Student-Built Benches Enhance Pocket Park

Jacob Cohn PhotoIn New Haven’s latest piece of public art, the students are the stars.

Friday evening marked the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a set of trellised benches in a lot at 812 Chapel St., produced largely by public high school students as part of Artspace’s Summer Apprenticeship Program.

Flanked by their 13 student apprentices, artists Boris Chesakov and Ryan Wolfe thanked them for their hard work and complimented the result.

“It looks better than I ever imagined,” Wolfe said.

This is the 11th apprenticeship program run by Artspace, whose mission director Helen Kauder describes as consisting of three parts: to connect artists with resources and audiences, to spark artistic activity in New Haven, and to redefine where art can happen.

“[The bench project] was a little bit of all three,” Kauder said.

The first apprenticeship program came out of an Artspace project to draw a picture designed by conceptual artist (and Connecticut native) Sol LeWitt. Kauder decided it would be “great experience” to bring in students to complete the drawing.

Chesakov said this project, done over a three-week period in July, was somewhat different from previous years’ in that a professional artist had already completed an installation in the area. Alison Williams’ sculptural piece “Homage to Guerrilla Gardening,” made entirely from discarded objects found around New England, was already complete at the back of the lot, but Williams was unable to take on apprentices. Kauder and Chesakov came up with the idea to build benches made of found objects to complement Williams’ work.

The resulting benches are paired. The pairs are set at a 90-degree angle, allowing people sitting down to face each other. They are also covered with a latticed top to provide shade.

Kauder said the 13 student participants were recruited in different ways. Students at Metro Business and Common Ground learned about the program during field trips to Artspace’s location on Orange Street. At other schools, teachers recommended students for the program. Artspace also spread the word through email and Facebook.

Jose Del Carpio, who’s 18, learned about the program at New Haven Academy. He said that he had experience with working with tools after working last summer at the Eli Whitney Museum. He still found it challenging at times to “figure out where things go.”

Rayvone Buskey, 19, graduated last year from Common Ground. He said he enjoys being outdoors and working with his hands—which he did five days a week for three weeks completing the benches.

“I was looking forward to it every day,” Buskey said.

While Wolfe and Chesakov offered “guidance”, Buskey said, it was a “team thing,” and students played a major role.

“No one was really taking charge,” he said.

Buskey said he is pleased with how the project turned out and hopes it will change the lot in the long term. The lot has been the site of some unsavory activities. (Read about that here.) Buskey said he hopes providing a public space for people to sit and interact would “clean up this place.”

Kauder said that the benches make the space “more inviting” and draw people in from Chapel Street to view Williams’ installation, which is set away from the street and can be difficult to spot. She praised the “patchwork quality” which ties together the students’ work and Williams’.

Chesakov said he had not done much work before with students and that he felt he had gained from the experience.

“Every time I think I’ve learned something about the students, but mostly about myself,” Chesakov said.

The students, too, said they had gained from the experience. Buskey and Del Carpio expressed interest in doing this kind of work again in the future. And they had the satisfaction of seeing their project completed. For 15-year-old Yilcaly Colon of Metro Business, it was a way “to see that you don’t have to be older to do this kind of work.”

The students were paid a stipend at the end of the program; Kauder said this was because many of them would normally be working during the three weeks of the project and would find it more difficult to participate for free.

Students came to this year’s apprenticeship program from Cooperative Arts, Common Ground, Hamden High, Sound School, Metro Business, Career and New Haven Academy.

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posted by: Curious on July 25, 2011  3:40pm

Isn’t this the “pocket-park” that’s full of drunks and drug users?  There was just a piece on here that talked about the problem with people drinking and urinating in public, no?

Why on earth would you put an art project there? 

I’d love to check this out, but not if it’s in this spot.  That place is gross.  Get it cleaned up a bit,and maybe I would check it out.  Right now I cross the street to avoid it when I am going down that way.

posted by: Bill Saunders on July 26, 2011  12:48am

Curious,

I think the scope of the additional student art bench in this donated public space is intended to broaden the curb appeal of the sculpture park, making it more socially interactive, thus discouraging P-ers.

If you were to actually view the site from across the street, though, the benches look more like discouraging fence, passively preventing people from P-ing on the protected plants in the plot.

I walk past The Lot a lot, and I have never seen anybody at the bus stop actually sit on this new student fence/bench.

Splinters????

posted by: Amy K Coplen on July 27, 2011  6:01am

This is an inspiring project that breathed life into a bustling space. The benches are really well designed and surprisingly comfortable, much more so than the concrete benches. They are also well finished (i.e. no splinters).

It would be a shame not to explore and experience this beautiful community creation while it lasts. Thank you to Artspace for creating art where we need it most - our shared public places.

posted by: Ethel Berger on July 31, 2011  8:02am

Wow! I think this is an awesome project on two different fronts. First, the students had a opportunity to work together as a team to build something for their community. They had to problem solve, to come up with a design and work out differences to complete the project. On a skills level, they had to learn how to use power tools and build furniture. Second, their project enhanced a public space, and hopefully more people will now use this space in a positive way. When you put a garden in a neighborhood, the neighborhood becomes safer. When you install an art project in a public space, people view the space as more important and take better care of the space. Thank you Artspace for this project which helps our youth and helps our community.