Alicia Cobb leads a family-oriented art class at the new Dixwell Avenue Q House. Makeda Murray Photos.
In an upstairs room of the Dixwell Avenue Q House, Alicia Cobb’s art class was in full swing. Leaning into a canvas, she encouraged her students to play with color. Beside her, a few easels rested on the windowsill, trees and flowers stretching across their bright surfaces. Around her, it seemed that the building was alive, with classes unfolding in every floor.
It’s a normal weeknight scene at the new Q House, a revitalized and reopened community hub located at 197 Dixwell Ave. in the city’s historic Dixwell neighborhood. Eight months after it first opened to the public, the space has come vibrantly to life with classes for students of all ages, weekly activities, and a new farmers market that springs up each Wednesday on the patio outside. It is operated by Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership, Inc. (LEAP), through a contract with the City of New Haven.
On a recent Tuesday, LEAP Chief of Staff Yakieta Robinson walked through the building, pointing out classrooms, youth and adult clubs, and new additions to the space that make her excited to come to work every day. A native of Bridgeport who moved to New Haven in high school, Robinson has been working with youth since 2001. Initially, she was a LEAP counselor and student at Wilbur Cross High School; over the years, she’s risen in the organization’s ranks.
LEAP Chief of Staff Yakieta Robinson. Makeda Murray Photos.
At the Q House, she is responsible for securing space for individuals to use for their programming, rehearsals, and activities.
“It allowed me to identify what my calling and path was, which was to give to the community and work with youth,” she said. “I’ve been able to find great joy in it, since I’ve started working with young people at such a young age. ”
The new building unfolds before a visitor, with at least one thing meant for every member of the community. On the second floor, seniors are invited to take yoga, play bingo, learn line dancing and relax at a senior center. On the first, there are conference rooms, a teen study area, a room with brand-new podcasting equipment, a fitness center, and the gymnasium. The newly rebuilt Stetson Branch Library anchors one side of the building; a branch of the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center sits at the other.
On a recent Tuesday evening, the Q house bustled with activity. A crocheting class for adults 18 and up unfolded downstairs. In the gymnasium, roughly 10 children played basketball on one side, while some adults played a game with the hoop on the other. In the second floor dance studio, a group of teens rehearsed for an upcoming performance. They cheered each other on, watching on the edges of the room as some of the group performed in the middle of the space.
Yakieta Robinson in the new Toni and Wendell Harp Memorial Museum. Makeda Murray Photos.
Inside the art studio, two families were enjoying Cobb’s painting class. A mom and her daughter sat at one table on the left side, and a mother and her young son sat at a table on the right side. As R&B music played from the teacher’s phone, students diligently worked on their paintings, dipping their brushes into thick, wet color and then returning to the canvas. On each canvas, a matching scene took shape: a tree climbing into the air with a birdhouse built into it. The music was soothing; the little boy eventually fell asleep, with his head on the table.
A native of Stamford and ten-year veteran of both LEAP’s programming and teaching art, Cobb checked in on each student, offering praise for the newly-bright canvases. A Bridgeport resident, the artist has been in business full-time since 2015, with her studio, Art Simplicated. After months of running pandemic-era art classes for free online, she began running the drop-in family paint classes in March.
“I paint bodies, murals, canvases… whatever I can get my hands on,” she said with a laugh. “Whatever people will let me paint!”
This piece comes to the Arts Paper through the fifth annual Youth Arts Journalism Initiative (YAJI), a program of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. Read more about the program here or by checking out the"YAJI" tag. Makeda Murray is a rising junior and is homeschooled.