It’s where creative magic happens, the private spaces devoted to the crafting and fabricating of unique artifacts. No wonder we welcome the rare opportunity to take a glimpse inside the place and the process, to meet artists in their studios, and in many cases to watch them handcraft their specialties.
That’s one reason why the three weeks of Open Studios attract thousands of art trekkers each year—the chance to see the improbably wide and diverse range of artifacts made by close to 300 of our Santa Cruz County residents. There is such abundant color, texture and form to be admired that most Open Studio foragers find themselves spending more than one day looking, admiring and purchasing. They meet neighbors who turn out to be artisans, and to drive and walk around parts of our gorgeous county they’ve never visited.
With her own retirement still two years away, Open Studios coordinator Ann Ostermann revealed that her last year working with the annual arts walkabout will be “after my 20th year, in 2024.” Meanwhile she’s been hard at work guiding the event through the pandemic—offering views into studios and artwork online was one of Ostermann’s recent challenges. The biggest change she’s seen over these two decades, she says, is “the digital aspect of it.”
The online application process began in 2012, and three years later there was another sea change—distributing the full-color Open Studios guide free of charge.
“That was made possible by a partnership with GT for printing costs. That really transformed things and let us make sure the event opened up artwork and artists to everyone. Before that, the $20 guide excluded lots of people,” Ostermann believes. “Now more and more younger people are checking out the studios.”
Hopefully they will find their favorites. I know I am always surprised by new discoveries each season, but I do like to keep tabs on the work of printmaker Bridget Henry, ceramicist Beth Sherman and the wearable artwork of Christina MacColl. This is your chance to feast on the photography of Frans Lanting, or raku designs by George Dymesich. And don’t miss the outstanding watercolors by John Flores.
Even though the listings of artists and images of their work are available by scrolling through the Open Studios website, “it’s still nice to be able to pick up the guide in print and take time thumbing through the pages, looking at lots of examples together on each page,” she says.
Ostermann, who makes the daunting task of coordinating hundreds of participants, images and website updates look easy, made sure to invite all of us to the Santa Cruz Art League to check out the huge preview exhibit of participants’ work. The public opening lets those interested in the three weeks of tours get a sneak peak. That way, art lovers can spot some must-see studios in advance.
Even though this year’s Open Studios will be the same size as always, between 275 and 300 participants, Ostermann is excited about what’s new with this incredibly popular art crawl. “There are 46 first-timers this year,” she notes with pride. “We’ve added a new symbol, a thumbs-up symbol, that indicates first-time artists. And also a bilingual symbol to help entice even more visitors.”
The symbol of a mask next to a name and image indicates the artists asking that their visitors wear masks. “To help welcome visitors this year, as we ease out of Covid, more of the displays than ever are being held outdoors, and most artists have done self-curating, so that they’re showing fewer items, but more of them are the very top of their artistic output. Sort of a greatest hits on display,” says Ostermann.
A great way to whet your appetite for this year’s tour is to stop by two large gallery spaces, Santa Cruz Art League and R.Blitzer, where selected works by participating artists will be on view. At R. Blitzer, work from Open Studio artists in rural sites will be on display October 1-16, with a First Friday Reception on October 7. Meanwhile work from hundreds of Open Studios artists continues to be displayed at the Santa Cruz Art League through October 16.
Open Studios Art Tour features three weekends of self-guided tours with a different geographical focus each week: North County, Oct. 1-2.; South County, Oct. 8-9; all county, Oct. 15-16. For more information on artists and locations, pick up the Open Studios guide free at public locations around the county, or go to santacruzopenstudios.com. The R. Blitzer Gallery is at 2801 Mission St., Santa Cruz. Open for viewing Thursday-Sunday, 1-4pm. Santa Cruz Art League, 526 Broadway, Santa Cruz. Open for viewing Wednesday-Sunday, noon-5pm. scal.org.