Gowanus Open Studios to highlight arts community ‘in the face of rezoning’

Arts Gowanus Executive Director Johnny Thornton and Program Director Emily Chiavelli with their sprawling Open Studios mural.
Arts Gowanus

This coming weekend, nonprofit Arts Gowanus will host the 26th annual Gowanus Open Studios, providing free access to hundreds of local artists’ works and studios.

From noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15 and Sunday, Oct. 16, visitors can walk around, visit studios, talk to local artists, and view and purchase artwork.

With nearly 100 venues, Gowanus Open Studios will be spread out across the neighborhood. To create a more organized and accessible experience for visitors, an online map and directory have been curated. The map and directory include descriptions of the artists and the type of artwork presented, as well as their location in Gowanus proper. 

Gowanus Open Studios is “Brooklyn’s largest celebration of art,” said Johnny Thornton, executive director of Arts Gowanus.

“This is the one weekend where [the artists of Gowanus] open up their studios to the public, and the public can see art and interact with the artists where the work is made,” Thornton told Brooklyn Paper. 

Over 350 artists will be involved in the event, providing the public with a glimpse into the dynamic art community in the neighborhood of Gowanus. Thornton told Brooklyn Paper of the “vibrant and amazing artists at so many locations,” saying that these artists display, “what Gowanus has to offer.” 

“Gowanus has always been an enclave for the creative community,” said Thornton. With its background as an industrial area, he said Gowanus drew in many artists who have established a unique and tight-knit arts community, and Gowanus Open Studios allows them to receive recognition, and spread awareness of the importance of this community.

Arts Gowanus

“It’s important for the public to see what’s in Gowanus, what a vibrant community it is, and why the arts and culture community in Gowanus needs to be supported and protected,” Thornton said.

Artists can bring people into their studios this weekend, selling their art in the same place it was created, and give the public a sense of the arts community of Gowanus. But in recent years, many artists in this area have lost their studio space due to various reasons, such as the pandemic, loss of income, and rezoning.

“We also have found over the last decade or so, we have lost a couple artist studio buildings, a lot of artists have lost their studios due to rent increases or were no longer able to afford it during COVID and so we found spaces for a lot of displaced artists to show work,” said Thornton.

In order to still allow these artists to display and sell their artwork, Arts Gowanus will be connecting those who lack studios with spaces in which they can participate in the sprawling art show. 82 St Marks Place will be hosting close to 20 of those artists, in a sales office that Art Gowanus has gained permission to use for the event. The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club Boathouse is also providing a space for eight artists, located at 165 Second St., next to the canal. 

This year’s Open Studeios is being presented during a time of change in the neighborhood, Thornton said.

“Gowanus was just recently rezoned which caused a lot of hesitation from artists,” he said. “Arts Gowanus job and role is to try to keep the arts community affordable and sustainable in Gowanus, and so I think highlighting the community that we have in the face of rezoning, that we’re still here, we’re still working in the community, and we’re still a part of the Gowanus community that makes it so vibrant, that’s really important.”

A key location to visit during Gowanus Open Studios will be a mural of 120 artists in the community that Thornton created in partnership with Arts Gowanus Program Director Emily Chiavelli. This mural can be found across the street from Gowanus Dredgers, featuring many of the artists involved in Gowanus Open Studios. 

Looking ahead, Arts Gowanus is concerned with the protection of the arts community, and they are finding ways to support these artists during times of change.

“In the face of the rezoning, because Gowanus is changing, we made a deal with several developers to secure 30,000 square feet of highly affordable art space that we are really excited about,” said Thornton. “Being a Mission driven organization, we’re here to highlight the artist but we’re also guaranteeing that we’re going to continue to be a vibrant and amazing arts community.” 

As another addition to this event, Arts Gowanus is collaborating with South Brooklyn Mutual Aid to set up a donation drive for asylum seekers. The drive, located at 540 President St., will be open during the same times as the Gowanus Open Studios. To contribute, bring either personal care items or clothing.