An Interview with Open Studio’s Jennifer Bhogal

by Laura Rojas
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Open Studio, Canada’s leading hub for all-things printmaking, is a gem located inside the beautiful and historic arts building at 401 Richmond.

An Interview with Open Studio's Jennifer Bogdan - Fresh Print

Photo courtesy of Open Studio

I was lucky enough to get a tour of the studio and grab an interview with Jennifer Bhogal, Open Studio’s executive director. She kindly showed me around the facilities, pointing out the impressive equipment used for printmaking in various mediums including relief, intaglio, screen printing, and lithography. Some of the machinery has been around since the birth of the studio itself, while others, like a huge, antique paper-cutter, have been around much longer. “The technology doesn’t really change much over time, which is why these are still as good now as they were back then,” Jennifer said, however also speaking excitedly of an arts grant which the studio obtained- something which will provide them with the funds for upgrades.

Apart from their leading facilities, Open Studio is also home to three small, in-studio galleries (Open Studio Gallery, George Gilmour Members Gallery, and the Print Sales Gallery) featuring work from both studio members and outside artists. Currently, they house work by Bill Burns, Emmalee Carroll, Sue Coe, Roger Peet, and Jenny Pope, Hazel Eckert, and Sarka Buchl Stephenson. The Varied Editions virtual gallery, which you can find here, is currently featuring Isabelle Hémard.

Printmaking is not a very accessible medium, you really are reliable on a lot of specialized, large, and expensive equipment. This is why Open Studio has made it their goal to provide printmakers with both the facilities and connections needed around Toronto, making a name for themselves globally in the process.

Open Studio's Jennifer Bhogal - Fresh Print Magazine

Photo courtesy of Open Studio

Open Studio will be hosting their 29th annual 100 Prints fundraiser, which doubles as the awards ceremony for the National Printmaking Awards, on May 15th. This is an event which Fresh Print will be covering and part of the reason for my visit. Jennifer and I sat on a long, studio table surrounded by the looming printmaking equipment and the studio’s beautiful, large windows. I asked her a bit about what Open Studio does and what to expect at May’s event:

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Fresh Print: Tell me a bit about what you do at Open Studio.

Jennifer: Well, we really try to focus on making the studio as accessible as possible so artists can come in here and do their work- that’s our main thing. The other main things we do support that, like our fundraising activities which allow us to subsidize the space and rent (an artist here pays about 30% of what it would cost if it were a private business). To support that, we do a couple of big fundraising events which keep us busy.

We also have a lot of professional development opportunities that we try to provide for the printmakers who access our community. We have 3 different gallery spaces which give artists the opportunity to display their work. We also provide an opportunity to sell their prints in the prints sales gallery, which helps build their career.

Another big revenue stream for us is our education program of which we run three sessions a year. Not only does that provide revenue for the studio and breed new printmakers, but it also provides us with an opportunity to be able to pay artists as instructors. Our members take advantage of those classes as well.

Every year, we pay out almost $100,000 to artists in various ways- through exhibition fees, instructor fees, selling their artwork, etc. We also bring in four visiting artists who can be printmakers but don’t have to be. We had four high profile artists this year who are just wrapping up, and they get an exhibition at the end of that time. They had 50 hours with a printer (if they’re not printmakers, they can have somebody print their entire project for them in the studio). This year we had Katie Bethune-Leamen, Roula Partheniou, Mitch Robertson and Shaan Syed. It really is a benefit to the entire community since they bring audiences who normally pay attention to their work and can get to know Open Studio, and also for our artists who benefit from those other practices coming into the studio. It’s a real win-win for everybody.

We also offer one Emerging Artist Residency and a Member-Based Residency, both year long. Both offer almost the same benefits- a full free year in the studio, about $1000 in materials, an opportunity to take one of our classes, $500 to take an outside class, and a paid exhibition at the end of the year. We definitely focus on providing developmental opportunities to the artists and printmakers that they might not otherwise have.

Open Studio's Jennifer Bhogal - Fresh Print Magazine

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Bhogal

Fresh Print: How do you decide which art goes into Open Studio’s galleries?

Jennifer: We have a programming committee, one of the many committees which help us run our studio. They accept submissions from anybody once a year. It’s juried by two programming committee members, an open studio artist, and two outside arts professionals. We’re starting to give ourselves a little more flexibility in that space and only filling a piece of it with submissions, saving a slot in oder to invite a curator to curate an exhibition.

