Bushwick Open Studios represents the next wave of the New York art scene, shining a light for one weekend on the studios, galleries, and art spaces which make up its up-and-coming Bushwick neighborhood. In visiting New York for the first time, I found myself working through the heart of this annual event, exploring the work of the top new practitioners of visual and performance art in the city. Sound familiar?
In researching and attending the event, which took place from May 30 to June 1, I saw immediate parallels to Phoenix's own annual studio and gallery tour, Art Detour. Both are put together by entirely volunteer-based organizations (Artlink and Arts in Bushwick or AiB). Both were founded with the intent of exposing their respective communities' underground art scenes to the public. Both feature a mix of official and unofficial happenings.
While incomparable in terms of sheer scale -- 600-plus spaces to visit in New York versus 100-plus in Phoenix -- there is still a great bit of knowledge I gleaned from BOS that could be translated into success locally. To be sure, this is not a "Phoenix just isn't New York" (because duh), but a "Hey look! We can do this, too!"
See also: Artlink Needs to Rethink Art Detour
5. Multimedia Venues
As I wandered through the studio spaces, apartments, and storefronts which made up the tour, more than once I became a part of the art I was ostensibly viewing. Walking into one apartment, I was immediately invited to sit down, as I was "just in time for my appointment." Over the next 15 minutes, I proceeded to work through a video-recorded performance with a local actress, discussing our alleged alcohol addictions and in-progress recovery.
Though bewildering at first, once I settled into a rhythm (with a highly skilled and rehearsed counterpart, mind you), the exercise was captivating. Sometimes you need to be forcibly slapped with art to be reminded of what it can mean.
Every event that took place the weekend of BOS in the neighborhood mentioned the studio tour in its name. Unofficial events like the ones put together by thingNY and Bridging Bushwick Sculpture Garden each bore the name "Bushwick Open Studios," even though AiB did not put them together. Every restaurant, bar, and coffee shop I passed offered a sign or deals stating "Welcome BOS visitors!"
In building a strong brand, BOS has made it so that it is weekend's premier event. Everyone else comes to them, and knows they must acknowledge their presence in order to make their own weekends successful. It wasn't just presenting sponsors that made their presence felt at BOS; everyone knew that collaboration was the spirit of the weekend, and that co-presentation was absolutely necessary for success.
3. Street Art
In addition to traditional street art, BOS put art on the streets. Performance art dominated multiple events around the tour, with musical groups both traditional and avant-garde setting up in the middle of the street, making art at every turn.
In contrast to the dependability of visual art in studios and galleries at both Art Detour and BOS, street art creates an atmosphere of here-and-now, making viewers truly excited about the art being created, however long or short it may last. While this past year Detour weekend included the first annual Paint PHX citywide mural event (an event promoted, produced, and marketed completely separate from Detour), neither one incorporated live performance art. To truly grip visitors at an art event, they must be confronted with that art everywhere, something BOS presented in spades.
2. An Educational Component
BOS serves its community, all ages included. Arts in Bushwick (AiB), the tour's presenting organization, has a High School Fellows Program as one of its regular programs. And so, as one of its handful of featured events, AiB hosts an exclusive group show for those student artists, complete with a DJ, hors d'oeuvres, and a real party atmosphere.
Yes, Art Detour has Kids Detour every year, with interactive arts activities at select venues on the tour. But, to demonstrate a constant, embedded support network to the development of next-generation artists means being a truly community-based organization. To see the students' art on display on opening night in the midst of the many parties across the city put them on the same level as the "professionals," something that spoke volumes to the show's participants.
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Yes, as of late, Art Detour has annually arrived the weekend following the monthly First Friday artwalk. But anyone who has spent any time patronizing the downtown Phoenix arts scene knows that First Friday isn't where the real art happens -- spectacle over substance.
Over each of the three days of BOS, parties both official and unofficial reigned supreme all through the night and took place at bars, studio complexes, and music venues. Once again, the organizers created a true "event," one that made people feel like they were somewhere important, exciting, even hip. For all of the talk degrading "hipster" culture we hear in the media, there is something to be said for creating a buzz, and finding a crowd desirous of being the first ones to see and be seen. Phoenix should not be afraid of such things.