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Bushwick Open Studios 2019 Wants to Return to Its Roots by Emphasizing Community

The festival kicks off today with a new space, a more diverse staff, and a renewed focus on Bushwick’s community, organizers tell Hyperallergic.

Bushwick Open Studios’s official mural on Broadway and Willoughby Avenue in Brooklyn by street artist Vincent Ballentine (photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Bushwick Open Studios (BOS) started today, September 20, at 6pm, with a festive party and a new exhibition. For the first time in its 13-year history, the annual event has a physical space in the neighborhood, where it will hold a large exhibition in addition to the events in over 200 venues across the neighborhood. A diverse new staff and a number of collaborations with local organizations and businesses indicate that the festival is looking to create a more inclusive experience for Bushwick’s native residents, with plans to extend the festival’s outreach to the community beyond its weekend of activities.

In March of this year, Arts in Bushwick, the volunteer-based nonprofit running the festival, opened a new community hub on 936 Madison Street in Bushwick. The organization shares and co-manages the space with Educated Little Monsters, a performing and visual arts program for youth of color in Brooklyn. Both organizations are helmed by Bushwick community organizer Jazo Brooklyn. In its new space, the festival will present the exhibition Seeking Spaces, featuring over 60 local artists. As the title implies, the participating artists are ones who cannot afford a studio or are unable to open their studios to the public for various reasons (roommates, for instance).

“It’s not the same platform that it was for the past 12 years,” said Brooklyn in a phone conversation with Hyperallergic. “For the past year, we worked hard on breaking the hierarchy between art and the community,” she said.

A work by Anthony Rosados (untitled, undated) from Seeking Spaces

“People who are born [and] raised in Bushwick don’t even know about the festival,” Brooklyn continued. “We wanted to change that, and the only way to change that is by allowing people that are from the community to be on the team that helps produce this event.”

Miko Ann, a volunteer administrative assistant and blog editor at the festival, stressed the festival’s new focus on economic sustainability and on finding ways to put money back into the community. “In the past, the organizers were not even from Bushwick, and the money earned from the exhibition wasn’t going back into the community,” she wrote in an email to Hyperallergic. “For example, one year the money earned was used to produce coffee table books, a nice idea, but they hardly sold,” Ann explained. “It just wasn’t sustainable, and sustainability should be a priority with such an important event.”

Gerardo Gomez, “Dramatic Brooklyn Baby” (2019)

BOS will try to create a revenue stream by charging $8 for the print version of this year’s events map. (A PDF version of the map can be downloaded here.) For the opening party, the festival will charge $15 per ticket in advance and $25 at the door. A ticket for a closing party on September 22 will cost $10. Other events will be held in venues across the neighborhood, including artist studios, residences, galleries, local businesses, and parks.

Street artist Vincent Ballentine created the official mural for the festival, located at Broadway and Willoughby Avenue in Brooklyn. The mural features a Bushwick-born young participant in Educated Little Monsters’ programs.

A work by graffiti artist Jesus Saves
Eva Mueller, “Rose” (2019)
Installation view of Seeking Spaces

“We know that art is political at its core and we want to continue to nurture those artists who have something to say but may not have had access to certain platforms,” Ann wrote. “We will continue to build our team and collaborate with people from the community, particularly those of Black and Latino heritage who make up most of Bushwick.”

Bushwick Open Studios continues through Sunday, September 22 at various locations throughout Brooklyn. The annual event is organized by Arts in Bushwick.

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