Forging Communities Through Art

Open Studios prepares for 34th All County Weekend

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Ostermann’s wall of art contains pieces from Open Studios in mediums ranging from beeswax to ceramics.

As the Santa Cruz Open Studios director, Ann Ostermann has amassed an impressive collection of work from Open Studios artists.

“Open Studios” is an annual event that spans the first three weekends of October. An independent panel accepts applications from hundreds of local artists. Then, Ostermann and her Open Studios team work to prepare artists’ homes and studios for an intimate public art viewing. The first two weeks divide the artists into North and South County exhibitions, and the third weekend encompasses artists from both regions.

“We have artists who are 18 years old, we have artists of all different ages,” Ostermann said. “A lot of artists that often take up art once they retire. A majority of our artists have a full time job.”

For 76 artists, 2019 was their first Open Studios show, according to Arts Council Santa Cruz County application data. Andrea Garvey, a water and acrylic painter in Aptos, was one of those creators. Her paintings are bright with color and depict a flurry of various images — rhinoceri, flower petals and local landscapes like Big Sur. She will be participating in this weekend’s All County show. 

Garvey quit her job as a corporate marketing director a year and a half ago to pursue painting.

“You can always go back to the corporate world or another job,” Garvey said. 

About 12 miles away from Garvey’s studio, Kelsey Cerdas, another first-time artist and a born-and-raised Santa Cruz local, is also preparing for this weekend. She works with dye and yarn to construct tapestries, small and large. Her largest piece is eight by six feet wide. Her art is textural and stretches with depth and  color. 

“I’ve been really interested in painting on different surfaces other than just a traditional canvas,” Cerdas said. 

Cerdas remembers attending “Open Studios” with her parents as a kid in the ‘90s. She loved inspecting all the different types of art and visiting artists’ work spaces. She now has two children of her own, who have enjoyed the event so far. 

Ann Ostermann has played a major part in the event for the past 15 years.

Since her start in 2004, Ostermann has overseen and spearheaded many of the changes that led to the current iteration of Open Studios. Ostermann referenced the Arts Council’s 2015 decision to make the “Open Studios” tour guide book free as a pivotal example. 

Ostermann used to be an engineer, but says she now combines her knack for systemic order, love for community and passion for art at her job as the Open Studios event  manager.

For the past four years, the Arts Council has partnered with the Good Times to produce free guide books for visitors to map their course and tour the county. Before Open Studios’ 30th anniversary, the Arts Council charged guests $20 for the  guides. 

Before leaving her position as the Arts Council’s executive director, Michelle Williams coordinated the idea with  Ostermann. 

“It was a big step, and it was a risky step,” Williams said. “But it made it a more accessible program for the community.” 

For Melinda Vahradian, a local watercolorist, Open Studios volunteer and veteran participant, finding and creating a community is one of the event’s most important missions. As a volunteer, she mentors first-time Open Studios artists, helping them hang, market and sell their work. Garvey and Cerdas were two of her  mentees. 

“It’s so nice to be able to say, ‘Look, you’re doing it. It’s your first time, and congratulations,’” Vahradian said. 

Garvey credits Vahradian’s support to her Open Studios experience. Garvey remembered one woman, Yamini Huilgol, who cried while visiting Garvey’s studio. 

Visiting from Fresno, Huilgol rushed into Garvey’s studio and asked if she could view her paintings before her studio closed. Inside, Huilgol viewed a painting called “Queen Zahara” — a puzzle of flowers that framed an elephant’s head with exuberant, primary colors. 

“They were beautiful and connecting,” Huilgol said. “You look at a lot of beautiful artwork. You see them, you appreciate them, and then you walk away. But the artworks that she has are so full of emotion, love, happiness and generosity.”

Huilgol, a trained graphic designer and art teacher, plans on visiting Santa Cruz again for Open Studios’ All County  weekend. 

“If you go to a First Friday, the artist is there, but that’s not their studio,” Ostermann said, comparing Open Studios to other art events. “There’s just nothing like seeing the table with all the [artist’s] materials or something that is part-way done and hearing their stories. It’s just  magic.” 

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Karen Lowe is an arts and culture reporter at City on a Hill Press. Beginning her career as a fact-checker, she gained a passion for asking questions and getting stories right. She believes using facts is a key part in supplementing the human voice. Since her time as a fact-checker, she has worked as a campus reporter and editor—reading, talking and asking questions to uncover stories hidden in the community—and social media editor. She can be contacted at klowe@cityonahillpress.com and followed on Twitter @karenkayelowe.