South End Studios Open Their Doors, Share Artwork
Artistic Tenants on Albany St. Wish for Greater Crowds in Their Beloved Building
Published: Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 23:09
“Every year I say it will be my last year, but I have enough of a following that I keep doing it.”
This is what Nancy Simonds had to say about opening her studio at 535 Albany St. in Boston’s South End, where she has made her living as an artist since 1985. The United South End Artists have been sponsoring an annual weekend event called South End Open Studios for 27 years, including during this past Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
But Simonds, a creator of large, abstract gouache paintings, said that the building in which she makes her living receives not even a fraction of the traffic it experienced earlier in her career during South End Open Studios.
“We were one of the anchor buildings in the beginning years of the South End Open Studios,” Simonds said, but this has been less true each year, because of what Simonds calls “South End Studios burnout.”
As more buildings throughout the South End and Boston began dedicating themselves to the arts, Simonds said, the building on Albany Street no longer had “quite the unusual quality it used to.”
“It’s over-saturation,” she said, adding that she first started noticing a decrease in traffic around five or six years ago.
Lisa Houck, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design who has been in the building for around 20 years, agreed.
“The South End Open Studios has changed because Harrison Ave. and Thayer St. have become the hub,” she said. Art studios in buildings such as 450 Harrison Ave. began having openings on the first Friday of every month around 10 years ago, after GTI Properties and owner Mario Nicosia began revamping the factory buildings on Harrison Ave. in the early 2000s.
“People are used to going over there,” Houck said.
Houck added that she and her fellow artists are not complaining, and that the United South End Artists cannot specifically do anything to improve traffic during South End Open Studios. Still, Houck said that she and her fellow tenants would all “like to see more traffic.”
“There are probably eight or nine very established artists in this building with very active careers,” Houck said, adding that many of the artists in the building maintain personal mailing lists to keep people coming through the building to see their work.
Jo Ann Rothschild, an abstract artist and another long-time tenant at 535 Albany St., admitted that she had some difficulty in acclimating herself to the retail end of being an artist, as her abilities were in producing art, and not necessarily in selling it, but she said that she has always had people to lean on.
“There is a myth about artists that they do their work alone,” Rothschild said. “It’s just not true.”
Rothschild noted the joy that she experiences from her friendships not only in the Albany St. building, but also with artists in buildings just around the corner on Wareham St., another place indicated by Simonds as one of the former hubs of activity during South End Open Studios.
Simonds, whose studio rests airily on the fifth floor of the building, said that the Boston Center for the Arts on Tremont St. and the Piano Factory on Harrison Ave., were also two of the original hotspots in the South End, forming a type of triangle in the South End within which art enthusiasts would trek.
Jane Kamine, an artist who has been at 535 Albany St. for 26 years, expressed a level of contentment with the state of the arts community in Boston, even though traffic in her own building has subsided.
“It’s very exciting for our city,” she said, “when you realize how many open studios we have.”
The building at 535 Albany St., which has been operated by the Gossels family for decades, houses more than just visual art, however.
Various creative business ventures have found their way in the building, including architects, clothing designers, and even the makers of bamboo bikes.
“The Boston Globe business section found this remarkable,” Houck said of a 2011 article. “You don’t see that many buildings where you have so many individuals with different creative endeavors.”
Rothschild, abstract art on the studio walls behind her, agreed. “It’s a great building,” she said. “Every now and then we get some new blood and that’s great, too.”
For Houck, 535 Albany St. is ultimately defined by the friendships formed within it.
“That’s why we’ve all stayed,” she said.