Somerville, MA – The Boston area will see a series of Open Studios Weekends in the month of May. Artscope managing editor Brian Goslow cornered Rachel Mello, Coordinator, Somerville Open Studios (May 4-5); to discuss event preparations, what makes the open studio experience special and what they offer to the arts community.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN OVERSEEING YOUR OPEN STUDIOS WEEKEND?
I am only serving as coordinator for one year, starting in May after SOS 2012, and finishing my term this May. Before that I served on the Board of Directors for two years.
WHAT – OR WHOM – BROUGHT YOU ABOARD?
Just wanting to be a part of SOS. I came to some volunteer meetings in 2007, after wanting to help for several years. Then I just kept getting more involved.
WHAT DOES THE JOB ENTAIL?
The SOS Coordinator oversees the event, manages budgeting and planning, keeps the various departments working together, and tracks the timeline. Probably the most important part of the job is recruiting key team-lead volunteers. SOS is all volunteer run so we need a lot of very strong, committed members. The coordinator helps build and maintain the community and recruits from that, and works to help communication flow between them and make sure everyone is aware of each other’s needs. The coordinator is also the spokesperson for SOS.
HOW MUCH TIME GOES INTO IT OVER THE YEAR AND WHEN DO YOU REALLY BEGIN TO RAMP UP PREPARATIONS AS THE EVENT APPROACHES?
Ideally we would have each year’s coordinator in place by the end of the previous year, though that doesn’t always happen. I started in May of 2012 recruiting major team leads and working with the board to put in place some new initiatives for this year. My busiest time was probably the end of November into January. Since then mostly I have been staying out of the way of the team leads and letting them do their jobs, and handling unexpected things that pop up.
WHAT MAKES YOUR OPEN STUDIO WEEKEND UNIQUE?
Somerville Open Studios is a truly citywide event. We have over 400 artists distributed across a city that’s about three square miles in area. Because of the density of artists in Somerville we have an unparalleled diversity of work. Our artists are in old industrial factories, and in single-family homes. Resident artists with no place to show are able to participate in our community space. We’re fully volunteer, independent event run by participating artists and members of the community coming together. We loop free trolleys around the city and have pedicabs in town to help people get around and which add to the festival air. It’s a fully immersive event.
WHAT MAKES OPEN STUDIO WEEKEND AN IMPORTANT EVENT FOR YOUR FACILITY AND THE PARTICIPATING ARTISTS?
With over 400 artists there are probably over 800 reasons why SOS is important! Some artists use SOS as a way to get feedback on new work, some use it as a way to prioritize art-making in busy schedules, some focus on sales and have an important opportunity to sell work directly to the public. As a community the power of the shared experience and the shared goals, being part of a large art-centric city, brings us together. Sometimes being an artist can be isolating working alone in your studio, but when artists come together and volunteer to help make the event happen, lasting friendships are built and critical professional networking occurs.
IN THE PAST, WHAT HAVE ATTENDEES SAID WAS AMONGST THEIR FAVORITE PARTS OF THE EVENT?
Again we get a range of responses when we ask that. Some love the giant industrial buildings with so many artists together; others like the almost voyeuristic intimacy of going into a home studio. Most say they loved being able to talk with the artists and ask them questions about their art, about their artistic life, and to see the places where art is made. It’s a hugely social event, and many talk about bringing their whole families, running into friends, seeing colleagues from work in one studio, and an old school friend in another. Many buy work that they especially cherish having purchased it as part of this event.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT IT?
As a volunteer and as coordinator I love the strong friendships and wide network I’ve made working with so many artists and art enthusiasts. I love that people come and see art they might not otherwise see. I love how we connect with our neighbors, and unite our city.
FROM AN ARTIST’S STANDPOINT, WHAT IS THE VALUE OF THE EVENT? HOW MUCH IS ABOUT INTRODUCING THEIR WORK TO NEW AUDIENCES AND HOW MUCH IS ABOUT MAKING SALES?
As an artist I most love connecting with visitors. At a certain point in a professional art career, it becomes very hard to get honest feedback. But at Open Studios often people will just say what’s on their minds. I always learn a lot during Open Studios. I do also make a lot of sales and line up commissions — not always during SOS, though. I recently made a significant art sale that will pay an entire year’s studio rent, to a person who came to my studio for three years before making a purchase at all. I’ve had my work in galleries because someone saw my work during SOS and called me months later. I think anyone looking to show new artists is seriously missing out if they don’t go to open studios.
I’VE FOUND MYSELF OVERWHELMED WHEN I ATTEND OPEN STUDIO EVENTS. ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR FIRST-TIMERS?
Plan in advance to get the best out of it, and don’t try to do too much. We have a very extensive website and printed map book, as well as a comprehensive group show at the Somerville Museum where you can see the work in person and note which artists you want to see. If you take an evening in advance to look through the listings, you can make design your own walking tour. The time outside between studio sites helps give you a chance to clear your head and refresh a little and process what you saw.
Don’t try to get everywhere: *enjoy* that you’re surrounded by more art than you can possibly see, and let that knowledge bring you back to new places next year.
ANY SPECIAL PERFORMANCES OR ACTIVITIES SCHEDULED FOR THIS YEAR’S EVENT?
Yes! On Wednesday, May 1 there’s “Beyond the Pattern: An Independent Designers’ Fashion Show.” It’s a full runway fashion show of work of Somerville based fashion, clothing, and accessory designers, as well as work from the Somerville High School students “Young Designers’ Challenge.” Like every SOS event, it’s completely free, too. That will be at the Arts at the Armory building, 191 Highland Ave at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.).
On Thursday, May 2 Somerville Community Access Television present ”Somerville Open Cinema Film and Video Festival” of independently produced shorts. SCATV, Union Square Somerville, 8pm
We have three group shows: the comprehensive Artists’ Choice exhibit at the Somerville Museum, the show of the art of over 40 volunteers on view at Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square, and the shop window display in the ”Inside Out Gallery” in the CVS window in Davis.
All SOS events are free. Info on all of these is on our website under the ”Visit” tab.
WHAT WILL YOU BE DOING ON THE MORNING PRIOR TO THE DOORS OPENING?
As coordinator, I’m taking this year off from exhibiting. Usually the morning of, I’m making labels and finishing matting. This year I’ll start at the Somerville Museum and catch a pedicab over to the Armory, then continue on from there.
AND WHEN THEY CLOSE?
Sleeping. Definitely sleeping.
For complete details on Somerville Open Studios, which takes place Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5, please visit http://www.somervilleopenstudios.org).
(This is the first of a three-part “Cornered” series with Boston area open studios organizers; look for Julie Barry, Director of Community Arts for the Cambridge Arts Council, who oversees Cambridge Open Studios, during the week of May 6 in advance of COS events on May 11-12 & May 18-19); and during the week of May 13, June Krinsky-Rudder of East Boston Artists Group Open Studios, which takes place on May 18-19.)