Arts in Bushwick‘s fourth annual Bushwick Open Studios didn’t have an official theme, but if it did, it would likely echo Norte Maar’s Merzbush, a show of installation art that "makes connection between everything in the world." This connectivity was on display not only in works by Phong Bui, Ellen Letcher, Brece Honeycutt, and Ali Aschman, but among the guests themselves.
At 11am, many artists and festivalgoers made their first stop of the Bushwick Open Studios weekend at Norte Maar. They were joined by 17 men and women in their early forties who signed up for a Wired New York meetup group hoping to find a little intimacy in curator Jason Andrew’s intimate Wyckoff Avenue apartment.
"People came in asking, ‘I’m here for the group! Is this where the group is?’" said Andrew.
At Lumenhouse, two hours later, five Bushwick community leaders (RBSCC‘s Scott Short, EWVIDCO‘s Leah Archibald, Bushwick Farmers Market‘s Sean Fleming, AiB‘s Laura Braslow, and Family Services Network’s Raul Rubio) spoke about the future of Bushwick and the connection between the collapse of the housing market, the decline of industrial spaces, and the growth of the arts community in Bushwick.
With financing increasingly difficult to obtain, Short explained, significant new construction would not likely occur in Bushwick in the next five years. Instead, you will see the redevelopment of brownfields for park and recreation space, small business growth on commercial corridors, such as Knickerbocker, Wyckoff, and Broadway while housing organizations like RBSCC focus on housing preservation and rehabilitation.
Of course, these projects have to be funded in some degree, which is where Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, who attended the event, stepped in. Velázquez pointed to Congress’ interest in subsidizing start-up projects such as community gardens, weatherization of buildings, and food co-ops that increase connectivity between Bushwick residents while fostering community.
Fostering community among Bushwick’s residents takes hard work, and it is something that festival organizers such as Braslow and Chloe Bass have sought to do. Two blocks away, perhaps the best example of this kind of work was occurring at the Diana H. Jones Senior Center where photographer Daryl-Ann Saunders curated an exhibition, Urbanity, featuring Bushwick artists and senior residents who enjoy the center. It is just one of several events Saunders has lined up at the senior center, which could someday bring about future collaborations between seniors and new Bushwick residents.
Sometimes connectivity was reflected in the work of artists themselves, such as Jimmy Miracle, whose extraordinary installation in the basement of his St. Nicholas Avenue apartment shows both the strength and fragility of thousands of connecting threads stretched across the room.
Artist Jessica Angel gave us a sneak peak of her colorful numeric cityscape, which will be on display as part of a Brooklyn Arts Council public art installation on Willoughby Street later this summer and will connect pedestrians to Brooklyn’s sometimes harsh and impersonal skyline.
Then there were shows that achieved connectivity with the world beyond Bushwick, such as Oil Slick, which is a response to the BP disaster and served as a benefit for the Nature Conservancy. The show contained oil paintings by John Plunkett, Adam Miller, who had a Renaissance-era take on the oil disaster, and Alexandra Pacula, whose blurry, brightly impressionistic scenes of cityscapes and streetscapes recall a memorable night after one two many drinks.
For all the talk of connectivity, the one thing this year’s festival was missing was a way for artists stuck in their studios all weekend to see each other’s work. It is a balance that has led some artists to stagger hours, join group shows, or open only on one day.
Visiting hundreds of artist studios is a lot more fun than hanging out in a 90-degree, air conditionerless room while people silently critique your work. Unless you’re part of a dating meet-up, in which case none of this applies.
Yet connectivity is perhaps most evident in the purpose of the festival itself, which draws artists out of their studios to visit new friends during the weekend and make them realize they are part of a large, thriving community of artists.
And they are. As AiB’s Chloe Bass said, it was wonderful to see as many people on the streets of Bushwick on a Saturday night at 2am as it was twelve hours earlier in the day. And it is just as wonderful to see the same artists on the streets for the rest of the summer.