W hen I ask a former student at The University of New Haven if he knows about UNH’s Seton Gallery, he shrugs his shoulders and offers a blank stare in return.
“Never heard of it.”
If new Gallery Director Laura Marsh has her way, that sort of response is going to become a lot rarer. Marsh, an adjunct professor at the university and an exhibiting artist herself, has a mission to put Seton Gallery on the map.
The gameplan is two-pronged: continuing to exhibit the fruits of a talented student body while curating a consistent presence for the works of non-student artists to help re-engage the broader New Haven arts community.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Perched at the top of UNH’s hilly campus in West Haven, the distance—about two and a half miles, as the crow flies—from the arts scene staples and surrounding attractions of downtown is an obstacle for gallerygoers who might otherwise stop in. Yet Seton’s proximity to those things seems less significant after reading down the roster of celebrated artists who have shown at the gallery these past few months. Intermixed with an array of student work and shows, accomplished artists Lourdes Correa-Carlo (Inverted Structures) and Cat Balco & Megan Craig (Tough Love) have been especially big hits for the gallery.
“Admittedly, the location is a bit difficult,” Marsh says. “We’re not downtown—we don’t have the convenience of location, so you can’t just walk down the street to an opening and then have drinks with friends at 116 Crown afterwards. To get people to drive over and see us, the work has to be great here. I want to make it worth their while.”
No stranger herself to the wider local arts scene, Marsh knows that New Haven’s creativity doesn’t stop at the visual arts. So, in addition to a steadily rotating exhibition calendar during the academic year, Marsh plans to institute Seton’s first summer artist residency, which is also the gallery’s first program intended to foster artistry across a variety of media.
Like music, for example. “One thing I’ve always loved about New Haven is that there’s a very active community that’s interested in both music and the visual arts. Music and art go hand-in-hand together; there’s not a clear divide between the two and I don’t think that there should be. I’ve always thought that was a really interesting aspect about our city—like with what Intercambio has done—that I don’t think has worked as well in other places.”
A former Programs and Communications Director for Artspace, Marsh knows firsthand the difference that creative efforts to engage the community can make for galleries and arts organizations. She says that “art is not made in a vacuum and a gallery cannot display work in only one container. By exchanging ideas and presenting work on- and offsite, projects can grow and reach a much more diverse audience.” Testing the waters with West Haven’s artist community, Marsh has already forged partnerships with the West Cove Gallery, arts writer (and local legend) Stephen Kobasa and various UNH arts faculty to help develop new projects.
When I visit Marsh in the space, she’s in the midst of installing the gallery’s latest exhibition: New Heaven by Cecilia Mandrile. Early on in Mandrile’s career, I’m told, she was attracted to printmaking and, for this show, has utilized the medium in such a way as to blur images of her own face onto dolls and toys scattered throughout the space. Exploring the gallery at this moment, it feels something like walking through a brightly lit haunted house: there are no sudden screams or surprises, and yet, as I creep up on the cradles and perversely mounted playthings on display, I’m quite unnerved.
Marsh is noticeably delighted by my reaction—any reaction, it would seem. “The benefits of art and practice always come back to community. It’s through the practice of producing art that you open a dialogue with other makers and those who have similar (and dissimilar) sensibilities. You put it out there and a conversation occurs.”
Fortunately for New Haven, the conversation at Seton Gallery is just getting started.
Dodds Hall – University of New Haven
300 Boston Post Road, West Haven (map)
Mon-Thurs 11am-6pm, Fri-Sat 12-4pm (subject to change; call before visiting)
(203) 931-6065 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Written (and photos #3 and 5) by Courtney McCarroll. Other photos courtesy of Seton Gallery.