People’s reactions to Bushwick Open Studios (BOS) generally fall into two passionate camps: those who love the event and those who despise it. The latter group often gripes about the crowds around the Morgan Avenue subway stop, the boisterous atmosphere around that hub (the epicenter of the party area is Bogart and Grattan Streets), and the throng of artists and gawkers from outside the neighborhood eager to get in on some of the action. Yet those who enjoy BOS, myself included, know that steering clear of the two blocks radiating from Bogart and Grattan is largely necessary (unless you’re eating at MOMO’s Sushi Shack; I always avoid Roberta’s) and the real treats are in the far-flung spaces, the one-on-one conversations in off-the-beaten-path locales. It’s a rookie mistake to think “Bushwick” is only northwest of Flushing Avenue or that the focus isn’t on community building.
This year I spent a great deal of time exploring the spokes of Broadway west of Myrtle, where a new axis of “South Bushwick Art” is starting to form. Stretching from the Flushing Avenue J/M/Z station to the Kosciuszko stop, this new cluster, on the edge of the Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods, includes long-time resident Grace Exhibition Space, some not-so-new spaces, like Airplane and Microscope galleries, and some more recent additions, like Wayfarers and even Good Work Gallery.
That new area was a discovery for me, and the studios associated with Wayfarers and Good Work were both quite good. So was the community atmosphere at the Living Gallery, where an open mic event attracted aspiring beat poets, songwriters, and others eager for a chance to shine.
The standouts from this year’s BOS were undoubtedly the group and gallery shows, even if they aren’t the focus of the weekend’s fun. Exhibitions like Do-It-Yourself, Communal Table, and others brought together some of the neighborhood’s strongest talents for curated experiences that were better than those of previous years. While “studios” are the focus of BOS, I have a hunch that curated shows are probably its future. Bushwick Open Studios has always been a community-building effort, and the goal is inclusion; shows like Do-It-Yourself, with 11 curators and dozens of artists, demonstrates how that could look.
Arts in Bushwick, which runs BOS, is one of the neighborhood arts community’s real success stories. As a grassroots, volunteer-run organization, they have toiled away at creating bonds and bridges between artists, arts entities around the city, and different groups of local residents and schools in the area. AiB has created a high school fellows program, and launched a Community Team that runs a variety of programs and events to serve youth and families in Bushwick. If BOS feels unwieldy, which it long has, it’s because Bushwick is really four or five geographic communities rolled into one, and Arts in Bushwick has long attempted (with varying levels of success) to sew them all together into one big quilt.
This year the Newd Art Show really added another dimension to the weekend, since it highlighted some of the many strong galleries in the neighborhood (Regina Rex, Theodore:Art, Sardine) and brought in a few others from surrounding areas (American Medium gallery is from neighboring Bedford-Stuyvesant, while Rawson Projects is headquartered in Greenpoint, for instance) to create a hub for the commercial face of the area’s art scene.
Newd was a well-curated experience by fair organizers, with some incredibly strong galleries and a few weaker ones. While sales from the fair may not have been phenomenal (a number of galleries told me they sold one or two works though they remained tight-lipped on prices), sales did happen, and some established collectors arrived to tour the compact fair. Newd also launched their artist’s contract experiment to provide artists with negotiated resale royalty provisions. When I asked the fair yesterday, I was told 10 contracts had already been signed on work sold.
The overwhelming topic of conversation throughout the weekend was the “g” word, gentrification, and the art community’s role. I myself took part in two panels on Sunday that tackled the issue, and I know there was at least one other panel on the same topic in a different Bushwick location. The conversation has reached a fevered pitch, though none of this weekend’s panels was nearly as well-attended as a similar one I moderated a few years back at Bogart Salon, which was located at 56 Bogart. While the art community may be slowly digesting the realities of change in Bushwick, Deborah Brown, artist, gallerist, nonprofit board member, and member of the Bushwick community board, explained at panels throughout the day how more anxiety is bubbling up around the issue than ever before. With artists and hipsters spread past the industrial parks into more established residential neighborhoods, and the large 977-unit Rheingold Brewery site slated for development into largely market-rate apartments, you can see why longtime residents worry that their neighborhood is quickly disappearing.
Bushwick is a big swathe of northern Brooklyn, and it seems clear that in the coming year it will fragment as gentrification intensifies in the west towards Brownsville, north into Ridgewood, and south into Bed-Stuy. Micro-neighborhoods will develop (West Bushwick? So(uth)Bu(shwick)? Bushwood?), white-collar professionals will follow, and more condos will be built. Until then BOS continues to provide a human face to a community by connecting its disparate elements as best it can. Arts in Bushwick’s accomplishment is amazing, and they should be proud.