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Somerville Open Studios 2024: A sneak peek at the First Look Exhibit and where to find new artists, immersive exhibits, and whimsical worlds

Updated: May 11

A giant frog mask, a trio of expressive polymer heads, a cyanotype dollhouse, and a multicolor neon rug in the shape of a monstera leaf are all temporarily at home in the Somerville Museum through May 11 alongside over 150 other pieces all by local artists. The works are part of the Somerville Open Studios (SOS) 2024 First Look Exhibit, which showcases work from artists who will be participating in the weekend-long open studio May 4-5, noon-6 p.m. The sampling promises an eclectic display for the main event.

"Smile" by Hilary Scott. Mixed Media.

SOS, run by the all-volunteer nonprofit organization of the same name, is a two-day event where artists open their studios, homes, and porches to the public to view and purchase their work. 


SOS Sponsorship Coordinator Terry Dovidio encouraged anyone planning to attend Somerville Open Studios to stop by the First Look Exhibit before. “If you don’t know where to go, come here first; this is going to show you a good chunk of people [participating]”. With over 350 artists and arts organizations in this year’s event, doing so will help participants catch the artists they are most interested to check out. 

"Frog Prince" by Eric Bornstein, Behind the Mask Studios. Multi-media.

The open studio weekend is an opportunity to meet and support truly local artists. According to Dovidio, SOS is one of the only open-studio events across the state that still requires exhibitors to either live, own a studio, or work with an organization within the city to be eligible to officially display their work in the show. The only exception is a grace period allowed to those who were recently priced out of Somerville. Artists must also be registered SOS members. 


SOS is uniquely supportive of a wide array of artists, from emerging creators working out of their homes to established names with ties to major arts organizations. 


Dovidio and Tenney highlighted a few of the fresh faces planning to open their doors for SOS for the first time this year. Across the street from the Somerville Museum is Central Street Studios, which was recently turned over to a group of young artists. Dovidio said the space has an authentically lived-in feel to it. “They’re so messy and gooey. You almost don’t want to go into the studio because it looks so personal,” she said. The exception is Zachary Stern’s “The Imaginarium” where she said miniature worlds and bound books are set, pristinely, in glass display cases. 

First Look Exhibit display of work by several artists.

Highly anticipated SOS returning locations include the homes of Hillary Scott, and Martha Friend, Katharine Van Buskirk’s DarkMatterPark, and Nicholas Shaplyko’s Museum of Modern Renaissance. Scott’s museum-like home immerses guests in a sci-fi-like journey into a world of quirky creatures, plants, sculptures and more. Friend fills her house and yard with dioramas and assemblages made from found objects, these include two glass installations called “Emerald City” and “Sapphire City,” and a pair of “doll museums”. 


Garden enthusiasts will be intrigued by DarkMatterPark on Chester Street, where Van Buskirk and her husband have landscaped their yard to become an “umwelten”—according to the artist’s statement this word describes an organism’s, in this case a human’s, environment or surroundings—using soil, rocks, plants, ponds, fish, and more. The Museum of Modern Renaissance is described by artist Shaplyko as a “unique building” filled with 57 murals and custom bronze sculptures. “It looks like a big Fresco Sistine-Chapel-looking thing, only it’s Russian fairy tales,” Tenney said. 

"Saturday Night" by Zachary Stern, The Imaginarium. Polymer clay, steel wire, aluminum foil.

For those looking to get active and visit a variety of artists in one location, Somernova and FireFly are partnering to host a Roller Disco Art Party on Tyler Street. The event is Saturday only, from 6 p.m.-11 p.m.


In previous years, SOS has brought in about half a million dollars for participating artists, according to Dovidio. But Tenney said the benefits outlast the event. An SOS artist herself, she often hears from people in days and weeks following SOS who are looking to make a purchase after visiting her during the open studio. Dovidio said it also helps artists gain and maintain a following. Open studio guests often return to the same artists each year even if they move studio locations. 


A free trolley system aids with transportation during SOS. Trolleys following a loop around the city will run approximately every 20 minutes during the event, stopping at 15 locations designed for riders to access open studios. The trolleys can be tracked on the SOS website, sostudios.org. On Saturday, all resident-only parking restrictions will be lifted during SOS hours.

"Vitality - Monstera" by Quintin Marcus, Yarn Queer. Yarn, fabric glue, felt, rug pad.

This year, in celebration of SOS’ 25th anniversary, there is a new way to engage leading up to the event. Organizers created a series of puzzles that can be solved by visiting art installations around the city. Four initial puzzles build on each other to help solve a fifth and final puzzle.


 

The First Look Exhibit is open 2 p.m.-7 p.m. Thursdays, 2 p.m.-5 p.m. Fridays, and noon-5 p.m. Saturdays leading up to SOS and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday May 4-5. More information on this year’s open studio and a full list of artists is available at sostudios.org and somervilleopenstudios.org.


 

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