Art/Place celebrates 25 years with HCC exhibit

By PHYLLIS A.S. BOROS
Staff writer, CT Post
Updated: 12/13/2008 09:08:40 PM EST

Art/Place, the Fairfield-based nonprofit artists' cooperative, is throwing a birthday party in Bridgeport -- and the guests of honor are its 27 members and the community at large.

In observance of its 25th anniversary, the Housatonic Museum of Art at Housatonic Community College will host an exhibition, opening Thursday, that features more than 100 works from Art/Place's member-artists, who are based throughout Connecticut and Westchester County.

And as fate would have it, the exhibition also is a celebration of perseverance. In January, the group's long-time gallery in the Southport Train Station Southbound, at 400 Center St., was destroyed by fire. Despite that blow, the group has continued to offer exhibitions at supportive public and private galleries, libraries and community centers throughout the region.

Long before the fire displaced the group, its 25th anniversary show had been planned for the Bridgeport venue in order to take advantage of HMA's convenient location and spacious Bert Chernow Galleries (which will accommodate a far larger show than would have been possible at its former Fairfield home).

The anniversary exhibition opens Thursday with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m.; admission is free. Featured will be a variety of media, including paintings, prints, photography and mixed-media works, in styles that range from representational to abstract. It will be on display through Jan. 30.

Although the group was founded in January, 1982 -- and will soon be observing its 27th anniversary -- this was the only time slot available at the Bridgeport museum in the past two years, according to exhibit co-chair Florence Zolan, the only original co-founder who is still active in the gallery.

Zolan, a longtime Fairfielder who now lives in Bridgeport, said the group was established "for the camaraderie of other artists," for the sharing and exchange of ideas with colleagues, as a place that would benefit both the artists and the community, and to give artists the freedom to create and experiment without worrying whether a commercial gallery would find their output "sale-able."

"We didn't know if it would last . . . but here we are," Zolan said, laughing.

As a highlight of the anniversary celebration, member Arle Sklar-Weinstein spent much of the past year visiting all Art/Place members (then 24) either in their homes or studios and taking scores of photos of each as she attempted to "capture the essence of every artist and the incredible passion that each has" for his or her art.

"She then created one photomontage portrait of each member, and these portraits have become the basis for "Artists Portraits Project: Celebrating Art/Place @ 25," a 40-page book that will be available for purchase at the show. The portraits also will be on display.

Sklar-Weinstein, of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., noted that the idea for the project came more than a year ago following her artist residency at the Fundacion Valparaiso in Mojacar in the province of Almeria, Spain. In Spain, Sklar-Weinstein created an artist portrait series on the eight international artists and writers participating there; those portraits were the subject of a 2007 exhibition at Art/Place. After seeing those portraits, members suggested she do the same for the 25th anniversary celebration.

The project, and her experiences, will be discussed by Sklar-Weinstein Jan. 8 from 5 to 7 p.m. at an HMA lecture that will be open to the public, free of charge. And the artist will be available to sign copies of her book (which will be offered for $40 at the event; $53.95 at www.blurb.com/books/380376).

Fairfielder Susan Newbold, who is now finishing her second year as Art/Place co-chair, along with Barbara Harder of New Haven, said she is very proud of the members, who "turned an adverse situation into a positive one." Not only is the organization still functioning, it is doing so with "a new freshness and energy. We're all committed to making this work," Newbold said.

From its very beginning, Art/Place has operated a gallery at the Southport Train Station, subletting space from the town of Fairfield's Parking Authority, which in turn leases the building from the state Department of Transportation. A new Southport Train Station is expected to be completed sometime next year, and Art/Place is hoping that the town will allow the group to return to its former space, although Newbold said that a commitment in writing has yet to be forthcoming.

In the meantime, the organization is working "to reaffirm and redefine its mission statement," she said, adding that once Art/Place finds a permanent home, that mission will include greater community outreach, possibly in the form of lectures and workshops.

"Our role is to inform the community about contemporary art, and we intend to do that" with renewed vigor during the next 25 years and beyond, she said.

Housatonic Museum of Art is at Housatonic Community College, 900 Lafayette Boulevard in downtown Bridgeport (exit 27 off Interstate 95).

Its Burt Chernow Galleries, in HCC's Lafayette Hall, are regularly open Monday through Friday from 8:30

a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Thursdays to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free.

For additional information on the exhibit, contact HMA director Robbin Zella at 332-5052.