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Bushwick Open Studios Festival Limits Participation to Local Artists

By Dana Varinsky | March 20, 2014 3:13pm
 Previously open to all, Bushwick Open Studios will requires artists seeking to participate this spring to maintain a year-round presence in the neighborhood.
Bushwick Open Studios 2014
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BUSHWICK — Weary of out-of-town artists posing as locals, the art studio tour festival Bushwick Open Studios has limited this spring's event only to those artists who have a year-round presence in the neighbhorhood, organizers said.

Organizer Lucia Rollow said a lack of regulation at the city's largest, free open studios event — which lets the public roam artists' workspaces — previously allowed artists from out of town to set up shows and temporary studios.

“The event is really not meant for that, it's meant for Bushwick artists,” explained Rollow, who added that under this year's rules, artists who want to participate in the three-day arts and culture festival from May 30 to June 1 have to prove they belong.

Participants must work in the neighborhood regularly, and at least half of artists in group exhibitions must be Bushwick-based, as the neighborhood site Bushwick Daily was first to report.

Rollow said she hopes the new policy will shrink the size of the huge event.

“We’re hoping to rein it back in a little bit," she said. “People get overwhelmed.”

As done in previous years, the volunteer-run Arts in Bushwick group is requiring participants to attend a mixer.

“The idea is to bring people together, so a large portion of it is to provide artists who are participating [with] the opportunity to meet each other,” she said. “Why should you get to register if you can't even be bothered to walk to the bar on the corner to meet your fellow neighbors and artists?”

Some artists, however, said they find this part of the event burdensome.

“I’m a little bit older than a lot of people who are really excited about the neighborhood, so a night out at a bar with a bunch of strangers isn’t necessarily enticing. But I feel like I understand why they do it,” said Noah Loesberg, who plans to participate in the event this year for the fourth time.

But Jaclyn Brown, who shares a studio with other artists at 1717 Troutman St., said she appreciates the sense of community the event fosters.

“One of my favorite things about having the studio out here is being part of Bushwick Open Studios and meeting all the different artists,” she said.

In advance of the March 27 registration deadline, mixers are scheduled for Saturday and Monday.

The festival will also introduce a new component this year. In January, Arts in Bushwick launched a pilot fellowship program for high schoolers, in which 15 students receive mentorship from local artists and creative professionals. They explore new mediums, learn how to mount a show and write artists' statements, and their work will be shown at the event on May 30, at Express Yourself Barista Bar.

Lauren Smith, a co-leader for Arts in Bushwick’s community projects team, said having the students' work shown as part of Bushwick Open Studios puts their new skills to use.

“To have full autonomy to think about something, curate something, put it together and invite all your friends and family — that’s a hugely empowering thing for anybody, but particularly for adolescents,” she said.

Bushwick Open Studios should have something for everyone, not just those who moved to the neighborhood in recent years, Rollow said.

“I think [Bushwick Open Studios] gives artists visibility, but I think it's not so good because it does contribute to rising rents and gentrification," she said. “We’re aware of the consequences of our actions and that’s why we’re trying to institute policies and rules and structures.”