Greenpoint Gazette

Art Sprawl

BY James Yeh

Bushwick Open Studios Festival Grows to Epic Proportions

This weekend marked the fourth annualBushwick Open Studios festival. It was the largest Open Studios event yet. Sprawling across the vast, industrial streets of Bushwick, the massive self-organized and collaborative festival featured over 275 shows in 140 different locations, a cavalcade of art and performance from synchronized bike dancers, indiezinemakers, a “trailer-town,” a cabaret, and a nearly un-navigable sea ofsolo shows, group shows, overflow shows, shows in people’s studios and apartments.

The event has been produced since its inception, in 2007, by Arts in Bushwick, an all-volunteer organization that serves and engages artists and local residents through creative accessibility and community organizing.“The structure and spirit are basically exactly the same [as when we started],” said Laura Braslow, 30, a founding member of Arts in Bushwick and co-lead organizer of the festival. “But we’re learning how to do it better each year. It’s 20% bigger than last year and twice the size it was in 2007.”

The same spirit of non-hierarchical organization of the festival applies to the nature of the organization’s volunteering as well. Volunteers who are interested, and who have the time and energy, are able to come in and be as involved as someone who has been working with the organization from the start.

The strength of non-hierarchical organization is a kind of quick, almost viral empowerment and communication, enabling the often diffuse and disparate voices of artists and creative types to remain largely independent while also forming a larger, collective voice.

“I think of our organization as a community organization that artists can connect with, like a gateway,” said Braslow, who is finishing her Ph.D. in Sociology and works as a consultant in public policy. “I think we have this sort of weirdly amplified voice, that if we engage with other groups and we start thinking about what the community and becoming part of the community and more baked in the community in a more serious way, we have an opportunity to address some of the issues with neighborhood change that have really plagued a lot of creative neighborhoods.”

Still,for all its merits, non-hierarchical organizing,when applied to a large eventcuration, is not without a few critics.

“The two big complaints we get every year are there are too many things and you can’t see all of it,” admitted Braslow. “But I don’t consider that a problem. Obviously we don’t expect somebody to see 300 shows. We probably don’t expect anybody to see fifty shows. I don’t consider that a problem. That’s not the idea. There’s enough of each kind of thing that anyone with any interest or taste can find a whole weekend’s worth of things to do.It’s about showcasing what the creative community here is doing, not necessarily curating an experience for the audience.”

Withinthis showcase of the creative community, some of the highlights were Camel Art Space on Metropolitan Street, which featured paintings from studiomatesMeredith Iszlai, Hilary Doyle and Maria Kondratiev; the zine fair at 3rdWard on Morgan Avenue where numerous Brooklyn zinemakers, literary magazines and small presses gathered, including Slice Magazine, Ugly Duckling Presse, n+1, Birdsong, Canteen, Gigantic, and literary and arts journal Agriculture Reader, edited by Bushwick-based poet Jeremy Schmall and Bushwick-based author Justin Taylor, whom we’ve profiled in these pages. (It should be mentioned that The Greenpoint Gazette was there as well.)

“On a personal level, BOS events are the only ones I’ve been to that deliver on the proverbial New York promise of teeming creative energy for its own sake,” said C.A.B Fredericks, 30, Online Editor at Slice Magazine and organizer for the zine fair at 3rd Ward. “Not that there isn’t plenty going on elsewhere—all kinds of music venues in the Burg and weird galleries in Lower Manhattan and writers all over the damn place—but there’s still a sense of remove. You go to an opening in Chinatown, you go to a reading at Housing Works. Whereas at BOS, there’s this sense of the audience and the neighborhood and the artist and the medium blurring into a single thing. Moving through Bushwick during BOS is as close to being awash in creative energy as someone who doesn’t actually believe in hippie-dippy concepts like ‘creative energy’ can get.”
The whirlwind of festivities and community concluded with a closing ceremony/rooftop dance party at 330 Melrose Street. The event was staffed by a cast of volunteer door people, including Fredericks, who verified festival attendance. (Entry was free for those who brought a program from the event.) “What was your favorite show?” they asked to those who did not have a program. “How old are you?”

“People don’t realize how much work it takes to put on something like this,” said one of the door people, Mary Ellen Carafice, 28, of her reasons for helping out. Like many at the event, Carafice was not only a volunteer, but also an artist/exhibitor: she performed inEnlighta, a performative-interactive installation by Katherine Rojas that was part of the closing night’s Cabaret.

As temperatures dropped and wind increased on the roof, partygoers huddled together or danced to keep warm. Dubstep and Electroclash played over the speakers.Meanwhile, onscreen, akitschy DVD of 1960’s-era music videos entitled “Ladies of Scopitone” played, projectingimages of elaborately-hairstyledwomen inshapely dresses and polyester bathing suits dancing in trios with interchangeable and handsome, dark-haired men.

“Part of the joy of this is wandering around and finding stuff that you didn’t expect,” said Braslow. “You know, you’re not going to be able to see everything. But hopefully you’ll be able to see something that you’re into that you’d never have gone to if you just picked up, like, a postcard somewhere.”

Andy Beck, a 40 year-old truck driver from New Jersey, would almost certainly agree.As a pair of female modern dancers performed onstage, Beckstood near the back, boogie-ingit down in his own unique way. Sporting a mop of shaggy white hair, neon sunglasses, a purple polo shirt and cut-off shorts, Beck was an eccentric and yet entirely appropriate presence to the milieu. His enthusiasm was infectious. With little provocation, he listed the events and events organizations he had recently attended or was excited about—a local festival of sock puppetry, outdoor concerts, countless open studios. He also mentioned how he was a volunteer organizer for a Northeastern arm of the Burning Man Festival. “Hang on a second,” he said, rushing away to take a picture of the crowd that had now gathered on the dance floor.“This is such a great community!” he shouted, and the crowd danced on.

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