As fewer artists, visitors take part, Open Studios looks for solutions; event is this weekend

With the 8th annual Dorchester Open Studios (DOS) fast approaching this weekend, ultra-stressed organizers are wrestling with how to maximize the local celebration of the arts in the face of declining involvement of artists and visitors.

Last year DOS advertised the involvement of 100 artists and actually had 86 participating; this time around, the projected number hovers around 65 and at fewer venues.

Donna Penn, DOS coordinator, frankly acknowledges the problem: “Certainly the economy may have something to do with it in the sense that Open Studios weekend is very draining for artists, taking months to prepare and then sitting for two days greeting visitors.  When the likelihood of actually selling work seems slim (fewer people seem able or willing to buy art in this economic atmosphere), it becomes more difficult to motivate yourself to participate in the show.” 

However, Penn finds it greatly disappointing “that two of Dorchester’s three buildings dedicated to making art are only marginally involved this year. 

“In 2008 we had 6 artists from Walter Baker Lofts participating [out of 13].  This year, that’s down to 3.   In 2008, we had 15 artists [out of 40] from Humphreys Street Studios exhibiting.  This year we have 3.”  

A Humphrey Street Studios artist confides that she withdrew from showing this year and believes many others who exhibited last year will not be showing either because of the disappointingly small number of visitors in past years.  Sculptor Joseph Wheelwright, who manages the Uphams Corner area facility, admits that geographically isolated Humphrey Street artists may be disheartened, “We did have a somewhat smaller crowd of visitors last year so interest may have waned, particularly with the recession woes.”

However, Wheelwright notes that anyone who ventures there this year may well be surprised, “I believe many more than two or three are participating – perhaps they’re not on the official roster because of confusion around paying the registration fee.”

Dorchester Arts Collaborative Board member Robert Thornell, who has been exhibiting for the past six years, will be in the First Church group show with his photographs and acrylics, including a new canvas called “The Gleaners,” inspired by the men and women collecting and redeeming bottles in the Four Corners area.  He regrets that the Great Hall in Codman Square (“my favorite venue”) will not be used as an exhibition space in 2009.

Thornell believes it’s important to have venues open in areas where there is not a tradition of studio visiting. “For folks in the community the DOS gives them a good feeling about where they live. For folks not from the community they are impressed at the quality of the talent.  Everyone gets a broader sense of the diversity of arts activities in Dorchester.”

Vincent Crotty, an Irish-born painter who has lived in Dorchester for the past 15 years, has been participating in DOS “from the get-go.” 
Though he’s a well-known artist, he continues to show each year, explaining, “The DOS is a huge part of my life. Dorchester itself is an area that I often paint. I was very grateful and surprised at the positive reaction I got from local people to my Dorchester paintings when I was first getting started.”

Clearly, this weekend is the time to rally round veteran artists as well as newcomers like Baker Loft resident Carolyn Kegler, the first floral designer in the city recognized by the BRA. Just dropping by an exhibit or two can impact the quality of life for local artists and our community as a whole.

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