hull’s staff thanks to being a frequent customer of the store. “I was in here all the time to get supplies and comics” from Alternate Universe a block to the west, Ferreira said. The Hull’s staff told him about Second Story, then under renovation.
“I said, ‘as soon as you guys have the space, let me know,’” Ferreira said.
The Ferreiras were as good as their word, filling the entire space of Hull’s Second Story with art. There’s The Scarecrow from Peter Pasquerello, an artist with an eye for the macabre based in the greater New York City area. On the opposite wall in the front room of the Second Story is Greg Orfanos’s work, with uses a similar color palette to more playful ends.
Ferreira hopes to follow up this first show with other exhibits in the fall, spring, and summer, and as they move into doing physical exhibitions, “we’re very interested in working with more artists from the region,” Ferreira said.
In the meantime, however, the walls of The Second Story are full of art — just as Shawn Szirbik and Allen Camp had hoped would happen when they turned a page in the history of Hull’s a year ago.
Hull’s Second Story is located Hull’s Art Supply at 1144 Chapel St. Those interested in using the space are encouraged to contact Allen Camp at Hull’s, 203-865-4855, or email@example.com.