Bookmark this to reread in early November next year.
For one weekend each year, there is a coordinated effort to bring local art to the general public. Some of this happens by opening up artists’ studios, but most vendors are found in other spaces — from the Great Hall of Union Station to Hog River Brewery. The nearly twenty sites can be found in Downtown, Asylum Hill, Parkville, South Green, Blue Hills, Sheldon/Charter Oak, North East, and West End.
There’s the challenge: how do you make the most of your time when you have twelve hours to see nineteen venues?
- Eat a large breakfast, pack snacks, and don’t bother stopping for lunch. The grazing potential varies wildly from studio-to-studio, and even venue-to-venue. Arbor Arts Center (56 Arbor Street) seemed to have the best/most free food available, including pastries and cake pops. If you rely on your feet or a bicycle to get you around, every calorie counts.
- Dress in layers and wear comfortable shoes. It might be cold and windy outside, but it’ll feel like a sauna in most of the venues.
- Plan. Find a map of the studio locations to maximize your stops. There is a shuttle route, so you could base it on that. Or, you could eliminate some venues that you have been to a dozen times already. If you struggle with crowded spaces, rule out ArtSpace Hartford (555 Asylum Street) and Colt Gateway (34 Sequassen Street). Know that if you are part of the Hartford community, you will have to chuck these plans once you start running into every single person you’ve ever met and you get distracted. It’s best to do Open Studio Weekend solo so you aren’t slowed down by having to compromise.
- Try new things. Prioritize the newer, less established venues. Bohemian Arts Social Club (275 Park Street) was a blast! You are met with “use side entrance” signs and get to amble over a lawn to enter what appears to be a standard-issue neighborhood multi-family home. Through the side door, you’re greeted by a room that doubles as a bar. All the activity is to the right, so you go into that room where at the center of it, mostly naked women are being transformed with body paint. The live art is unapologetically set in the middle, where you could avoid it only by shielding your eyes. It’s what you have to tiptoe around to see the other artists. There are no trigger warning signs. Everything about this space feels like it belongs here in Hartford.
The DIAL at Fuller Brush (3580 Main Street) was a new venue I wanted to see but missed out on because it was not on the shuttle route and weekend bus service is too sporadic.
- Visit old favorites. You will have to eventually admit that there’s no way you will make it to all the venues in any given year, so roll with it and hang out with the artists you know. This means heading into the basement of 30 Arbor Street to see what’s going on at MakeHartford before wandering to Arbor Arts Center to score snacks and watch demonstrations at Hartford Ballroom. Go back to the Hartford Weaving Center to stare off into the room full of looms. Visit Maurice to drink some wine and hear about the subjects of his photography. Pick up functional pottery from Union Station. Go to Connecticut Historical Society for new mittens made by The Sewing Circle Project; then, take advantage of the free admission to see what’s in the museum galleries.
- Escape if you need to. Whether you are hangry because you ignored the first step, or you are too hot, feeling too claustrophobic, experiencing sensory overload, or too tired, go ahead and call it a day — or at least take a time out — without feeling bad about it. Don’t become that toddler having a screaming meltdown in Target. Just leave. Try again next time.