Some readers may remember the Bushwick Open Studios of the mid-2010s — a pulsing event thronged with visitors, popular enough to attract advertisers and corporate sponsorship. After a two-year hiatus, the 16-year-old Bushwick Open Studios (BOS) returned this weekend almost unrecognizable from its previous iterations. It was disorganized, scattered, and some artists didn’t even know it was happening.
BOS is run by Arts in Bushwick, an organization founded in 2006 that has been under new leadership since 2019 when Bushwick-native Jazo Brooklyn took the helm. In an interview outside of the organization’s new creative hub, Monsta House, Brooklyn described her path to leading the organization as a fraught, years-long battle.
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A statement on the organization’s website acknowledges that “Arts in Bushwick/Bushwick Open Studios has failed to be a truly inclusive artistic community.” But in her leadership role, Brooklyn has redirected the organization toward young people born and raised in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.
“Our goal moving forward is to understand the power of gentrification and how we, as an organization, have also played a part by not doing the proper outreach to the native community and the Bushwick we say we serve,” Brooklyn said. “We plan to move forward with full transparency and accountability while still maintaining and producing one of the best open studios in the world.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is only the second BOS from the new Arts in Bushwick. Back in 2019, however, Hyperallergic reported the same issues — disorganization, hard-to-read maps, and low attendance.
Arts in Bushwick is now partnered with Bushwick Street Art and Educated Little Monsters, a program that Brooklyn started in 2013 to provide spaces and resources to create art for children of color who grew up in the neighborhood. Brooklyn said she’s watched these kids grow up, and now, they work with her to organize Arts in Bushwick.
“It’s a partnership between myself and Jaz and the Monster family,” said Johnny Yurnet, who Jazo explained was one of her original “little monsters.”
Yurnet created a fashion line called JY3, which was for sale at Monsta House’s BOS kickoff event on Friday.
“I’m a victim of gentrification and being kicked out and replaced,” Yurnet continued. “It comes down to stuff being very unaffordable and not being included in everything going on. But that’s what the program and what Jaz does.”
The new space showcases the work of native Bushwick artists and hosts other types of events including fashion shows, open mic nights, DJ workshops, and vending markets.
Gia, who preferred to go by her first name, grew up in Bushwick and showed her paintings at Friday’s kickoff event. She’s been an artist for 11 years, since the birth of her daughter, whose work was also on the walls. Gia said she met Brooklyn six years ago and her daughter joined Little Monsters. Now, she’s excited at the prospect of showing more work and participating in pop-up events at Monsta House.
The refocused Arts in Bushwick and its BOS event are moving forward, tackling the neighborhood’s gentrification problem and giving young people from Bushwick events and spaces to showcase their art. In warehouse studio spaces elsewhere, the artists who used to benefit from BOS were left in the dark.
“I didn’t know this was happening until yesterday, which sucks,” artist Blake Hiltunen said. His work comprises classical ornamentation morphed into sculptures that look like they’ve been melted, and elicited a strong desire to touch them.
“I think that there just wasn’t a very good promotional job done this year,” Hiltunen continued. “It used to be huge. I used to have hundreds of people coming through here, and today I’ve had, like, 15. Why would we spend out entire weekends in our studios with the door open when we could be doing anything else — including working?”
The artist added that the event used to be important professionally, too. “The gallery I work with, I met through Open Studios by chance,” the artist continued.
The scarce attendance made the sparse East Williamsburg warehouse district feel even more dystopic.
Hiltunen has been in his studio since 2015 and remarked on the emergence of the European tourist groups that traverse the neighborhood on graffiti tours. The phenomenon has turned the Morgan L stop — a place that already felt like an entirely contrived hipster Disneyland — into a strange shrine of grunge and hip-hop culture, neither of which exist in the hyper-expensive set of blocks. Even one of the BOS studio buildings, although decrepit from the outside and with stairwells covered in tags, was renovated inside to the point of looking like an upscale office building.
Hiltunen said that studio spaces in the area had become “totally unaffordable for artists” and commented on the disparity between Bushwick’s burgeoning tourism industry and the artists who work in the neighborhood’s studios — especially given that the tourism is directed at visual art.
“I think there could be more of a unity between people who are doing the tours and knowing the other end of the art scene,” he said.
In another studio space, artist Dante Baylor designs costumes while also working on a graphic novel. Baylor lives in the Bronx but came into this studio six months ago. He said he couldn’t find an adequate studio space near his home and is paying more than he’d like for his new Bushwick space.
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On Saturday, the walls of his new studio were covered in character sketches for the graphic novel and photographs of his costumes on the stage.
“I didn’t even know about Open Studios until yesterday,” Baylor said. “I saw the postings on the door when I came into the building and was like, ‘Ok, I have to do this really quickly.’”
Regardless of the disorganized event, there was incredible, fascinating art to be seen. At Active Space, Steven Pestana had diverged from his sculptural installation art and hung AI-generated images on his studio’s walls. Pestana created a series of paintings using the platform Midjourney and then sent them to a “painting factory” in China to be created. Pestana explained that these factories produce the art hanging in places like hotel rooms.
Joshua Ralone, who was part of Little Monsters and helped Brooklyn curate Monsta Space’s recent show, said the organization had become like a family.
In a tiny, overpriced studio off of the Morgan stop, Baylor hasn’t found that. “I think it’s more about the community that you already have,” said Baylor. “As artists, we’re kind of isolated anyways.”