Just a few weeks after volunteer org Arts in Bushwick surprised the neighborhood by announcing that Bushwick Open Studios would be held in October rather than in the summer, an anonymous entity has popped up with plans to fill the void in June, during the same weekend usually reserved for BOS. But little is known about the players behind the new arts fest, and neighborhood artists, gallerists and residents say they don’t know yet whether they’ll get on board.
According to Nicole Brydson, an artist and part of Arts in Bushwick, the non-profit decided to move BOS partly because “the events had become co-opted by many different commercial interests.” After nine years, the summer studio crawl was getting bogged down with corporate types and big names (like Livestream and Tumblr) glomming on with their own branded events and parties. Some complained it was beginning to feel more like an “art amusement park” than an effort to discover underrepresented and emerging (and, er…just plain wtf) art.
“We were like, what are we doing here?” Brydson said. “What kind of wealth are we creating here? For artists or for corporations?”
AiB decided to keep its community event on June 5 while moving the studio visits to October. The new date would also avoid clashes with Figment Festival and Governor’s Ball, a conflict in the past, and opened a new opportunity to work with Bushwick Film Festival.
Many artists and gallerists with skin in the game were surprised by the sudden announcement. “It was almost as bad as the L train debacle,” said Stephanie Theodore, who runs Theodore Art gallery. “We plan our shows around this, people plan all year for this, and it’s kind of a drag.” But she said she also respected AiB’s decision. “I can understand AiB moving the whole thing because they are there to help the artists.” she said. “I’m all happy to support them in any way I can because they came first.”
Given that BOS has become a summer fixture, it’s not shocking that others would want to keep the momentum going. Theodore said the galleries in her building, 56 Bogart, had already been talking about doing a smaller scale event in their building or on their street that weekend, maybe sponsoring local artists. “It’s a weekend people like to come out, and we’ll take advantage of it,” she said. But, “as far as other people coming in the neighborhood and jumping on this—-it’s a little weird.”
The mysterious new group, calling itself Bushwick Arts Festival swooped in last week, promising a “Bushwick open studios event” the first weekend of June.
Per the website:
Due to strong interest of artists in having a June-based opportunity to share their art with the public, BAF aims to provide a new opportunity for a large scale open studios event. Unlike previous open studios events in the neighborhood, BAF will not exclude artists that do not reside or work in Bushwick.
Questions surround who is behind the new endeavor and who will be involved. While it normally takes months to plan an event of this scale, it looks like the group was created quickly – their Instagram has no photos yet, and there’s only one tweet on Twitter.
Yesterday, B+B reached out to BAF, but was told the group was “super busy today, and not making any official statements yet.” Brandon Mickman, a freelance web designer, owns the domain as well as Bushwickbomb.com, but also couldn’t be reached either.
When asked for comment, many artist and gallerists in the area said this was the first they’d heard of the Bushwick Arts Festival, and were waiting to learn more about the organizers before they’d decide whether to participate or not.
Needless to say, AiB isn’t happy about this development. The new BAF website looks similar to their style and logo and says the new fair will allow any artist to show during the weekend, not just Bushwick artists — at odds with AiB’s traditional core mission of supporting local and native artists.
In a statement, AiB wrote:
It’s unfortunate, they won’t tell us who they are, and they slapped together a website last week without contacting any members of the artist community or waiting to participate in the March 30 Town Hall meeting Arts in Bushwick is hosting at Mayday Space. It sounds like whoever is behind it are not willing to respect or work with our established arts community of over 1,200 local artists, but are creating a simulation of our community as a commercial space for outsiders or newcomers in the neighborhood who do not know the decade long history of Bushwick Open Studios.
And the shadowiness of the endeavor is already riling some of the same tensions that came up when artist Rafael Fuchs attempted to create a project with a list of the “Bushwick 200” influencers a few months ago. One commenter on BAF’s facebook page reposted a comment from Yazmin Colon, owner of of Jazzabels Boutique and founder of Educated Little Monsters, a youth program in the neighborhood, and Bushwick Vendor’s Market. She said the new open-studios plan was “beyond disrespectful” and questioned the group’s approach. “What is your responsibility to a community of black and brown bodies being displaced and harassed by slumb [sic] lords and racist ass police? Why the simulation? Why the lack of respect for a native community?” he asked.
Others aren’t necessarily opposed to a new player in town if they are seen as having the right intentions. So far, the BAF website doesn’t seem to be asking for money and all registration is free. “This could be just someone who is honestly just doing it for good, and that would be awesome,” Theodore said.
But, like many others in the neighborhood, she was also skeptical of the lack of transparency so far. “It’s clear as mud,” she said. “I don’t know what this Bushwick Arts Festival is. It seems a little like someone who is jumping on the opportunity.” She added that it was “dodgy” that the group was calling itself a non-profit on Facebook if it wasn’t registered as a 501-C.
Today the BAF Facebook page updated with a clarification: “BAF is not technically a ‘non profit organization’ but it’s also not a ‘concert tour.’ Limited Facebook page options…”
Maya Meissenr, an artist who has been working in Bushwick for four years, also said she was initially disappointed BOS was called off for June, but eventually decided the reschedule “was once of the best decisions AiB has made.” She hoped the street-party vibe would be toned down in October to refocus the weekend on the studio visits. Holding BOS in the fall might also catch more students and collectors, who often go away during the summer.
But while she said it’s “only natural” another event would try to replace BOS in June, she hoped the new organizers would also be sensitive to local concerns. “Gentrification is an extremely hot topic, and as the Bushwick art scene continues to rapidly grow, any newcomers must tread lightly and think carefully of the implications that their actions may have,” she said.
It also remains to be seen whether Bushwick artists will open their doors twice in one year. “I am very brand-loyal,” said Christopher Stout, an artist with an eponymous gallery who has worked alongside AiB for almost five years. “AiB has been in our community for 10 years, it’s an all-volunteer labor force, so those people have given love and energy and aid for a decade to the neighborhood for free.”
Stout felt that the demographic and vibe of BOS had changed radically over the years, as gallerists, fairs, fashion, music and other companies began to promote their own interests alongside the studio visits. He said he almost laughed out loud when he read AiB’s announcement about the change to October: “It’s so delicious, and I think a lot of good might come of it.”
Of course, that all depends on what fills the void in June.
Correction: A previous version of this article said Nekoro Gomes wrote a message on the BAF Facebook. He was reposting a message originally written by Yazmin Colon.