Paul Flint was intrigued by the idea of a bunch of Greenville-area artists opening their studios on the same weekend and inviting the public in to see where and how they worked.
But he and many of the other artists who participated in the first Greenville Open Studios in 2002 weren’t sure how many people would want to spend their Saturday or Sunday going from studio to studio.
At the very least, the participating artists thought, they’d give their studios a much-needed spruce up, they’d make the time to put the finishing touches on work that may have been put off and they could get some work done if attendance was sparse.
Although the event fell on a Clemson-Carolina football weekend and the weather the first day was awful, throngs of people showed up, Flint said.
“None of us had any idea it would turn into what it has,” said artist Jim Campbell, one of several artists who were eating breakfast together when Patti Brady came up with the idea.
Fifty-nine artists participated the first year.
Last year, a record 142 artists recorded 63,070 visits and $233,941 in sales.
Next weekend, 124 artists within a 15-mile radius of downtown Greenville are participating, including some in all areas of Greenville County, Easley and Dacusville.
In the 10 years of Open Studios, more than $1.4 million in art has been sold, said Alan Ethridge, executive director of the Metropolitan Arts Council.
Campbell and Flint give MAC credit for turning Greenville Open Studios into one of the Upstate’s biggest visual arts events of the year.
“We wanted it to be more than a neighborhood ‘look what we’re doing’ kind of thing,” said Flint, who along with the other artists at ArtBomb in West Greenville was still transforming an old empty building on Pendleton Street into their studios. “But I don’t think anybody knew what getting MAC on board would do to the event.”
The first year budget for the event was less than $10,000. This year, the budget tops $200,000, Ethridge said.
“The event is truly the premier weekend for Greenville’s community of amazingly talented visual artists,” Ethridge said.
Brady said she had participated in open studio events in San Francisco and Marin when she lived in California. She attended similar events in Chicago and Washington, D.C.
The events are popular, she said, because it gives people a look at what happens “behind closed doors.”
“People see a painting on the wall, but unless they are painters, they don’t know how it gets to that point,” she said. “One of the things it does is give people an idea about the commitment of the individual artist that goes into making their work.”
Many people don’t realize the time and work that goes into a piece because most artists don’t do their work publicly, she said.
“This is a peak into the backroom,” Brady said.
And people are usually more interested in the work of an artist they find accessible, she said.
“It’s important for people to talk to an artist and for the artist to talk to them,” Brady said.
The free self-guided tour gives people an opportunity to see art being made and to ask questions of the artists.
Studios participating in this year’s event will feature paintings, photography, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, woodworking, printmaking, mixed media, silversmithing and glass work.
The studios will be open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m on Saturday, Nov. 5 and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6.
Some studios will also be open Friday, Nov. 4 from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.
Some artists will have works in various stages of completion to illustrate their artistic process, while others will actually do demonstrations.
“It’s hard to sell your artwork in your hometown,” Flint said. “People think they’ve got to go to New York, that they’ve got to go somewhere else. Now, with Open Studios, I think people in Greenville have a much better understanding of the level of artists here. They see they don’t have to go somewhere else to get good art.”
For some artists, sales made during Open Studios and later as a result of the weekend can make up at least half of their yearly sales.
“I sell more art at Open Studios than any other event I do,” Flint said. “And visits that weekend can lead to future sales.”
For other artists, the weekend is all about education.
“Sales come from the opportunity to understand the work and meet the artist,” Brady said. “It’s really an important educational opportunity. Knowing about art adds to the enjoyment of looking at it, even if you don’t buy.”
A web app is available to help visitors plan their travel routes by allowing the information on each participating artist to be accessed through cell phones and the Web. The app was developed by Merge, a Greenville web development company.