This weekend, over 350 Somerville artists will open their studios to the public, offering art - and, in many cases, refreshments - to total strangers free of charge. Permit parking restrictions have been waived by the city, and for those without a car, a free trolley service provides transportation across the city.
Things weren't always so organized, but thanks to local artists and volunteers the event has gained steam ever year, gathering more artists and attracting hundreds of visitors from the Boston area. Now in its 12th year, Somerville Open Studios is the premier arts event in a city that claims to have more artists per square mile than any other.
“It's bigger than it's ever been,” said local painter Thea Penath, who manages publicity for the event. “It's just an amazing event.”
Paneth moved to Somerville 24 years ago and rents a studio space in the Central Street Studios. She's worn many hats in organizing previous Open Studios but enjoys the event first and foremost as an artist.
“It's a day when everyone is in the studio building,” she said. “It's just wonderful to be part of such a large community event.”
Event Director Peter Belford, who works in the Vernon Street Studios, said the weekend is a way for artists to get feedback on pieces they've been working on throughout the year. It's also an opportunity to sell their work.
"Art is often produced in isolation," he said. "It's a wonderful opportunity to see people react to your art, whether it's reacting to beauty or something intentionally disturbing."
Sixty percent of this year's artists are new to the event from last year, Belford said, which means visitors can expect a fresh collection of creative energy. The number of artists showing their work at the Center for Arts at the Armory has increased by nearly a dozen and overall attendance is up from last year, he said.
"We were a little concerned about the effect the economy would have on the event," he admitted on Wednesday. "But then we had more artists sign up."
Participating studios will be open from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. An exhibition of selected works submitted by participating artists is on display at the Somerville Museum through Friday, May 14.
The city has lifted permit parking restrictions for the event, although meters and 2-hour parking restrictions will remain in effect. Three trolleys funded by the city will transport art viewers through the city along a planned route.
“The support from the city has been phenomenal this year,” Penath said. “They've done everything they can to help us out.”
By Alix Roy, Town Correspondent Boston Globe April 27, 2010