Fresh Print: How do you connect artists with other outside opportunities? What kinds of partnerships does Open Studio have?

Jennifer: Well, in this building [401 Richmond], Gallery 44 is kind of our photography counterpart. They operate in a very similar structure- they have gallery space and one of the last publicly accessible darkrooms in the city. A lot of our members are members there as well, so we help each other out any way we can.

We also do a lot of partnering with private establishments like Flash Reproductions, who cares deeply about the grassroots of what they do. They’re a very large reproduction facility, but they work with a lot of artists and like to do small projects. Networking with them has really been a benefit for both us and them.

Our National Printmaking Awards are obviously a national competition, so we receive submissions from all over Canada. All the residencies that we offer are offered internationally. We also have a guest renter program where an artist can come in and be able to use the space- it’s the same application process as a visiting artist and they’ll get to use the space for free for about a month. We recently had Allison Alder come in, an artist from Canberra in Australia who also happens to be the director of Megalo Studios, which is our counterpart there.

We do a lot of exchanges as well. We have a couple of print studios in Montreal who we do exchanges with every year, which is a benefit of our membership. Two of our artists go there and two of theirs come here. We’re in the process of setting up more in places like Scotland and Ireland.

Because printmaking is such a small, almost-forced community, there is a strong sense of belonging and connection within it. There are these printmaking conventions called SGC which happen in the US every year, each time in a different city, and are very heavily attended. There’s also a multidisciplinary printmaking convention called Impact which happens in places all over the world. It was recently in Scotland and we had about 10 or 15 studio artists that attended. Most were invited to have exhibitions or present panel talks or write a paper, so it shows that we really do have a strong presence in the rest of the world as well.

Fresh Print: Tell me a bit about 100 prints. What should we be expecting?

Jennifer: This is our 29th year hosting the event and it’s our main fundraiser. Held at the Palais Royale, it’s our real swank affair. Artists donate works for 100 prints that also double as their submissions for the Open Studio National Printmaking Awards given out that night. We have an outside jury that comes in to jury those works, to choose the 100 prints and the six shortlisted artists. The work has to have a bare-minimum market value of $385, but usually it’s worth more- some close to $2000.

The evening is an art draw, so people buy a ticket for $385 which is at least the minimum price of the artwork they will be going home with. As well, it’s an open bar and there’s tons of food, all complimented by the beautiful venue. There’s an online preview already where people can see the works in advance, and there’s an hour-long preview at the event just before the awards are given out.

After the awards ceremony, the art draw starts and everybody has one minute to choose a print once their ticket has been pulled. It’s really a unique event, very engaging. We sweeten the deal by throwing in a bunch of extra prices like cases of wine for the last 10 tickets that are chosen. The very last ticket picked gets a flight for two anywhere Porter Airlines flies.

It’s a really fun event and a great opportunity for people to come and engage with some of the the artists who’ll also be there.

Fresh Print: Lastly, tell me a bit about yourself and what you do- both at Open Studio and within the world of printmaking in general.

Jennifer: I’m the director here, so I oversee all the many, many things that we do, which in itself is half the job. I’m also involved in a lot of fundraising and bringing-in of the revenue. A lot of my job is stewarding those supportive relationships, all of our donors and patrons, and the proud sponsors we bring in, to really cultivate the relationships and provide them with benefits as well for being associated with us. That’s a big job.

I did an Art History degree and started working in commercial galleries, wanting to really use that as an opportunity to get to know as many different mediums as possible. I started doing an internship at Feheley Fine Arts which was very print-based. I started out in print, but the next gallery I worked at only had a handful of printmakers. After that, I went to run the AGO’s art rental and sales gallery. They consign artwork from galleries all over the city, including Open Studio, so I knew a lot of the Open Studio artists while working there.

Coming here was really just a bit of the best of everything- being able to support a non-profit, being able to walk back at any point in the day and see wonderful work being made, and having a real hand in providing these opportunities for artists so that they can really forward their careers.

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100 Prints will be held at the Palais Royale on May 15th. If you’re interested in both supporting Open Studio and going home with an impressive work of art, you can purchase tickets here.

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