For three weekends in October, artists across Santa Cruz County give the public an intimate view into their private workspaces during the Open Studios Art Tour. The free self-guided tour includes 300 artists, from painters and photographers to sculptors and jewelry makers, showcasing their work against the backdrop of secret backyard gardens, coastal cottages, converted sheds, and industrial warehouses. Like unwrapping a present or stumbling upon a breathtaking view, you can’t help but feel a small thrill as you’re welcomed behind the scenes of each artist’s process and into their personal creative space.
With so many studios to choose from, it can be hard to know where to focus your exploration. The free print guide or Open Studios app* both provide detailed maps of each neighborhood and descriptions of participating artists’ work. The Santa Cruz Art League and R. Blitzer Gallery also host preview exhibits all three weekends, or you can simply wing it and follow the lime green directional signs posted across the county. Still, it’s helpful to have an intention for your self-guided tour, so you can get the most out of your Open Studios experience.
Whether it’s your first or 30th tour, here are seven ideas for an Open Studios experience that will inspire deeper engagement, spark meaningful connection with the artist community, and reveal or reawaken your own creative pursuit.
- Host a mystery tour party
A mystery tour party is a fun option for first-timers who have no clue where to start or for Open Studios veterans looking to get out of their comfort zone. With a group of friends, select North or South County and which neighborhood you’d like to focus on. Have each friend select 1-2 artists they’re interested in from that neighborhood and put them into a hat. Finally, select 5 artists from the hat for each day you plan to explore Open Studios. The idea is that everyone will get to discover a new artist, expanding their perspective and appreciation for local art.
- Journal as you go
Pack a notepad or your favorite journal and record your reaction to each artist’s work as you go. You can scribble one or two lines, compose a haiku, or write an entire essay if you’re so inspired. Take note of the name of the art piece, the medium used, and what thoughts or emotions the piece brought up for you. You might try a free write, jotting down whatever comes to mind without editing or filtering your thoughts. Pausing to capture how you feel as you take in an artist’s work reminds you to slow down and engage with each piece that pulls you in and demands closer attention.
- Uncover the artists’ inspiration
Open Studios artists welcome the community into their homes and studios because they’re excited to share their process and the story behind their work. Take advantage of this enthusiasm by asking five (or more) artists what inspires their work and share your favorite quote on social media (tag @artscouncilsc on Instagram or @Arts Council Santa Cruz County on Facebook to have your quote seen and shared). Their inspiration could trigger your own artistic exploration.
- Give the gift of art
Perusing the art-filled walls, shelves, or outdoor patio of a local artist’s studio is probably the most fun and relaxing way to shop local and find one-of-a-kind gifts for your friends and loved ones. You can find everything from playful yard art and elegant jewelry to wearable fiber art, hand-bound journals, and hand-crafted woodwork. There’s also often a story behind each creation that you can share with the lucky recipient—just ask the artist what inspired that particular piece (#OpenStudiosInspiration) and you may discover your gift is more meaningful than you realized.
- Explore iconic places
Santa Cruz County is full of iconic landmarks, from the surfer’s statue on West Cliff to the classic Victorians that line Walnut Avenue near downtown. Map out a tour that hits several of these iconic spots for a weekend of art and local history. One option is to start at the R. Blitzer Gallery in the old Wrigley Building on the Westside. From there, explore the many studios between Highway 1 and West Cliff. Don’t miss the Court of Mysteries at 519 Fair Avenue, a 1930’s ‘temple’ made entirely of brick with inlaid abalone detail and countless stories and rumors behind the strange towers and archways.
- Meet your daily steps goal
Set a mileage goal and then map out a safe walking route that passes by several artist studios. Pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods include the lower Westside, Downtown Santa Cruz, and Midtown. You can even plan your route so that you pass by public art installations like Kathleen Crocetti’s student-led mosaics along the Water or Soquel Bridges, San Lorenzo Riverwalk, and Mission Historic Park.
- Commit to one medium
If you don’t mind exploring multiple neighborhoods across the county, map your tour by medium for a deep dive into one or two artistic techniques. Each artist description in the guide includes their medium and a photo of their work to make it easier to find all the photographers, abstract painters, or furniture makers in one area. Try mapping a tour of ceramicists one day and then focus on watercolors the next. Look for the hand symbol in the guide or app to find artists who offer live demos of their artistic process for a comprehensive ‘study’ of your medium of choice. You might just find yourself inspired to pick up a new creative hobby after watching a ceramicist at the wheel, a printmaker at the press, or a painter immersed in her canvas.
Whether you’re an artist yourself or have never set foot in a gallery, Open Studios has something to offer you. You may leave an artist’s workspace with a new perspective or source of inspiration. You may find yourself at your neighbor’s home, admiring their creative work and cultivating the start of a lasting friendship. No matter what, you’ll walk away with an unforgettable experience—one that deepens your love for the arts and reveals the powerful beauty and hope art can bring to the world.
*Open Studios 2019 will take place the first three weekends of October from 11am-5pm Saturdays and Sundays. Print guides are available mid-September alongside the Good Times at locations throughout Santa Cruz County. You can also download the Open Studios app, available in iTunes and Google Play. See samples of each artist’s work to help you map your route at the preview exhibits hosted at the Santa Cruz Art League and R. Blitzer Gallery all three weekends.
Molly Ressler is a writer and content marketing consultant based in Santa Cruz. She lives with her husband and pup in Seabright and loves sharing her community’s vibrant culture through her writing.