There are enough more or less massive, regularly scheduled, neighborhood-centric and open-studios-based arts events in Brooklyn for you to fill up a fair amount of space in a 12-month calendar. But there’s a big annual one in Queens as well—The Long Island City Arts Open, to be precise, which will be spread all around the general area of LIC this year, from May 13th to the 17th. What started out not too long ago as a simple open-studios event has now exploded into a whole lot more, so we asked some of its organizers, curators and artists about the maturation of LICAO, and about what this year’s visitors can expect.
Richard Mazda, Executive Director of LICAO
You’ve been at the directorial helm of LICAO since its inception in 2011. How has it grown, changed and been received over the years? How do you see it moving into the future?
I founded the festival in 2011 along with a colleague, sculptor Karen Dimit. In the first couple of months we raised almost $25,000 from local businesses, advertising and participation fees. It is well known that bleak urban areas will first see colonization by artists who seek raw spaces to create and make their works. One of our largest donors in that first year, and every year since, was the Court Square Diner, an iconic 24-hour diner run by two Greek brothers, Steve and Nick Kanellos. They gave us an amazing $10,000 check and ensured that the festival would become a reality. The festival’s first year launch and growth was nothing short of meteoric. We published a 36-page brochure and featured over 40 venues, pop-up galleries and many exhibitions, as well as opening over 200 studios to the public. This year the festival features over 65 venues, and I believe that with each successive year we have grown in professionalism. I am most interested in giving the community of artists in LIC a real platform, and in advocating on their behalf. I also hope to correct the erroneous view that Queens is somehow either a cultural desert or a suburban backwater.
Carolina Penafiel, Events and Exhibition Coordinator
How long have you been involved with LICAO? What features of the festival are new or significantly different this year? Any events you’d like to highlight? This is my first year working at the festival. Something new and exciting this year is that we’re working with independent curators. It really makes a huge difference in the quality of exhibitions. Working in raw, unconventional exhibition spaces is not an easy thing to do, and we like to support the artists by bringing in hands-on assistance in many aspects. We are also inviting artists from other boroughs to participate. I am very excited about the large exhibitions, and about all the local business opening their doors as well. I’m curating a show at The Falchi building called GIANTS, that to me is really what LIC and Queens, overall, are about. Actually, I’m excited about every aspect of this year’s festival. I can’t wait!
Maria Dimanshtein & John Baber, guest curators
Guest curators are a new feature for LICAO this year. How does curating for something like this differ from your other curatorial endeavors? What are you putting together for the festival?
Dimanshtein: To come up with an idea for an exhibition, I consider a theme that is interesting to me at the moment and look for a way to have a conversation about it in a given context or community. In the midst of the excitement of the festival and its impressive scale, I wanted to create room for a quieter, intimate show, and to invite people to be present and pay attention. The exhibition that I am curating at Resobox Gallery is Your Presence Is Requested, featuring six artists whose intricate work draws from close observation of their surroundings, which allows them to find wonder in the seemingly mundane.
Baber:Miguel Luciano and I are joining forces and co-curating Shangri-la in LIC. Both of us work for institutions, so in this instance, we have a little more flexibility to do what we want. It’s a beautiful raw space with lots of nooks and crannies, and we were given three floors to work with. It’s our experimental lab for the next month. What we’re planning will be an exhibition, but it will have more of a festive feel by featuring a myriad of visual arts, performance, dance, and poetry.
Karen Dimit, exhibiting artist
You’ve been involved with the festival since the beginning, both as an organizational force and a participating artist. This year you’re focusing more on the latter role. What have you learned over the years as a participating artist, and what kind of work will you be showing your studio visitors this year?
Open Studios gives me an opportunity to communicate directly with the public about technical and conceptual aspects of my work. My current works, which will be on view in my studio and in a couple of the LICAO pop-up shows, deal with the imbalance of the female and male energies in our global society, exemplified by the gendercide of 100 million girls over the past two decades. My work is also very labor- and time-intensive, so I love visitors seeing the raw materials, works-in-progress and the finished products together. And I especially love feeling part of a vibrant arts community during the festival.
Jack Howard-Potter, exhibiting artist
How long have you been a participating artist in LICAO? What are you planning to show your studio visitors?
2015 is my fifth year participating in LICAO. When participating in the group shows, I love the reclamation of empty spaces as a way to bring attention to LIC and its creative energy. During my open studio, I take time to chat with visitors about my process for making figurative steel sculpture and show them works-in-progress and completed ones. It is a chance for viewers to get insight into a usually closed and secret world where artists do their work in solitude. Bringing in viewers breaks down the barriers of the creative process and fosters understanding of how art is created.
Events listings, maps and lots of other info about LICAO can be found at licartsopen.org.
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