By Sam Haas, city editor
Along Putnam Street, Medusa stared out at attentive children from a framed pedestal, surrounded by painted tree branches and textured photography sculptures. Down the street, jeweled bracelets sparkled next to fliers for creative writing programs.
More than 70 local artists displayed their works during the 17th annual Roxbury Open Studios on Saturday and Sunday. Artists, art-lovers and families visited 25 spaces across Roxbury in celebration of local art.
Discover Roxbury, a nonprofit group focused on promoting civic engagement, economic development and historical and cultural understanding of neighborhoods, has organized the event for the last five years. According to Laura Palmer Edwards, media manager for Discover Roxbury and a visual artist, the organization hopes to aid both artists and visitors through Open Studios.
“[Open Studios] gives the community a sense of what’s here,” Edwards said. “Maybe they’ll say, ‘Hey, I could maybe try that.’ That’s what I’m really hoping for.”
The art on display covered various forms and styles. At the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry site on Putnam Street, works included earth-toned pottery, several kinds of photography, painted portraits, graphic designs, an illustrated children’s book, jewelry and decorated pieces of wood. In Dudley Square, Hibernian Hall housed 25 artists’ work encompassing paper art, fashion designs, sculptures and paintings.
“There’s an incredible variety of mediums and approaches and passion,” Roxbury resident David Parker, 46, said outside the Hibernian Hall showcase. “It was great to see it all.”
Diverse art draws in artists as much as it does visitors, according to Dorchester potter Ivan Samuels.
“I look forward to this every year because you can see the artists out in their spaces,” Samuels said. “We come out of hermit mode, which can be really easy to get into when you’re creating.”
In the seven years he’s been presenting at Open Studios, Samuels said he has seen community members’ interactions grow, both in their appreciation of his work and their purchases.
“A lot of returners [are] coming out to [buy] pieces,” Samuels said. “This event unites people, especially to see the little kids brought in by their parents.”
One of Discover Roxbury’s core goals is to increase local engagement with the artists. Sunday’s Open Studios suggest the organization is succeeding in that goal.
“We came just to look around at the art and do something fun,” Parker, who brought his daughter to the exhibits, said, “I ended up buying a few things for her and talking to some of the artists. I think we’ll be back again next year.”
Connecting to residents who may otherwise be pushed away from, or never exposed to, the arts at a young age is important to many local artists, Ayana Mack, a 26-year-old painter from Dorchester, said.
“It helps to introduce people to the arts,” Mack said. “I was lucky enough to be exposed to it by my parents and my grandma; I have a background. But a lot of young people don’t.”
Mack’s works included a self-portrait painted exclusively in orange and blue tones, a representation of herself as Medusa and sized prints of geometric and line drawings.
Interacting with residents is also important because audience interpretation helps determine the value and impact of art, according to Brian Wilson, a 35-year-old photographer from Mission Hill.
One of Wilson’s pieces featured a white can displayed against a white background. Wilson digitally removed color, contrast and other enhancements from the image, which requires viewers to fill in the space based on their memories and experiences, he said.
“Everyone sees a graffiti can here, but it plays differently in different neighborhoods,” Wilson said of the photograph. “When I displayed it in New Hampshire, everyone saw it as WD-40.”
Open Studios also inspires adults to consider art as a serious pursuit, according to 53-year-old Roxbury photographer and illustrator Mark Schafer.
“I’ve lived here for nine years, been coming to Discover Roxbury [Open Studios] for about seven, but this is my first year presenting,” Schafer said. “I’d been thinking about it for a number of years and I finally decided to stop waiting and sign up.”
Mack echoed Schafer’s sentiments, saying Discover Roxbury fosters a crucial kinship among artists.
“Last year, I wasn’t doing any of this,” Mack said. “I was working retail. Meeting [friends] has helped me get tips and advice. It’s really a network.”
Wilson, too, agreed that the group helped him feel at home in the Roxbury arts community after moving to the area a year and a half ago.
The bonds promoted by Open Studios are strong enough to extend from artists to viewers, creating a tangible sense of community, said visitor Latoya Robinson, 35, of Dorchester.
Robinson, who directs the Students Taking Action for Nursing Diversity and Pathways to Prosperity programs at Bunker Hill Community College, came to the exhibit in support of both her boyfriend’s sister and artists in general.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s fantastic. I just love art, period,” Robinson said. “I truly believe in art. I’m an educator. Art makes me better, more open-minded and more creative. This is a very small world – you can create community in that small room, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Photos by Scotty Schenck
Featured image at top: Sandrea Lovelock-Williams’ drawing of her daughter at Roxbury Open Studios.