During the months of December 2009 and January 2010, The John Slade Ely House Center for Contemporary Art in New Haven, Connecticut will come alive with memories, recollections, and recreations of an important community heritage site, in an innovative group installation designed to both stimulate reflection on the legacies of past generations and engage the public in dreams for the future.
The Orchard Street Shul Cultural Heritage Artists Project is an art exhibition, a history lesson, a point of cultural exchange, and meeting place for dreamers, both nostalgic and visionary. Artists, researchers, and scholars have joined together to celebrate an important historic New Haven landmark which was once central to the life of a large Jewish immigrant population in the Oak Street neighborhood.
Urban changes in the last 50 years have all but erased evidence illustrating the importance of the Oak Street neighborhood in the lives of the newly arrived immigrants and migrants who populated much of the area now known as the “Oak Street Connector”, Route 34. Where some see open space, or a new hospital, or a school, or a parking lot, others with longer memories see shops bustling with activity, voices shouting in Yiddish and Italian, sprinkled with a variety of accents from elsewhere, including near and distant regions within the USA.
Contributions to the installation offer a range of approaches. Some artists researched the history of the Orchard Street Shul and its neighborhood, uncovering multiple stories of this community: stories of women working together to aid refugees, stories of hard-working fathers and mothers who dedicated themselves to making a better life for their children, and stories of teenagers who giggled and mingled on the steps of the Shul. Others built on their own experiences, reaching into their hearts to create depictions of the Shul that are evocative of deeper connections with history and community. Still others focused on the issues of urban renewal, making real the shifts in our urban landscape that are difficult to imagine as we visit the site today.
Included in the Project are presentations by researchers from Yale University who developed innovative ways to document the building, including virtual reconstructions exploring new digital methods, ground-breaking research by computer scientists that promises to change the ways that cultural heritage sites will be documented in the future. Some contributing artists used this digital data in their creative work.
The Orchard Street Shul Cultural Heritage Project is organized by Cynthia Beth Rubin, a New Haven based artist, in collaboration with participating artists and researchers: Nancy Austin, Meg Bloom, DonnaMaria Bruton, Jeanne Criscola, Roslyn Z. Croog, Linda Drazen, Paul Duda, Gonzalo Escobar, Maya Escobar, Alan Falk, Greg Garvey, Shalom Gorewitz, Jaime Kriksciun, Leslie J. Klein, Beth Krensky, Seth Lamberton, Mary Lesser, Lisa Link, David Ottenstein, Bruce Oren, Robert Rattner, Cynthia Beth Rubin, Holly Rushmeier, Janet Shafner, Frank Shifreen, Suzan Shutan, Sharon Siskin, Christina Spiesel, Yona Verwer, Julian Voloj, Laurie Wohl, Chen Xu, and Howard el-Yasin. The group includes artists from California, Florida, Utah, Missouri, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York, who traveled to New Haven to contribute to the project alongside artists from the region.
A Project Book is being published in conjunction with the exhibition, including essays by Haisia Diner, the eminent scholar of Jewish immigration history, Walter Cahn, renowned historian of art and and architecture, and Hana Iverson, known for her remarkable multi-media installation “View from the Balcony” that was instrumental in helping attract attention to the renovation project of the Eldridge Street Shul. The book will also feature photographs of the works in the exhibition and memories of the Orchard Street Shul, with commentary by Karen Schiff. The innovative book design is by Criscola Design.
The Public is Invited to the Opening Reception for the Participating Artists, on Sunday, December 6, from 12:00 Noon to 5:00 pm. To set the mood for the launch of “The Orchard Street Shul Artists Cultural Heritage Project”, the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale for Jewish Life at Yale will host a Jazz jam session on December 5 at 7:30, celebrating the swing dance music of 1924 and beyond, when the cornerstone of this Synagogue was put in place in a ceremony attended by Mayor Fitzgerald and much of the entire New Haven community.
The John Slade Ely House Center for Contemporary Art is open W-F, 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, and weekends 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Schools and other organizations who would like to arrange a group visit outside of regular hours may do so by sending an email to: [email protected]