As we’ve noted in our posts, the inspiration for GO came from two primary sources: ArtPrize and the long and burgeoning tradition of open studio weekends held each year in numerous Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Williamsburg, Greenpoint, DUMBO, Gowanus, Red Hook, and Bushwick. While ArtPrize sparked some of our earliest discussions, our ideas about what GO could achieve also grew out of our own experiences visiting artists’ spaces and our conversations with many of the organizers of local open studio weekends.
During our visits to open studio events in Brooklyn, we found that the basic element of an open studio event—experiencing art where it is created—creates an exchange with many benefits. Artists open their doors and invite neighbors and other visitors into what otherwise might be a private and personal workspace in order to elicit feedback on their work and gain broader exposure that might lead to other opportunities. Community members, in turn, get access to the creative process happening right next door and also gain entry into spaces that they might not otherwise see. These events, often held over a weekend, encourage personal interaction between artists and their communities with benefits to both sides. Inspired by these examples, we imagined a Brooklyn-wide event that would benefit artists and community members alike by bringing them closer together.
Once we identified the open studio model as what we wanted to pursue for GO, we wanted to consult with organizers in the borough who have become wonderfully adept at orchestrating these complex events with so many moving parts. We met with more than twenty people to discuss our initial ideas and the potential challenges we would face, and everyone was incredibly generous in offering their time and guidance. Shelley and I had some initial concerns that our idea might be met with some apprehension if it was perceived as competing with pre-existing neighborhood events. We were thrilled to find that everyone felt that more open studio opportunities would be welcomed by artists and, as a result, so many individuals graciously lent their advice and assistance. In fact, some went so far as to coordinate events to coincide with the GO weekend. In other cases, we saw the organizers of Bushwick Open Studios and SONYA Studio Stroll help us to promote GO during their own events. Some of the organizers have even become directly involved in GO as neighborhood coordinators. This spirit of collaboration is one we hope will continue to carry over to other stages of the project.
What did we learn from our conversations with neighborhood event organizers? We were immediately prompted to check the calendar of the Borough President’s Office. (We went through many possibilities and have avoided conflicts with major events like the Brooklyn Book Festival, Atlantic Antic, the Barclay Center opening, and the Dumbo Arts Festival.) We were told that consistent hours were absolutely necessary. (GO hours are 11am to 7pm Saturday and Sunday.) We were instructed to get as much information from artists about accessibility options and special instructions for their buildings, particularly since so many studio buildings can be difficult to navigate. (Artist profiles indicate if a studio is on the ground floor or has an elevator; is wheelchair accessible; has child-friendly art; is pet friendly; welcomes strollers; or requires other special instructions.) We were regaled with many stories of lessons learned the hard way about the importance of clear and consistent signage. (We have spent countless hours with our designer and editor devising our materials and conducting user testing.) We also heard loud and clear that even if we were developing an iPhone app with lots of bells and whistles, a printed map was a must. (The GO map is headed to the printer as I write.)
By melding the ArtPrize concept with the open studio model, we want to offer a unique experience—one that complements the local open studio tradition. Our aim is to highlight the great diversity of Brooklyn’s artists and neighborhoods, and to encourage as much exchange between the two as possible. This is also why we decided to deviate from ArtPrize model by asking participants to visit multiple studios, and by asking them to view work in progress and within the context of the workplace rather than in isolation. We hope this will encourage dialogue between artists and their public, and provide viewers with new opportunities to become integrated into the vibrant artistic communities located in their own neighborhoods and throughout the borough. GO is about art, artists, and community, and we cannot wait to see how a borough-wide open studio weekend brings these together.
Sharon Matt Atkins joined the Brooklyn Museum in 2009 and is the Managing Curator of Exhibitions, overseeing the Museum’s exhibition program. She is the co-organizer of GO: a community-curated open studio project, with Shelley Bernstein. She has coordinated and facilitated numerous special exhibitions, including Andy Warhol: The Last Decade and Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera. Prior to her move to Brooklyn, Atkins had been the Assistant Curator at the Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire.