Stephanie Theodore of Theodore:Art was massively disappointed when Arts in Bushwick announced that Bushwick Open Studios was moving from summer to fall in an attempt to close the door on an eight-year tradition. But AiB had their reasons– BOS had ballooned into something of circus, an event that they believe had been co-opted and used by corporate interests and party promoters looking to cash-in on the thousands of people who swarmed the neighborhood each June. But galleries and individual artists also benefitted from the huge influx of people and the visibility that BOS brought to the area, so Theodore was hardly alone. “A lot of other galleries wanted something to replace BOS,” she told B+B over the phone today.
And then, that wish came true– though not exactly in the way that everyone had hoped– when a secretive source (who turned out to be Brandon Mickman, a freelance web designer behind the Bushwick Bomb, a local listings site) launched Bushwick Arts Festival (BAF). Trust was at an all time low between artists and Bushwick’s existing community, and BAF’s shady approach seemed like an attempt by the money-making interests to keep BOS going at all costs, even though AiB had graciously determined that continuing the festival in June wasn’t in the best interest of the neighborhood as a whole.
“There was such conflict with Bushwick Arts Festival, that I don’t even want to be involved,” Theodore confided. “I’m supporting Arts in Bushwick, they have my full respect– they were there first.” That said, Theodore and the owner of Robert Henry Contemporary are teaming up with more than 20 other neighborhood galleries (including some in Ridgewood) for a rotating summer series called Bushwick Hot Summer Nights. It’s a means for the galleries to go their own way. “With this, we’re not taking sides,” Theodore explained. “It’s our own thing.”
Every third Friday for the months of May, June, and July, participating galleries will stay open until 9 pm or later. It’s a very simple thing, but Theodore said she hopes that, “It will encourage people to come out to Bushwick– it’s not considered so out of the way anymore, but I still hear people saying, ‘It’s so hard to get there.’ It’s like herding cats, really.”
The idea is that if more galleries are open late, more people will decide to make the trip from other Brooklyn neighborhoods or Manhattan on a Friday night. “It’s also for normal, working people to get out there,” she added.”It’s impossible getting to galleries if you work a 9-to-5 job.” That includes other people, like herself, who who work in galleries, who might not have many opportunities to check out other galleries whose hours mirror their own. “People can come out, and then go to the bars, go to the restaurants,” Theodore predicted.
Bushwick Hot Summer Nights also offers something that, in the past, BOS hasn’t focused too much effort on. “It was always the studios first, it wasn’t as much about the galleries,” Theodore recalled. “We could all do something, but we couldn’t pull the attention away from the studios.” This event, on the other hand, offers the galleries a chance to be front-and-center. “We’re competing for the same art money, but there’s not that much of it anyway, so we might as well bond together,” she laughed.
I wondered if Hot Summer Nights will be anything like Beat Night, the biannual late-night studio event that Norte Maar gallery started in 2009 (they’ve since moved to Cypress Hills and started throwing Beat Nights in other neighborhoods). “That was more of a curated selection of galleries,” Theodore explained. “Jason Andrew is to be thanked, they really brought the world to Bushwick with Beat Night. We’re trying to continue that effort.” Hot Summer Nights, however, will be more inclusive, and it won’t require galleries to coordinate an art opening for the event. “People will feel more relaxed since it’s not an opening,” Theodore said. “You won’t have to worry about missing the artist or anything like that, people can just go.”
Many veteran galleries that have been around Bushwick for years are involved (Microscope, Outlet) and several new-to-the-hood galleries will be participating as well, including Mountain (248 Siegel Street) and The Third Policeman (1535 Decatur Street). Even Rafael Fuchs, the gallerist behind the controversial “Bushwick 200” list, is on the list. “I imagine we’ll have others jumping on the bandwagon closer to the date,” Theodore told us.
It just so happens that Bushwick Arts Festival had some news today as well. The founder published another statement today, three weeks ahead of the June 3 kick-off. Even though the first-annual BAF (dubbed “The Arts Festival You Deserve”) has yet to actually come to fruition, Mickman thought it was high time to outline the festival’s future. “To let the world know that BAF is here to stay, I’m ready to announce festival dates for next year, which will also be the first weekend of June 2017,” he wrote in a blog post published today on Bushwick Bomb. The founder also took the opportunity to remind people that, “Submissions for participation in the 2016 festival will remain open up until the event.”
The post is a reminder of why Mickman’s BAF plans scared people in the first place– his announcements tends to read like advertising copy disguised as a political speech (i.e. tone deaf and vague):
“The Bushwick Arts Festival is committed to one core idea: that in the face of gentrification and displacement, the best way forward for the Bushwick community as a whole, is to reinforce the community of artists and the work we do. To boldly assert our presence, to boldly acknowledge Bushwick as an international hub for artistic production, and boldly to advocate for the arts.”
The fest’s founder also elaborated on why he thinks BAF is important.
“It’s time to ‘use it or lose it,’ and let the world know that this is a place where artists are welcomed and have an opportunity to thrive, as well as live in harmony with their surrounding neighbors.”
Strange that Mickman is so hellbent on “letting the world know” about Bushwick, because it seems that the world’s already pretty convinced that Bushwick’s an artist’s paradise, the hippest place to be since Williamsburg, and another Brooklyn neighborhood ripe for pillaging. There’s a reason why Bushwick Open Studios was so popular in the first place, and why tech companies and real estate developers think the neighborhood’s worthy of their attention. It’s becoming clearer that not everyone’s willing to let go of the summer tradition just yet.
Bushwick Hot Summer Nights is happening every 3rd Friday: May 20, June 17, July 15. For further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or henry@roberthenrycontemporary.
Bushwick Arts Festival is happening Friday June 3 through Sunday June 5.