Bushwick Open Studios gets back to its roots

Live mural painting by Dasic Fernández at last year's Bushwick Open Studios. Photo: Arts in Bushwick

Live mural painting by Dasic Fernández at last year’s Bushwick Open Studios. Photo: Arts in Bushwick

This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of Bushwick Open Studios, an invitation to explore one of Brooklyn’s most storied arts communities. Close to 1,000 artists will show work in every medium imaginable in galleries, studios and improvised spaces around Bushwick. This year will be no different than past BOS weekends in the remarkable variety of work on display, but if you’ve attended in the past, you’ll notice quite a few changes this year.

One decade in, Arts in Bushwick, the non-profit organization that produces BOS each year, has taken a close look at their mission. This weekend will reflect their renewed commitment to engaging the entire Bushwick community, and to refocusing the festival on the art, stepping back from the party scene that had emerged around it.

"Making the Future" is the theme of the Arts in Bushwick open call show at DAVID&SCHWEITZER CONTEMPORARY this year, running through Oct. 16. Illustration: Loren Monk

“Making the Future” is the theme of the Arts in Bushwick open call show at DAVID&SCHWEITZER CONTEMPORARY this year, running through Oct. 16. Illustration: Loren Monk

The most obvious change is the shift from summer, when it’s traditionally held, to its new fall date. Nicole Brydson, web coordinator for Arts in Bushwick, called this an “anti-cruelty measure,” in a phone conversation. She’s was joking, but barely. A few years ago I went to a BOS event in a fourth floor loft that was packed with people on a 90-plus-degree day and every person in the room was so sweaty it was as if we had all just been caught in the rain.

“The weather is better [in the fall],” Brydson said. “But is was also that summer is a party sort of time and there were a lot more party events glomming on to the weekend and the open studios and artists started getting fewer visitors. People would go to these huge 5,000-person events and think they were getting the experience of Bushwick in a nutshell. This is going back to the roots–the original core of Arts in Bushwick did not plan a festival for parties. It was to celebrate the burgeoning fine arts community.”

In place of several large parties, this year’s BOS will have more small events spread throughout the entire neighborhood. “There are more far-flung things,” said Brydson. “More community is included, and it cuts a broader swath through the entire neighborhood.”

Arts in Bushwick has invested in a new responsive website that will help visitors navigate the neighborhood this year. It’s designed to integrate with Google maps and work well on mobile so you can bookmark it for easy reference. The new site makes it possible to sort through the hundreds of artists and shows by categories like painting or sculpture, or kid-friendly or free drinks.

The new site replaces the BOS catalog, which had become a fixture of the weekend. Brydson said that they were concerned about the amount of waste the hefty books created, especially as books from years past proliferated as commonly spotted neighborhood detritus.

Nine info hubs spread throughout the neighborhood will supplement the website, where neighborhood docents will provide visitors with details on shows and artists, help them navigate Bushwick and point them to amenities. The hubs all have bathrooms, too.

When we spoke, Brydson was on her way to Williamsburg Charter High School on Varet Street (which also has a show and ceramics pop-up on Sunday as part of BOS) to train students to be neighborhood docents at the hubs this weekend. Recruiting volunteers from throughout the Bushwick community has been part of a larger mission to make Arts in Bushwick more inclusive in a diverse and gentrifying neighborhood.

Brydson said that after BOS 2015, the organization reworked their mission statement and spent a great deal of time and consideration in an effort to become more inclusive and to reach different parts of the community. Their strategy opened up AIB meetings to the public and moved them from private homes to public meeting spaces that felt more inviting.

“The most important, deeply desired outcome was to find a formula to allow the festival and the community to unite with integrity and inclusivity,” says Brydson. “That’s the core message of the organization, to empower the neighborhood and be intersectional. If not, then we’re just a white arts organization and that’s not cool. We need to create space for everybody. We see that responsibility to be inclusive.”

Exploring the dynamics of gentrification, and artists’ roles in that process, has been interesting work in and of itself for the members of Arts in Bushwick. “I toe both sides,” said Brydson, who grew up in Hells Kitchen, and moved to Brooklyn 12 years ago. “I’m a white artist in a neighborhood I’m not from, but I’m also from New York and I can’t afford to live in neighborhood I’m from. It’s an interesting place to be at.”

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