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September 3, 2019

Vacant downtown storefront windows transformed into art objects

PHOTOS | New Haven Biz Detail from ‘Mail Art’ by Molly Gambardella.

A new public-art initiative is transforming vacant downtown storefronts into gallery space for original artwork.

Area artists have used everything from buttons to mail envelopes to create visual displays aimed at attracting passersby and lending vitality and purpose to otherwise dormant retail spaces.

To create her work “Mail Art,” for example, artist Molly Gambardella solicited some 200 pieces of mail from eight countries. The process, she said, “created a community of artists worldwide — sharing ideas, thoughts, processes and individual stories.”

Windowed Worlds was organized by Elizabeth Bickley, special projects manager for Town Green Special Services District. The project was funded by Town Green in collaboration with the Elm City Innovation Collaborative (ECIC) and the New Haven Department of Police Service.

The first wave of nine installations adorned spaces on Chapel and Church streets on the perimeter of Ninth Square beginning last February. 

The latest installations appeared over Labor Day weekend in storefront windows on Orange Street, including 96 Orange Street and the former Devil’s Gear bicycle shop space in Pitkin Plaza.

The storefront artwork is a welcome adornment to Ninth Square, whose street-level commercial spaces have struggled in recent years to retain tenants, although demand for residential rental units downtown has been strong.

The area has seen a recent surge of interest by investors and developers such as Northside Development, which is constructing two mixed-projects on lower Chapel between Church and Orange streets, and Boston-based Beacon Communities, which recently acquired the 330-unit Residences at Ninth Square at Orange and Crown streets.

Windowed Worlds also extends west of Church Street to include the 13-foot display windows on the ground-level of the 900 Chapel Street office building opposite the lower New Haven Green. Works displayed there include Gambardella’s “Mail Art,” which occupies three adjacent street-level windows.

Gambardella’s work “At the Center” features 3-D cardboard representations of the three churches on the Green (Trinity, Center and United), historically at the center of their host city’s spiritual and civic life since the 18th century.

Another 900 Chapel work is the “Paper Over III” by former Ives Squared artists-in-residence Jacqueline Gleisner and Ryan Paxton. It confronts the viewer with its display of brightly colored paintings and drawings that jut out from their wall mounting toward the Green.


Panel from ‘Paper Over III’ by Jacqueline Gleisner and Ryan Paxton

Among the newest round of works mounted during the last week of August is “Connections with Strangers” by Mackenzie Pikaart. The work, on view at 96 Orange Street, features 10,000 pin-back buttons fabricated by hand over a three-month period. Each button features an image cut out from a copy of Life magazine from the 1950s to the 1970s or National Geographic (1970s to 2012). The work, which was previously exhibited in Philadelphia, “is about the loss of a friend, lover, a memory, but also seeing and remembering the beauty and magic of life,” Pikaart explained.

Mackenzie Pikaart’s ‘Connections with Strangers,’ which features 10,000 pin-back buttons adorned with images from decades-old magazines.

In addition to lending vitality and visual interest to nominally commercial spaces, Windowed Worlds is also intended to encourage downtown landlords to tend to and maintain their properties even after tenants move out. In the hope, of course, that the vacancies won’t last for long.

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