For two weeks in June artists throughout Kent will open their studios for you to appreciate their work.
South East Open Studios (SEOS), which encompasses the whole of Kent and East Sussex, is one of the oldest and largest open studio events in the country.
SEOS began back in 1996 when professional painters Bryan Senior and Georgia Hayes laid the groundwork with Arts Development Officers Beverley Whittrick of Tunbridge Wells and Allison Wright at Sevenoaks.
A total of 46 artists from the two areas were brought together for the 1997 West Kent Open Studios. Inspired by the success of this event, neighbouring areas joined in and the renamed South East Open Studios took place the following year with 130 members.
Membership has continued to rise, with many artists participating year after year and 2011 will see 315 artists participating throughout the geographical area.
There is no particular theme for each year’s event. The type of art on show includes print working, painting, drawing, as well as makers of stained-glass windows, bronze sculpture, wood, glass, enamels, jewellery, anything in 3D including stone. It is a feast for art fans.
Artists will show what they wish, often working through the year with the Open Studios in mind, as there are many returning artists. There is no selection process by the committee, but the artist will pay £105 in fees (with a discount for those joining before the preceding Christmas of £10).
The cohort includes amateurs and professionals, as well as artists who belong to the Royal Society of British Artists. As publicity officer Emma Dove says: “The beauty of the event is the range of work you can come and see, you can be assured of a wealth of interesting work.”
In May a comprehensive catalogue of the artists with a thumbnail of their work is available from libraries, newsagents or even given away on the High Street. As a viewer, you can choose who you see based on the images and information provided by the entrants.
An artist’s statement is included and you can follow up the work on the website. One of Emma’s colleagues has described the event as “a journey of discovery”.
More recently, the committee has also been collecting feedback, with some details of the financial benefits for artists. In 2009 there were 21,000 studio visits, in 2010, 22,000, with the average viewer female, aged between 22 and 59.
Sales were good: in 2010, 36 per cent of artists reported selling works worth more than £1,000 and more than 40 per cent of artists received commissions.
SEOS gives tips and hints on to how to present work. The collaboration of coordinators is important in this, and I spoke to my own local collaborator, Phillippa Goddard about her role.
Phillippa has been a participating artist for the past four years and is taking part this year, as well as organising and helping a group of 18 local artists, who she will support as well as mastermind local promotions.
Taster or demonstration days are organised before the actual June opening and general news and updates are sent to the local press, or to the Facebook site.
In July all the artists are invited to attend the annual general meeting for an assessment and evaluation of the event.
As Phillippa points out: “The role of the coordinator is to enable all artists to have a successful experience, so that they come back and do it again.”
Although anyone can put their studio up, and it is self selection, Emma Dove adds: “It’s a big deal for an artist to open their soul and show their work and they are unlikely to show if they haven’t been encouraged. Art is subjective anyway. People just enjoy the visits.”
As a regular visitor to South East Open Studios, I agree that this event is one of the most exciting in the art calendar. Make sure you get hold of your brochure and tick off those artists you wish to see and then for good measure add a few more to your itinerary!
Emma adds: “it’s quite a buzz. The overriding thing is adventure and delight and people are buying, so that mean they are happy with what they’re finding.”
For new viewers, enjoy the experience, and for those already familiar, here’ s to more artistic pleasure.
South East Open Studios 2011
For information, email: email@example.com or tel 01233 665845.
Look out for the brochures in libraries, local galleries and newsagents. You can download a pdf version from the SEOS website.
SEOS are engaging social media this year and people can follow on Facebook (facebook.com/seopenstudios) and Twitter (@seopenstudios) in the run up to the event. During the event itself live feedback from visitors to studios is welcome on #SEOSvisitors.