A few years ago, native New Yorker, Susan Noll, ready for a change, left the firm where she managed the graphic design department, packed up her art supplies and moved to Vallejo. After she had settled into this waterfront community, she spent the next few years founding Noll Design and, perhaps more importantly, searching for fellow artists and art venues.

Susan found that Vallejo had a burgeoning community of talented artists, but a dearth of events large enough to attract the size of audience that many artists of Vallejo deserved, so she created one. Susan herself would be quick to point out that she didn’t do this on her own, but she certainly got the ball rolling and continues to keep it rolling along with web designer Gretchen Zimmermann and local photographer donnio, who helped put the event on the map its first year. Last year they were joined by art consultant and therapist James Orlando and local artist Kemper Stone.

Just over two years ago a group of artists representing various studios, galleries and organizations began meeting in Susan’s home and created Vallejo Open Studios-2010 (“VOS”), a successful, city-wide event that was followed by an even more successful VOS 2011.

This year, the group is holding its 3rd annual art event and VOS-2012 is already shaping up to be another winner for both the artists and the city of Vallejo.

Although Vallejo Open Studios is the event title, it is also the name of the group coordinating and producing it. In its third year, the VOS group has already announced a major new development. {WHAT NEW DEVELOPMENT?} The Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum has become a partner in this event and will host a month-long show featuring works from the many VOS participants.

Jim Kern, director of the museum said, “The Museum is glad to have established a partnership with the Vallejo Open Studios group. Having work from such a diverse group of artists on exhibit every year at the Museum will really give visitors a sense of the depth of talent in our community.”

Additionally, the museum broadens the scope of the entire art-filled event. The work that will be featured in the museum’s Hall of History will be open to the public two weeks before the weekend Open Studio event takes place. The opening gala at the museum will allow the public to meet the participating artists, preview and sample their artwork and pick up the popular VOS brochures, which are printed in full color and contain self-guided tour maps as well as photographs of the official participants’ artwork. The free brochures are produced as full-sized yearly calendars and have already become quite collectible.

Although the Vallejo Open Studios group is a recent development, the event participation has been strong from the start. Boasting a participant count of more than 50 artists in 2010 as well as 2011, VOS has never turned away an artist wishing to show his or her art work during this studios weekend. The “official participant” fee is $50 which pays for a photograph of their work in the VOS brochure, their weekend location address which coordinates with the map, a place in the month-long show hanging at the museum, event postcards and publicity. This fee has not been increased since the first year, therefore efforts to find advertisers and sponsors are very important.

One of the attractions of this city-wide event, which is free to the public, is the diversity of the participants. Some artists, like long-time Vallejo resident MaryJane Etchegaray-Szalan, maintain studios on their own property and open it to the public during this weekend event. When asked why she was participating in this event for the third time, MaryJane explained, “I have a very small studio out of sight of the public eye and during Vallejo Open Studios, I love to share it with fellow artists who have none of their own. This event is very important if our work is to be seen and appreciated. Oh and of course, selling it is so rewarding on many levels.”

Other artists rent space in “working studios”. Carl Theodorski is one of the many members of Coal Shed Studios on Mare Island. He, like many of his fellow “Coal Shedders”, does not live at his studio address, though he does spend as much time there as possible working in this creative group space. As one of the senior members of this prestigious studio, Carl shared one of his reasons for participating in the city-wide event: “Having organized our own shows, we at the Coal Sheds appreciate the benefits of a larger organization.”

For artists who do not have a studio they can open to the public, the Open Studios group has found shared space for their use each year, and some of our participants invite other artists to share their space as well. Linda Staib, who designs and creates her own line of unique jewelry, has been one of the artists showing in a shared space. Linda commented, “This is my second time to participate in Open Studios and last year I found it to be an uplifting experience. The visitors and my fellow artists provided me with a lot of valuable input.”

Forming a partnership with the museum wasn’t the only shift in structure this year. In order to share the responsibility more evenly, the VOS is now being run under the leadership of its five directors. Each director oversees one or more areas of responsibility on their own or with the help of volunteers, some of whom are participating artists and some whom are community minded art lovers.

Kemper Stone, who calls himself “a recreational art evangelist”, has participated and helped plan this event for the past two years now. “The unique nature of Vallejo seems to attract many artists and inspire many residents to get involved in art,” he said. “The inclusiveness that characterizes VOS has not dampened the enthusiasm of our more sophisticated guests and, although I have degrees in art and years of formal training, I much prefer the assortment of what I see at VOS than in many elite university art departments.” You will be able to see the results of Kemper’s efforts in publicizing our event with unique hand-painted signs sometime in October and November.

James Orlando has a proven track record of helping art organizations determine the direction in which they want to grow and map out a plan to achieve that. He is hoping to encourage participating artists to share their skills with the youth of the community and is actively seeking funding for this endeavor. “This year we will have a special Family Day at the museum where children are given the opportunity to participate in Vallejo Open Studios and discover art from our community,” he said. “Docent-led tours of the exhibition, engaging in guided discussions of artwork, interactive questioning and fun art-making activities will deepen the experience for our young community members.”

Gretchen Zimmerman donates a good deal of her time to maintaining the website, keeping the accounting in good order and generally keeping up with tasks that keep everything running smoothly. This year Gretchen added the ability to apply and pay online, a great option for participants and a nice addition for our tracking efforts.

“As Director of Sales and Marketing, I spend a good deal of my time seeking funding and publicity for our cause,” Zimmerman says. “This enables us to keep the participation fee very low for our artists. Many groups charge more than $300 for participation in Open Studios in other cities as compared to our $50 fee.”

And Susan is the backbone of the group. Arranging meetings, writing and sending out announcements, answering a myriad of questions from the public and her fellow directors, she gets even busier when it is time to design and assemble the event brochure.

I think Susan sums it up best: “Vallejo Open Studios serves our artists and our community in a number of ways. The obvious: it provides artists with an opportunity to show and sell their work, and it provides the community with an opportunity to purchase original work by local artists. The not so obvious: we are strengthened individually and as a community when we come together for a common, positive purpose while sending the message out that there are great things happening in Vallejo, and it is a city full of talented people and a destination worth visiting.”

Artwork you will find represented at this event: painting, drawing, photography, greeting cards, ceramics, pottery, jewelry, self-published books, quilts, printmaking, metal work, sculpture, wearable art, furniture, screen printing, collage, stained glass, assemblage, mosaics, Art Cars and more!

The opening night gala at the Naval and Historical Museum will be Friday, October 26th. The Open Studios weekend will run from Saturday, November 10th until Sunday, November 11th, both days opening at 11:00 a.m. and closing at 5:00 p.m.

donnio – A daughter, mother, grandmother and artist; donnio is a photographer, graphic artist, Reiki master and laughter devotee.