By Jon Schuppe
HARLEM — Lawrence Rodriguez was among an influx of artists and gallery owners who moved to Harlem in the early ’00s for its affordable rents and rich cultural history. He watched the community grow to include dozens of exhibition spaces and hundreds of working artists.
But something was missing.
Everyone seemed to be struggling to make a name — and money — on their own.
One of the few exceptions was the annual Harlem Open Artist Studio Tour, which featured the neighborhood’s emerging and well-known artists and often stopped at Rodriguez’s Casa Frela gallery on West 119th Street. But the future of the tour was thrown into jeopardy this year, when the organizers said they could not focus on putting together a 2010 event.
Rodriguez stepped in, and now hopes his scaled down version, called Harlem Art Walking Tour, will be the catalyst for a year-round effort for artists to share resources.
As he makes final preparations for the 2010 tour, which will be held Oct. 9 and 10, Rodriguez is also planning a series of workshops for Harlem artists to talk about all aspects of their trade, from finding exhibition spaces to using online stores and social networking to sell their work.
"It's always going to be a struggle for artists, not only in Harlem,” Rodriguez, 44, said. "What we’re doing is providing the tools to say, ‘You’re not alone.'"
More than 80 artists will show their work at this year's tour. Rodriguez formatted the event to make it possible to visit up to 30 exhibition spaces over the course of a day and not get too exhausted or rushed to buy something. Artwork will be available for any sized wallet, ranging in price from $35 to $3,000, he said.
Rodriguez, who specializes in directing art shows, said that the neighborhood's new artists need to keep in mind that they are part of a long tradition, dating back to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s. None of this would be possible without that, he said.
"We are the second, third, fourth generation, and we have to give props to the people who started this," Rodriguez said. "We are working with this amazing past, and I think our ancestors would be proud.”