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Accessible Art: A Look Inside an Open Studio

Off Campus | October 22, 2012

Friday nights usually find students partaking in the classic Tufts weekend rituals: a trip to Somerville Theater, a party at a Greek-lettered house, a scoop of ice cream at J.P.’s, or maybe even a whiskey cocktail at Saloon. In an effort to strike out, I traveled past Davis, Porter, and even past Harvard Square. I rode the Red Line all the way to the Broadway stop in Boston’s South End, where Friday takes on a whole new meaning.

There, on the first Friday of every month, the artists of the SoWa Artists’ Guild open their doors to the public. (SoWa is shorthand for South of Washington Street, and is a district in Boston populated with galleries and artists). The Guild’s space at 450 Harrison Ave. is laid out in workrooms branching off a main hallway; think dorm layout, but studio-sized rooms.  The artists who work in these spaces take each first Friday of the month to make their studios into mini-shows and share their work with anyone who stops by.

“I wanted to have a studio, and First Fridays was a huge benefit of being a part of SoWa,” commented painter Karen Kelleher as she rearranged still-lifes of donuts. “I’ve also got to mention Stephen Silver—he is just the best,” she continued, letting a picture of three tottering jelly donuts rest on a shelf.

Stephen Silver, the founder of the Guild, was not too long ago a suit-and-tie type. After retiring from the business world, he traded his ballpoint pen for a brush and developed his passion for art  Silver then realized a way  to combine his interests in business and art through founding the SoWa Artists’ Guild. The Guild proved to be the perfect intersection of his two passions, allowing artists to purse their work while also drawing in new viewers and potential buyers. Over 70 members later, the Guild is home to one of Boston’s strongest art communities.

On my first First Friday, I entered the long hallway that houses the Guild and found myself amongst a veritable buffalo herd of patrons. I watched turtlenecked couples out for their Friday night thrill; South End locals looking to drop in on their neighbor’s gallery; and students wandering from room to room, taking in the smorgasbord of art offerings in a quick cultural pit stop before hitting the pubs. In one room, an artist demonstrated painting from life by rendering an on-scene portrait of a visitor. In another, a jeweler sized a woman’s hand for a custom-made ring.

By the time I had entered every studio, I’d  viewed sculpture, painting, bead and fiber, photography, and jewelry. What’s more, I had pieces explained by the artists themselves. One sculptor told me of the year-long process it took to create floor-to-ceiling coils of paper-covered wire as I stood pinky-width away from the piece, and a painter explained her still life renditions of hangover remedies—rather than classic fruit bowls—came from a desire to have more fun with her work. As an art student dreaming of a creative future, I was on cloud nine.

SoWa studios aren’t the places for spotting the avant-garde or the Picasso of our day, but rather are an accessible and rejuvenating intermediary in the art world. The Guild serves art on a dinner plate, instead of on the silver platter of more refined museums and galleries, or on the paper plates of flea market and street stands.

“It’s a user-friendly experience,” artist and Guild-member Saya Cullinan put it. For a sure-fire way to paint the town red and sample some stellar art, plan to spend your first Friday of the month in the friendly and eclectic SoWa Studios.