Somerville Open Studios

Artwork by David Barnes, #61 on the SOS map

Artwork by David Barnes, #61 on the SOS map

Taylor Reed Vecchio


Open studios season is usually in the fall, but Somerville is opening its neighborhood for a bit of a spring taste. The city of Boston offers the largest open studios event in the country without even factoring in Cambridge, Somerville and other surrounding areas. Good ol’ Mayor Mumbles even gushed with pride in a recent interview when his native neighborhood Hyde Park joined in to have their own open studios a few years ago. The arts festival may be one of the only opportunities for often forgotten neighborhoods like Hyde Park and East Boston to give their artists’ exposure and their restaurants more patronage. The Greater Boston area boasts more than 16,000 artists, and open studios alone attract more than 100,000 visitors a year.

Somerville has changed dramatically the past few decades from the townie haven true to the nickname “slummerville,” into a diverse community known for its artists and busy squares. When the T extended from Harvard, Davis and Porter Square instantly began to change. While those areas are familiar to many, Somerville as a city can be elusive, even to those who live there. Most of the city is completely inaccessible by T and bus, and most fearful citizens will often never step foot in Union Square or Winter Hill. The relatively sheltered aspect of these parts of Somerville is what some believe protected and nurtured the area as a place for artists to have affordable studios.

Choosing which studios to visit can be a daunting task for visitors especially if they are not familiar with the artists and the area. We recommend that visitors start at the Somerville museum between Union and Porter Squares. The museum is currently showing work from many participating Somerville Open Studios (SOS) artists and is a good place to get an idea of what you may be interested in seeing. Maps of Somerville will be provided with a number that indicates specific artist’s studios and orange balloons will fly outside each site. For people who are new to the Open Studios concept, it’s important to understand how varied the sites can be. Work can be shown in museums and large building spaces as well as small studios and in an artist’s own apartment. The work is also extremely diverse. Open studios organizations usually make a point of being extremely all-inclusive in terms of media. This means that you can walk into one studio and experience handmade jewelry and screen printed bags and stroll down the street and enter a photographers’ den, like David Barnes’. Barnes, a local artist showing at SOS this year, embraces the randomness of opening his art to the street. “It is just so fascinating to have a stranger react a piece that is very dear me… to know that my art can evoke such a range of feeling. It is very exciting.” The visitor-artist relationship is important to the mission of SOS. Their focus involves bringing locals and guests to the Somerville arts community where artists not only gain exposure, but are able to sell their work and talk with visitors in a casual environment. The inclusiveness of SOS gives some artists their first opportunity to display their work publicly to thousands of people.

Aethea Roy is showing for her second year of SOS with her “partner in crime” of sorts, local artist Beth Driscoll. They’ll be showing in “the little house”-a small and presently uninhabited cottage near Porter Square where they’ll present their work as if it were an abandoned doll house. Visitors should be intrigued by an instillation in the bathroom that deals with body image obsession. Guests should also watch out for any suspicious activity…word on the street is that Althea and Beth are founding members of the Boston-based gang Lady Cougars, an all girl art gang. Beware rival art gangs, they will crush you!

If the threat of having your art gang involved in a beat-down puts you off the path of Althea and Beth’s uninhabited cottage, then perhaps art inspired by an 80 year-old teddy bear will be more to your liking. Cape Cod native Jill Bendonis’ recent series uses vintage animal images to express feelings of solitude anxiety and loneliness. To illustrate the diversity of open studios, Jill is an artist who additionally sells greeting cards of her paintings at the MFA store and Black Ink in Harvard Square and Beacon Hill. Her work was also featured in a show at Zuzu last fall.

To support our own, visitors may want to check out Gary Duehr who is working on the “What’s the Point” art installation at UMass, doing poetry workshops. You may have seen fliers around campus asking you “What’s the Point?” and surely you have read John Mortell’s March 24 Mass Media article on the project. Duehr, an experienced community involvement advocate is a wonderful living example of the Open Studios aesthetic, “I think SOS is such a dense gathering of artists that it gives off sparks. For one day the whole city becomes an art gallery. Not just neighbors get to find out the artistic ambitions of the artists next door, but artists get to hobnob with each other and find out what everyone has been up to for the last year.” While his work with “What’s the Point” has focused on poetry, his recent series “Momentary Monuments” features digitally based color images that often depict fragments of torsos and gestures. Duehr proves that an artist can show their work in a wonderful venue like SOS as well as the ICA and Museum of contemporary Art in Brazil. Look for him to cultivate his “artist next-door” appeal as he designs a permanent photo installation for the new Silver Line stop at South Station.

Somerville opens their studios on Saturday, April 30 and Sunday May 1 from 12:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. All venues are free of charge and this year over 300 artists will participate, showing their work in 98 locations. SOS is introducing the “Artist Autograph Card” where visitors are asked to collect the signature of one artist from each group of 10 studios to be eligible for prizes.

For more information check out:

Somerville Museum,1 Westwood Road, Somerville, MA 617-666-9810.