In 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.