This time last year, visitors from across the state and beyond were arriving in Orange County for the annual studio tours put on by the Orange County Artists Guild. They bounced around from studio to studio, and maybe capped the day with a visit to one of the several local restaurants that sponsored the event.
This year, they will take the tour from home with the guild's online gallery.
For the past 26 years, artists in Orange County have bypassed the galleries and opened up their studios to the public for two weekends in November. Visitors can get a glimpse into the artists’ process and chat with them about their work. It’s the guild’s biggest event, with an estimated 16,000 to 20,000 visits to 94 artists last year alone.
Ross Ford, the publicity chair for the guild, said this event can be the difference between a good year and rough year for an artist.
“I’ve heard some artists say that they rely on the tour for about 25-30 percent of their yearly sales. So to not have that happening in the usual way can potentially be a big hit,” said Judith Ernst, president of the OCAG.
Thousands of in-person studio visits is not feasible this year, but the guild is finding ways to support its over 80 participating members.
In addition to the online gallery, many artists are offering free virtual studio visits via Zoom and Facetime by appointment. A few are still offering in-person individual studio visits.
The duration of the event has been expanded from two weekends in November to five straight weeks. It opened on Oct. 24 and will continue until Nov. 30.
To participate in the studio tour, an artist must be accepted as a member of the OCA, which involves the submission of work samples for evaluation by an independent review board. The youngest member is a photographer at Chapel Hill High School.
“It’s about supporting the artists in Orange County — it’s not about a little club saying we’re the best artists in town,” said Ernst. “What we try to encourage is an atmosphere where these high-level, award-winning artists are working shoulder to shoulder with a whole range of other people.”
The benefits of the show go beyond the financial. In previous years, it has been a way for artists to make connections, expand their listservs, get feedback from the community and socialize.
“People bring their friends, or they have out of town guests. It’s a thing they can do with other people… it becomes a celebration,” said Catharine Carter, who attended the studio tours as a guest before joining as an artist two years ago.
The beauty of the studio tour, according to metal sculptor and OCAG member Jason Smith, lies in the opportunity for the public to tangibly see the medium the artist works in and how they work. He said his outdoor sculpture gallery typically sells out.
Recreating this experience virtually is a challenge. On top of the virtual tour and gallery options, the guild has encouraged artists to submit DIY videos where they discuss their work or their process.
Ernst said the site is more innovative for it, and they’ve already gotten quite a bit of traffic.
Still, it’s unclear what the turnout will end up looking like for the artists.
“I hope that it’s successful. I really miss talking to people about art,” said Ford. “That’s one of the most rewarding parts of the tour.”
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