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Speak Out: The Open Studios Phenomena Benefits Beyond The Sale

By Carla Goldberg
ART TIMES August online 2012

Whoever said the economy is dead might want to take note of self-starter, alternative space "out of the box" thinkers. Lately it seems every time I turn around, I hear of yet another "Open Studios" in the city or in my own Hudson Valley backyard. With the ease of social media I even hear about open studios in far away, exotic and unlikely of places such as India, Bali and Israel. Am I going there? Of course not, but I point these out because the recent (and by all appearances very successful) phenomena of community based, artist initiated, "Open Studios" events seems to have caught on like wild fire worldwide.

Open Studios isn't anything new. But is the huge rise in the number of artists and communities hosting them a sign of the times? Given the state of the economy and the limited number of artists a gallery can handle, it would seem so. Times have been hard for quite awhile now. Ask any artist or gallerist and they can tell you they saw a drop in the economy coming well before the rest of the world did. It's been especially hard for artists and galleries. Seeing some of my favorite haunts close their doors for good is very sad. For many galleries, there has been a growing and steady exodus since 2010 from the expansive warehouse spaces in Chelsea to the less expensive and much smaller digs of the Lower East Side. Still others are rethinking their business models and experimenting with new concepts. A few have taken to the "open call" route to raise funds to keep their doors open. And still others have closed ranks completely on taking on the expenses associated with adding and promoting new and untested artists to their rosters. Of course this leaves more artists than ever shut out of city galleries banished to Never Never Land. What's an artist to do?

Taking matters into their own hands, finding alternatives to getting their work seen and thinking out of the box seems the smart and prudent thing to do. Doing an Open Studio, or (O.S.), is one such way and definitely fits the bill. I've been discovering however that the appeal of an O. S is so much more than an alternative.
Artists have always sold works directly out of their studios. Yes even today many artists still go it alone sending out email after email inviting people to their workspaces. Lately, the trend to join forces with other local artists in their communities has become quite commonplace. Many of us are in the same boat, so it makes sense to pool resources and create an ambience of excitement and interest for a common goal.

O. S's, it turns out, bring so much more to the business of selling art. The sense of community and community building was quite remarkable for my area. Last year a handful of artists in my community united to organize an Open Studios event that snowballed into a much larger event than any of us anticipated. In the end about 30 artists participated. Over and over I heard my fellow artists say, "I didn't know there were this many artists here in town". Under the dynamic and energetic leadership of fused glass artist Barbara Galazzo, visitors came in droves to see where art was being made in their hometown, often repeating those same sentiments. But the visitors weren't limited to local residents. People from other counties and from the city travelled to our cute little antique town. They were surprised to see high quality contemporary art being made outside New York City. They were equally surprised to see how professional the artists were and how far the reach some of those artists had in terms of where they show nationally and internationally. For most, it was eye opening to say the least.

As it turns out, when you bring in a large number of people into a concentrated area, other local businesses benefit too. Restaurants and delis in my hometown of Cold Spring, NY last year reported far busier than normal lunch and dinner services during the event. The same went for gift, antique and clothing stores in our town. Now local businesses are supporting the artists' efforts knowing that they will see benefits of a well-publicized event.

Another interesting draw to the O S phenomena is the discovery factor; discovery of a community coming together, becoming aware of other artists in a region who didn't know each other before and a focus on the public discovering art at its source. Open studios are broadening the audience for art, taking it out of the realm of perceived elitism by making it a relaxed and easily accessible affair where the ability to bargain a bit for real art becomes a very personal and fun experience.

We saw people who might never think of walking in to a gallery or who experience fear and anxiety at the idea of walking into a traditional gallery setting enjoy the more relaxed studio atmosphere finding it less intimidating and friendlier. I talked to parents who'd said taking their child into a gallery setting was too stuffy and boring, but enjoyed the idea of bringing their kids into an artist's workspace for a learning experience. Witnessing the creative process first-hand by going into a studio gives the visitor a chance to see what goes on behind closed doors and seeing how the artist’s creativity stirs them into action and the processes involved in getting to the finished product brings the works alive. Witnessing work in all of its various stages of production from beginning to end brings a new appreciation to the visitor for the complexity, process and materials used and handled by different artists. The open studio format invites meaningful dialogue between artist and viewer. Whether a collector, an art lover or novice, this is a unique opportunity to discover new talent at the source and purchase works directly from the artist’s inventory. This personal relationship with the artists brings another layer of meaning to any artwork that you choose to live with. 

Open Studios isn't just a chance for the artists to sell work. It's also an up close and personal opportunity for an artist to gauge firsthand the public reaction to their work. Conversations about specific artworks can sometimes lead an artist to see in their work something they had not noticed before or find themselves going down the path of a new series as a result.  For some artists who only exhibit in galleries, it's a chance to let the public into both their process and world as a "fly on the wall" experience.  It's a much more intimate look at art. The chance to show new work or clear out older inventory is valuable to the artist beyond the sale. Many galleries won't show work more than three years old and if an artist has been creating for a long time, there's a lot of work to look at and choose from. The artists are happy to move inventory unhampered by huge gallery splits and have those older works find homes where they will be loved and appreciated rather than sit in storage. I know I experienced the best of all of these benefits when I opened up my studio to the public last year.

Should galleries be worried about the competition with OS's ? No I don't think so. If anything, I think the Open Studios experience is bringing in to the art market new art lovers and future gallery supporters.

I had the chance last year to visit some of my fellow artists studios all spruced up for their event. It amazed me the variety of places used by artists as studios. I saw those artists in a different light and felt closer to them. Seeing the bric-a-brac of their practice was inspiring and I came away invigorated and eager to get in my studio to work. In the relaxed atmosphere of the open studios event, I found myself full on into a new passion, seeing art at its source along the Hudson River corridor.

So why not try to catch some of the upcoming open studios events in our Hudson Valley region? You may discover a town, an artist and a new passion, all the while helping out with the concept of buying local and boosting your local economy. I've listed a few here I've enjoyed in the past in my own back yard but there are many, many more and don't forget to check out the city and other areas near you. See you there!

Saugerties Sat. and Sun. Aug 11th and 12th
Northern Dutchess Sat. and Sun. Sept. 1st and 2nd
Newburgh Sat. and Sun. Sept. 29th and 30th
ASK Kingston Studio Tour Oct. 6th
Cold Spring and Garrison Sat. and Sun Oct 13th and 14th

Essay by Carla Goldberg/Fine Mixed Media Artist/Skylight Gallery NYC Director

Note from Editor:
If your community is having an Open Studio Tour upload the event to our calendar: www.arttimesjournal.com/submitevent.html