For more than a decade, woodworker Cecil Ross and mosaic artist Raquel Stanek have been part of the Bainbridge Island Studio Tour. But now, even though Ross was one of the founders of the summer portion of the annual event, the two artists are parting company with the Tour and embarking on a new venture: Bainbridge Working Studios (BWS). Their goal is to get back to the core essence of a studio tour, which they define as working studios with open doors, where people can meet and interact with the artists. They hope to achieve this through a networking organization that preserves the decision-making power of its artist members.
Their new website, at www.bainbridgeworkingstudios.com, which they expect to launch soon, will help to promote—and serve as a networking portal for—local artists, many of whom, Stanek said, have never participated in the Tour. The idea is for local artists to be able to connect with and open their studio doors to the public collectively on pre-determined weekends or individually on any weekends of their choosing. The public will be able to download a map of the studios from the website to plan their own visits. Visitors will then be able to meet with each artist in his or her own “natural habitat,” so to speak, as opposed to in an offsite venue where numerous artists are gathered. The website will also serve as a directory of local studio-based artists. Ross said there is a similar organization on Whidbey Island.
Ross wanted it to be made perfectly clear that they are not in any way “dissing” the Studio Tour. “Without it,” he said, “I would not have had the success I’ve had.” But Ross and Stanek have philosophical differences with the way the tour is now being run and they are eager to get back to a “grass roots” type of organization in which the artists have a say in what direction it takes.
Ross explained that, three years ago, the Studio Tour adopted a nonprofit corporate model in which a steering committee was elected to represent the interests of member artists. Last year, he thinks for tax purposes, the nonprofit part became “for profit,” although, he said, the organization makes sure to reinvest all proceedings, so there’s not actual profit anyway. It’s not the for-profit designation that bothers him but the corporate model that takes decisions out of the hands of the artists themselves.
“Bigger is not better,” he said, referring to the fact that the Tour now rents six halls to accommodate the many—up to 80—artists, more than half of whom, he said, are not from the island. He wanted to make it clear that his objection to the greater number is not elitist—instead, he described the growth as a loss of identity, diluting the Bainbridge Island nature of the event. He said that what the Studio Tour has become is, in fact, an art fair.
Stanek said she is hoping that BWS will be able to offer tours to coincide with Wine Tour weekends, for example, when the seven local winemakers open their doors to the public. And Ross talked about connecting with local B&Bs, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Arts and Humanities Council to come up with ways to connect different experiences for visitors to the island.
Image by Brooklyn Museum.