SCOUT OUT: 40 Years at Vernon Street Studios

The buildings located at 6 and 20 Vernon Street look rather inconspicuous from the outside – the towering brick structures, which once exclusively housed the Rogers Foam Corporation, are industrial, functional and sturdy. Inside, winding corridors splay out in all directions, making it easy to get turned around. But these days, the building’s occupants produce far more than just foamcore; 6 and 20 Vernon also house more than 100 artists. Creators of all kinds have used the shared space as a studio since 1974. And while the giant, labyrinthine structure is a little daunting in size, it’s in no way unwelcoming. In fact, Vernon Street artists have always made a point of inviting the community into their space with their annual Open Studios event, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

The buildings located at 6 and 20 Vernon Street look rather inconspicuous from the outside – the towering brick structures, which once exclusively housed the Rogers Foam Corporation, are industrial, functional and sturdy. Inside, winding corridors splay out in all directions, making it easy to get turned around. But these days, the building’s occupants produce far more than just foamcore; 6 and 20 Vernon also house more than 100 artists. Creators of all kinds have used the shared space as a studio since 1974. And while the giant, labyrinthine structure is a little daunting in size, it’s in no way unwelcoming. In fact, Vernon Street artists have always made a point of inviting the community into their space with their annual Open Studios event, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

Vernon Street’s anniversary celebration is twofold: The Open Studios event will take place as always, on the first weekend of December, but this year it will be complemented by a special exhibit at the Somerville Museum (1 Westwood Road). From November 13 through December 31, the museum will display the works of Vernon Street artists past and present, including pieces from a few creators who were among the first to move into the studio back in ‘74.

The Open Studios event at Vernon Street was one of the first in the Greater Boston area, and since its inception it’s helped break down the barriers that exist in traditional gallery or museum settings. “It’s a chance for me to be able to talk about my work,” says Heather Balchunas, a Vernon Street artist and one of the coordinators for this year’s celebration. “It’s a little bit different than showing in a gallery because it’s in the space that you work in.” She notes that the event is an opportunity to erase preconceived notions people might have about what an artist’s space should look like, while also giving them a glimpse inside the creative process. In the past, Balchunas says she’s gotten feedback from students and other attendees that actually shaped the way she worked on pieces.

Open Studios will also give the community an opportunity to see a vast array of different work, all in one place. Vernon Street houses artists who specialize in a number of mediums – painters, photographers, sculptors and furniture builders – as well as producers in different stages in their career. Some are full-time creators, others squeeze in hours at the studio when their day job permits. All of them contribute to a vibrant, rich atmosphere of imagination and originality that’s visible in their individual workspaces and throughout the halls, which are plastered with examples of their work.

“The space is very raw, which I like, because I know I can be as messy as I need to be,” painter Andrew Fish says of the studios. “It’s a privilege to have a space to create in, and I think I’ve made some of my best paintings at Vernon Street.”

The yearly festival is a great opportunity for art collectors, as it gives buyers a chance to purchase original works directly from the artist. But you don’t have to be an expert or a serious buyer to get something from the experience, and you don’t need to have an outlandish budget. Most participants will have small pieces for sale, and they’re generally very willing to work with buyers to get them a piece they love at a price that doesn’t break the bank.

Balchunas has a few tips for Open Studios a endees looking to make the most of their experience. First: grab a map. With two buildings, several floors, and its series of maze-like hallways, it can be easy to overlook some of the phenomenal artists who are participating in the event. She also suggests checking out the Somerville Museum exhibition beforehand to figure out which artists you don’t want to miss.

Fish echoes her advice, with one simple, important addendum:

“Bring the family. Bring friends! Have fun with it.”

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