In August 2011, a first in Morristown: The Open Drawing Studio Project

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Open Drawing Studio Project
Open Drawing Studio Project

In what we’re pretty sure is a first-of-its-kind in the Morris County area, the Open Drawing Studio Project will invite professional and student artists – and, in fact, anybody who’d like to try their hand at serious drawing – to gather for four weeks in August to work at and enjoy the most basic aspect of the craft:  drawing.    The Annex at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church (at 125 South Street, the building behind Cottage II restaurant) will be the staging-ground for the 4-week project.

St. Peter’s has invited Chris and Danielle Merzatta to use the space five days a week – Wednesdays through Sundays from August 3rd through August 28th – as they offer three 3-hour sessions each day – 9 am to Noon, 2 pm to 5 pm, and 7 pm to 10 pm – on a “Stop in if you can, when you can” basis, according to Danielle.   Materials will be available for drop-in drawers and easels and tables for setting up personal workspaces; models for life drawing and portraiture, still-lifes, and the surrounding church architecture will provide inspiration.  A kitchen, bathrooms, and an auxiliary room for meeting and meals are all on premises.

Artists from all over the area have responded, Danielle continued, with “Wow, that sounds like a dream come true!”  And it really does, doesn’t it?

The Open Studio Drawing Project
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It all got started when Danielle and husband Chris, of Mendham – artists and jewelers themselves – made a personal pledge to one another:  that for a few weeks this summer, they wouldn’t work on jewelry or anything else; they’d just take some time to draw.  Danielle noted that “There are so many parts to your own business – we do sales and marketing and promotion and finance, and everything else – that you never have time to stop and draw.”  And taking that time sounded like heaven to them – so they planned it.

That turned into another, really interesting, idea:  to make it public and invite other people to join them.   “How can we make this happen?” they wondered; they thought that if other people loved the idea, they’d want to back it, too.    The problem was figuring out how to publicize the project and raise the money to pay for space, models, and materials so that anybody who wants to come, could.

So they signed up with Kickstarter, a Brooklyn-based online fundraising platform that helps match artists with people who want to fund their projects.   Kickstarter allows artists to set their own fundraising goals, and allows donors more of a “buy-in” on the project than they’d get in a straightforward solicitation.  Donors pledge online and get email updates on the project – and some sort of tangible reward once the project gets funded.  The Open Drawing Studio is offering donors artwork created during the course of the project – as well as the satisfaction of supporting something new and fascinating.  Kickstarter has helped raise $75 million for art projects all over the country; we think this is the first Kickstarter project ever in Morris County.

Here’s Chris and Danielle’s video about this project at Kickstarter.

“People are really excited about the fact that there isn’t a formal cost,” Danielle noted.  The FAQ at their Kickstarter page notes that:  “A suggested contribution of $10 per session is out there for those able to pay to attend… but the Open Drawing Studio Project is for everyone who would like to participate, regardless of that ability to pay.”

Many are especially excited about having models for life drawing and portraiture, she added.

Danielle and Chris both have MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degrees.   “The first thing you do in an academic trajectory in the arts is to spend a year drawing,” she explained.  “Everybody does it.  By the second year, you’ll move into the area of your particular interest, but everybody starts out drawing.”  So it’s a kind of back-to-the-source immersion experience, and one that will surely have a lot of memories and emotions attached.

And she added that the time taken away from their production work would make them better jewelers anyway:  “The more we think about the body, and the form of the body, and the architecture of the body – the better jewelers we’ll become.  The same applies for ceramic artists, and for metalsmiths, and for anybody else working as a production artist.”

Danielle, Chris and daughter Laurily Merzatta with the Rev. Janet Broderick of St. Peter's, at Laurily's Baptism
Danielle, Chris and daughter Laurily Merzatta with the Rev. Janet Broderick of St. Peter's, at Laurily's Baptism

The ODSP is a kind of hybrid between hackerspaces – community-operated spaces, where people can meet and work on their projects, whatever they may be – and “pop-up art”; hackerspaces have been around for awhile now, but pop-up art is a relatively new phenomenon, one that some argue has occurred at this time in particular due to the struggling economy.   Pop-up consists mostly of temporary installations and exhibits in unused spaces; artists and patrons work together with the idea, Danielle says, that  ‘We can use this space, and we can use it well.’”

Pop-up had a successful local debut in April at the Morristown Eco-Center, in fact.

Collaboration between artists and the church isn’t anything new, of course.  Churches have been patrons of the arts for centuries – an arrangement that worked to the benefit of both parties, and ultimately to ours, too, as we enjoy the fruits of that collaboration in the form of art, architecture, and music.

This time, though, anybody who wants to be can be a patron of the arts – a new idea born of 21st-century reality, innovative thinking, and lots of creative energy.

Things are happening, all right.

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