Underground art festival undermined by underperforming underground

Underground art festival undermined by underperforming underground
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

It was a weekend of “L” for Bushwick’s annual open studios art festival.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority’s decision to shut down the L train with only five days notice last weekend left hundreds of artists and their fans in the lurch during the enclave’s largest festival of the year.

More than 350 art spaces were thrown open on June 4 and 5 as part of Arts in Bushwick’s fifth annual free arts festival, an event that typically draws thousands of art patrons to North Brooklyn for visits with emerging artists.

But the MTA suspended trains in Manhattan and Brooklyn to replace old signals along the line near Myrtle Avenue from Friday through Sunday — in favor of unpopular shuttle bus service to transport straphangers through Bushwick.

“We do our best to avoid major holidays,” said transit spokeswoman Deirdre Parker. “Since [we are] a 24/7 operation, we do as much as we can on the weekends to inconvenience fewer riders.”

The neighborhood’s transit troubles left the streets a ghost town. Scores artists blamed the MTA for the lowest turnout in the festival’s five years.

Artist Lorra Jackson shows off her painting sculpture in her Troutman Street studio.
Photo by Aaron Short

“In years past, it has been [like] rush hour on the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway,” said Paul D’Agostino, who estimated that attendance at his Centotto gallery on Moore Street was half of what it had been in previous years.

How important is train service on weekends? Studios and galleries near the J train, which was running normally, reported an increase in traffic.

“We had about 50 people — on a normal Sunday we get 20,” said Famous Accountants’ Kevin Regan, whose Gates Avenue gallery was at the fringes of the festival boundaries. “It was better than last year.”

Arts in Bushwick’s Laura Braslow ripped into the MTA three days before the festival, still declared this year’s even a success — even though “it was never mobbed.”

Braslow had lobbied the MTA hard this week to move the trackwork to another weekend, but was told that the arts festival was not on a transit authority list of events that can trigger a rescheduling. The transit agency blamed public officials for not alerting it about the festival.

Ghost town: Bushwick’s windswept streets were empty for an arts festival this weekend — thanks to the MTA, which cut the L train.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini