Press Release November 24, 2009

contact: arts@orchardstreetshul-artistsproject.org

The Cultural Heritage Artists Project of the Orchard Street Shul (CHAP No.1) is a vibrant, collective exhibition, combining the creative work of more than 30 artists who produced new works in a wide variety of media and aesthetic style. 

The Orchard Street Shul (Congregation Beth Israel) is a historic orthodox synagogue in an area of New Haven that was largely dismantled during urban renewal of the 1960s, and the building is one of the last reminders of the period when this neighborhood was the center of a diverse community of immigrants and migrants. The impetus of this Artists Project was to partner with this small congregation to share the history and legacy of the building and community, in an effort to raise its visibility and help support its preservation.

The Project invited new work responding to the environment, history, or architecture of the Orchard Street Shul, with the intent of celebrating the heritage of this traditional congregation and the richness of the neighborhood. The criteria for participation were specified—the artist must visit the Shul as an important step in developing an approach to the challenge of creating work based on this particular site. In addition, each artist was asked that “all work produced for this project maintain respect for the synagogue as the spiritual home of an ongoing segment of New Haven's Jewish community, and as the legacy of past generations.”

The artist participants, who come from diverse cultural backgrounds and geographic regions, were advised of these guidelines for the exhibition at the outset. The Project's Artistic Committee reviewed all proposed works in terms of these guidelines, and ultimately found that Richard Kamler's work fell outside of the guidelines.

Although his initial concept of broader community engagement was encouraged, Mr. Kamler did not complete the research nor preparation for the exhibition in a way that would focus on the Orchard Street Shul as required.  Consequently, when finally presented for review, the project was not accepted by the Artistic Committee.  With adequate time, Mr. Kamler was asked to continue to develop his idea in a form that the Artistic Committee felt would meet the guidelines, but he declined.  As a result, his work was not included as part of the exhibition. The Artistic Committee respects the reputation and career of Mr. Kamler, and regrets not being able to include a work by this artist.

The Artistic Committee is comprised of participating artists who are committed to the concept of working together to create new forms of collaboration and community partnerships. The engagement with the Shul required forging new approaches to finding common ground between artists and this community partner. Only through community-building, understanding and research have we been able to successfully bring this creative expression to the public. The Artistic Committee stands by its commitment to respect the Orchard Street Shul, as agreed in the initial guidelines, and is excited by the high quality of work inspired by this building, community, and its neighborhood. 

The works in the exhibition range from the historical and the pictorial, to the abstract, and include provocative works addressing ongoing debates within the local community and across New Haven in general. Some of the works engage community directly as participants while others are more narrative. All of these works, however, fall within the original guidelines that asked artists to respond to a particular community and give voice to specific partners.

Ultimately free expression must include the right of artists and partners to define the guidelines for their exhibitions, and by extension, the right of refusal for works which fail to meet the guidelines.

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