Mayor Toni Harp with UARTS Artisan Danny Bress. Leah Andelsmith photos.
A familiar Westville arts incubator has popped up in a new location in the hopes of connecting to community, fostering creativity, and providing all adults with meaningful work.
The new storefront belongs to Chapel Haven’s UARTS program, which equips adults with developmental and social disabilities with job skills through artisan training.
Having been in Westville since 1976, the organization is excited about their new space at 12 Fountain Street, their first storefront in the neighborhood. After shuttering their store on Washington Street in North Haven, the program made its home in a studio just a few blocks away at 34 Emerson St., a space they plan to keep. UARTS plans to start by opening the store to the public on Fridays.
“It’s really all about interfacing with the community,” said Vice President of Admissions and Marketing Catherine DeCarlo. “This village is important to us. We’re just so happy to have a real presence here.”
“Westville is the fabric of Chapel Haven. It’s where our adults want to be. It’s the place they call home,” Chapel Haven President Michael said. “Without the neighborhood of Westville, we couldn’t be as successful as we are.”
Storz called Mayor Toni Harp, who was on hand at the ribbon cutting, a “very long time friend” of UARTS who has “been at every Chapel Haven event I can possibly imagine.” Harp thanked Chapel Haven for bringing a storefront to New Haven where UARTS products can be purchased year round.
Storz also commended State Rep. Patricia Dillon, who was also in attendance, calling her an advocate for Chapel Haven.
“I can’t take credit for anything you do here except to be a cheerleader for what you do here,” Dillon said. “I’m glad you came back to New Haven.”
Westville Village Renaissance Alliance Executive Director Elizabeth Donius was all smiles as she applauded UARTS’ new venture.
“It’s transforming the block already,” Donius said. “Congratulations, you guys.”
Inside, the space was bright and airy, with crisp, white walls and warm, wood trim. Shelves were lined with neatly arranged products: scarves and ties with swirls of marbled colors; wall hangings that artfully combined woven or knit fabric with unfinished branches; wooden signs painted in a rainbow of muted colors and printed with sayings like “Be kind,” and “Home is where the dog is.”
Just beside the register a wide, picture window opened into a studio space so that as they shop, customers can see the artisans at work. Behind the studio, there was a suite of rooms that will house Chapel Haven’s Center for Employment and Service Opportunities, which helps adults on the autism spectrum find jobs that match their interests and talents.
Out of 15 adults that regularly work at UARTS, eight were present at the ribbon cutting, including Danny Bress, who does a great deal of work on the cricket looms, weaving scarves, placemats, blankets and other textiles. He said weaving was his favorite activity, even though it’s a challenge to measure out the yarn and arrange it on the loom’s warp. He’s also learned new skills like painting and woodworking and formed deeper connections with some of his friends who are also in the program.
Bress at the loom.
UARTS Artisan Rachel Warden led this reporter on a small tour of the space. Most of the products are made collaboratively, and she pointed out the different items she had a hand in producing—a little of everything, it seems. She has tied off the ends of the woven wall hangings, created the marbling on some of the scarves, and stamped cool patterns on small canvas pouches. Warden said the candles and soaps are her favorite to make. She likes heating the wax and seeing how the colors are layered in the soap—it’s all about the process.
“I like to learn new stuff,” Warden said, crediting the program mentors for taking her suggestions on what to learn next, helping her stay focused, and helping her handle mistakes—like putting too much paint on a stamp, for example.
“It’s okay to make a mistake because that’s what you learn from,” she said.
Program Manager Stephanie Berberich hopes the new storefront will help UARTS have more of a presence in Westville. She’s also hoping they’ll have lots of foot traffic and that the business will develop. But for now, she’s focusing on the work at hand: making art.
“It’s really rewarding to work with these individuals and learn different methods alongside them,” she said. “To watch the product come to fruition is really rewarding as well.”
“I love that it’s always changing,” she added. “The creativity never ends.”