“I went from never showing my work to just … putting it out here,” said UNH student Naomi Gashaw. “If Cleveland hadn’t given me the opportunity, I wouldn’t have done it. It let me cross over into being an artist.” Lucy Gellman Photos.
A new home for artists is popping up in New Haven’s Dwight/Edgewood neighborhood—and it’s designed with neighborhood residents, some still just learning their craft, specifically in mind.
That’s the model at “Sol for Art,” a new art gallery and studio space at 198 Sherman Ave. that opened Saturday afternoon after a year of renovation. Started by New Haven transplants Cleveland Solomon and Zenobia Garland, the gallery will be open on a part-time basis throughout the summer, with plans to stay open permanently as it incorporates as a nonprofit and continues to raise funds.
Over 100 gathered for the four-hour open house Saturday, which included live jazz, Big Green Truck Pizza, platters of spicy cajun food and chances to meet the inaugural exhibiting artists. The gallery currently occupies the first floor and backyard, with plans to expand upstairs after more renovation.
“In this particular community, there’s not many places that artists can use,” said Garland at the opening, framed by a newly painted mint-green porch and towering wood-and-glass front door. “This art gallery is going to be a staple in the community … so we can bring back the talent, and we can show what we have. It’s a true gem.”
It’s a gem she’s wanted to see for a long time, she continued. Garland grew up between New York and New Haven, visiting aunts and cousins who lived in the Dwight/Edgewood neighborhood from a young age. For years, she was a homeowner on Kensington Street and longed for an artistic space that wasn’t downtown, where she could meet neighbors, see plays, and take neighborhood kids for craft activities. So when Solomon, a longtime friend who she’d met in college, told her he’d bought the property for that purpose, she hopped on board.
It took “a lot of work” before they could reopen the home, she said. Built for Theodore Ackerman at the turn of the century, 198 Sherman has lived multiple lives—a single-family home for a 19th century Yale family, a 22-bed surgical hospital, nursing manor and single-family home again in the 1980s and 1990s. It slowly fell into disrepair: floors that needed replacing, creaky stairs, an exterior that looked slightly haunted as paint chipped off.
Teaching artist Gina Martin's work, displayed as a sort of centerpiece in a gallery with young artists from Marrakech, Inc.
But Solomon, who has lived nearby on Ella T. Grasso for 22 years, said it seemed like the right place to start his “Sol for Art” initiative (“Sol” is the shorthand for “Supporting Others’ Love”). In 2017, he purchased the property for $190,000, according to city property records. He has spent the last 12 months renovating, a task he said required “some hefty bucks.” He declined to comment on the overall cost of rehabbing the building.
Unsure of where to find artists, he opened a call for the house’s first exhibitions, connecting with local organizations like Marrakech Inc. and a series of burgeoining and amateur artists, many of whom were showing for the first time. He said that he plans to continue the focus on local artists going forward.
“I did a number of years in social service in New York, and saw tenants who were told to give up their artistic dreams,” he said, bouncing his young son Trey on his hip. “In the community, this is a way to support them. It’s a way to keep the community coming alive.”
Inside, attendees wove through a network of rooms, pointing out freshly laid tile and repainted doors, banisters, and walls. Passing through the home’s doorway, they hooked to the left, greeted with walls packed with art by local artists Lena Fin, Stephanie Tirado, Naomi Gashaw. A rogue international entry from the German artist Dustart beckoned from another, with a striking, wide- and wet-eyed face looking out onto the room.
“I’ve always been painting, for as long as I can remember,” said Tirado, who began to pursue art full time a few years ago. “It’s very hard to get your work out there—so this feels very special.”
As Tirado went to explore the house, Gashaw stood in front of her paintings with Officer Johnathan Lambe, pointing out the splashes of thick, bright color that jumped out in her works. Born and raised in Ethiopia, Gashaw is now a senior at the University of New Haven, where she will graduate with a degree in communications next month.
“I went from never showing my work to just … putting it out here,” she said. “If Cleveland hadn’t given me the opportunity, I wouldn’t have done it. It let me cross over into being an artist.”
In the next rooms, employees from Advance Childcare Center rolled marbles back and forth in bins of bright paint, a small army of kids flowing through the doorway at ten-minute intervals. A spray of piano keys sprang from a sitting area, where new green, flowered wallpaper restored the space to its 1874 design.
Gina Martin (in pink sweater), with Youth Art Project participants Yanilie Maldonado and Lekisha Jacques and Marrakech Inc. employees Alexzandria Dowdy and Matthew Horowitz.
Out on a sun-soaked back porch, Solomon bounced between six different conversations. Through a window, he could watch as artists from Marrakech Inc.'s Work to Learn and Youth Art Project programs mingled with attendees seeing their work for the first time.
“I didn’t know I could be an artist,” said 19-year-old Lekisha Jacques, pointing out her pieces on a wall. “I’m gonna continue it.”
Sol for Art is too. In the next months, both Garland and Solomon said they are planning to add activities to the gallery, including open studios, all-ages art classes, dance, and a live, site-specific theater performance that will take place within the year. In addition to individual donations and grants that they will be pursuing with 501c3 status, Garland said Solomon is hoping to bring in funds by selling antique furniture in the house.
“I think his is going to inspire people because they have a space now,” Garland said. “We can all say that the art is going to be in our souls … sharing our souls with Sol for Art.”