Established in New York by Thomas Bell in 2008, Spread Art is an artist-run center that seeks to foster international collaboration between artists and institutions through residency, exhibition and performance opportunities, and by encouraging “kids and adults to explore their creativity and increase self-awareness through art.” Bell and co-director, Christina deRoos, answered a few questions by email on the origins of Spread Art and their participation in the community.
Please tell me about the origins of Spread Art and your own backgrounds as artists and art workers.
After curating exhibitions around New York prior to 2008, Founder and Co-Director Thomas Bell found a storefront space that was perfect for both an artist studio and exhibit gallery. After a month of building out the space, Spread Art opened on February 29th 2008. During the first year and a half, Spread Art served mainly as a gallery, hosting various group shows, fundraisers and performances. In the summer of 2009 Christina deRoos joined as Co-Director. In early 2010, Spread Art began it’s Artist Residency program and the focus shifted to providing artists with low cost live/work space and producing events off site while still having the occasional performance and exhibit on site.
Thomas has been an artist his entire life beginning with music training at age 7, going on to study Jazz and Ethnomusicology in college. It was then that he began exploring the visual arts, transferring his improvisational training in Jazz over to his visual work. Thomas works primarily with acrylics, found objects, collage, installations and multi-media collaborative projects.
Christina deRoos is a visual artist working in photo/video, installation, mixed media and time-based forms. She frequently performs with experimental musicians and performance artists to collaboratively improvise integrated sound and visual landscapes. She splits her time between Brooklyn and Detroit.
Prior to moving to New York, Thomas and Christina began organizing and curating both visual and musical events with Gemini Artist Productions, which they founded in Seattle in 2001. Thomas and Christina moved the company to New York in 2003 and continued to work on events and productions, including the 2005 NYC Wide Open Studios. Gemini Artist’s last production was the organization of the first Bushwick Open Studios in Oct 2006. Christina went on to be a co-founder of Arts in Bushwick in 2007 and Thomas Founded Spread Art in 2008
Part of the mandate of Spread Art is to support emerging artists. What is it about the Bushwick community that helps you to actualize that goal?
The community is full of emerging artists so there are limitless opportunities to include them in exhibitions and performance events that we present on site or in other locations. We also work with early-career curators as often as possible. Part of Spread Art’s goal is to support work that otherwise may not be seen, which includes supporting experimental and challenging art forms and content.
What made you set up in Bushwick versus another neighborhood in the five boroughs?
When we moved to NY from Seattle in 2003 we initially had a live/work space in Dumbo. We participated in a number of art events and festivals in that community, including the annual Art Under the Bridge open studios. We were fortunate to have a series of inexpensive live/work sublets and residencies which helped us keep costs low when we first arrived, so we were immediately able to show not only our own work but host group exhibitions and include artists who otherwise didn’t have a space to show.
We were excited to move to Bushwick because it felt full of opportunity and energy. There was a multicultural vibrancy in the neighborhood that inspired our creative thinking and doing. We rented a space in the 950 Hart building and continued to host group shows and help foster new events. Right away we were involved with NYC Citywide Open Studios, which was an ambitious undertaking by Jesse Lambdin, with open studios events in every borough over the course of one month, with one borough featured each weekend.
Do you have any concerns about the neighborhood and the role art institutions play in the changing landscape of Bushwick?
Absolutely. There are many wonderful contributions that the creative sector makes to any community landscape. The contribution to gentrification is not one of them in our opinion. Bushwick is not unique in this and art institutions are not the only driver, but it is a part of the picture. A major motivator for our move to Detroit was to participate in and learn new ways of exploring community advocacy through the arts. Detroit has the creative energy and multicultural vibrancy Bushwick did in 2005, but on a much larger geographic and community scale. Detroit has, and will continue to have, a lot to share with other areas that seek a thriving creative community that develops from the bottom up is infused in all aspects of the city. There are top down initiatives at work as well, similar to NY and other areas that are evidenced by development-driven renaming of communities for instance. Yet the positive “all means all” spirit of the creative community here is predominant for us. We’re grateful to have an opportunity to learn from those who have been living and working in Detroit for decades, and to continue to learn from those living and working in Brooklyn.
How are you participating in this year’s Bushwick Open Studios?
Spread Art is a Hub Space this year as well as a sponsor. We are going to have the Summer Group Show V, which has been held every year since 2008 during BOS. There will also be performances here during the exhibit. Spread Art is also working on a BOS archive project and we will be interviewing artists and festival goers all week long in the streets and studios to be included as part of the archive. Finally, we are re-launching a project that Gemini Artist Productions did during BOS 2006 titled, “Bushwick Is… .” It should be a pretty busy BOS for Spread Art this year.
Any memorable moments from past Bushwick Open Studios you’d like to share?
During the lead up to the 2006 Bushwick Open Studios we had no idea how much participation would occur, and we made a conscious decision to define success in ways that didn’t include numbers of artists or attendees. It was about the process of putting on the event and thereby connecting individuals in the community. We started with things like “Bushwick Open Studi-Oh?” to capture the curiosity of whether we would have 1 studio participating or more. We used “Bushwick Open Studios – Make Of It What You Will” to keep the process-oriented, participant-driven, uncurated approach at the forefront. Ultimately we had a stellar response from artists in 21 days of registration and ended up with “Bushwick Open Studio-OH!” in some of the final fliers. The planning was a fun social exploration and a collaborative art project in itself.