This year’s extremely unusual circumstances have led to a radical rethinking of the wildly popular Open Studios Art Tour, the annual three-week vision quest that allows the public at large to visit the workspaces of artists throughout Santa Cruz County.
The format has changed, but the 34-year-old mission remains the same: to provide a showcase for over 300 artists and their exciting variety of creative work.
At the helm for 17 years, the event’s director Ann Ostermann knew all the ropes of organizing and publicizing the event. Until this year.
“I really had to pivot,” she admits with a laugh. Nixing a virtual tour, Ostermann’s board agreed that nothing replaces actually meeting artists—so they wouldn’t call it Open Studios. Instead, organizers have launched a new website—the Visual Arts Network—designed to bring artists and art lovers together online.
“Basically, it’s a curated web directory 350 members strong,” she explains. “There’s a landing page that people can go to and then look for artists by name or by medium. They’ll click on those links and each artist will have a page.”
Artists will be able to showcase and market their works with images, artist statements, contact information and links to websites, social media pages, and sales portals. “We’re the middlemen for those links, which could lead to studio visits by appointment.”
Stephanie Martin, an award-winning printmaker, has participated in Open Studios for the past 14 years. And she already feels its absence on her calendar. “How strange it is to be feeling the changing season and light in September and not be preparing for Open Studios,” she says. “I’m excited about the Visual Arts Network, and hopeful that people might be moved to seek art during these hard times.”
An important feature of the new Visual Arts Network is that the web directory is up all year long. “The artist will be able to refresh pages and add new images throughout the year,” explains Ostermann. She says that after surveying over 100 participating artists, she found that only 45% of them had websites. Most of them, she discovered, had Instagram, Etsy, or Facebook presences. “And many of them had exposure at in-person venues, fairs, and events and hadn’t needed websites. Now they will have one. We’re offering other features, such as workshops on how to use Instagram for the art business, and social media development instruction by experts like Karen Kefauver.”
The number of artists who have signed on reveals how important this mega-website is right now. “We charged a $65 flat fee for the entire year,” says Ostermann. “We kept it affordable. I’ve learned to see silver linings wherever I can,” she says. “We’ll keep this up all year. It’s good visibility for the artists, and newcomers will be learning new skills. We’re going to do a big ad campaign for the launch, then a large postcard mailing in November, and another ad push in the spring.”
Find the Visual Arts Network at santacruzopenstudios.com.