Creating an Academy Community in Bushwick

By Maggie Mead
Photos courtesy of Jaclyn Brown

Jaclyn Brown in her studio
Bushwick Open Studios (BOS)the three days every spring when artists working in Bushwick, East Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Ridgewood, Queens, invite the world into their workspaceshas become one of the city’s must-attend arts parties and, according to the New York Times, “the coolest place in the five boroughs” during the weekend it takes place.  

Dozens of Academy alumni participate in BOS each year, but did you know that Academy artists were some of the first residents of one of the event’s largest venues? Jaclyn Brown (MFA 2009) was part of the first group of Academy alums who moved into an almost empty building at 1717 Troutman Street in 2009, after responding to an ad offering studio space for less than 99 cents a square foot. 

1717 Troutman Street

“We thought it was a trick,” Jaclyn said. It turned out the building had just recently begun renting studio space after two years of renovations. Before that, artists had been illegally working in the large studios until they were evicted in 2007. Jaclyn and a group of alums—including Branden Wallace (MFA 2009), Sang Yong Cho (MFA 2009), Sarah Hall (MFA 2009), Cecilia Roberts (MFA 2009) and Jason Talley (MFA 2008)moved into a single 17,000 square foot studio (number 318), signing a lease under Branden's name.

“We were one of the first to rent there besides some wood builders, a group from NYU and artist Angel Otero, who moved in across from us at the same time," Jaclyn said. "The area only had a couple of restaurants, so we lived off of cheap tacos.”

There were other things about the neighborhood that took some getting used to besides the limited food options. “Cars would pull up to me and I was like, ‘Why do I keep having cars pull up to me?'" Jaclyn recalled. "And then I realized it was because of prostitution.” Today, Jaclyn says she feels much safer. The surrounding blocks now include murals, an organic deli, numerous bars and restaurants.

Jaclyn in the studio before the artists installed walls to separate the work spaces.
Several other Academy artists soon moved into the building, including Chris Marshall (MFA 2009), Nico LeBarge (MFA 2010), Lorra Jackson (MFA 2008), Peter Mühlhaußer (MFA 2009, Fellow 2010), Amber Mühlhaußer (MFA 2009), Stephen Sheheen (MFA 2005), John O'Reilly (MFA 2010, Fellow 2011), Meredith Rachel (MFA 2010), Stephanie Lindquist (MFA 2011), Jackie Dingle (MFA 2010) and Eric Mavko (MFA 2005), among many others. 

The group of artists in 318 has shifted over time. In addition to Jaclyn and Branden, the current roster of Academy alums in the studio includes Mike Gibson (MFA 2009), Mark Opirhory (MFA 2009), Heidi Elbers (MFA 2010) and Alvaro Luna (MFA 2011), all of whom participated in this year's BOS, from May 31 to June 2. 

(From left to right): Cecilia Roberts, Amber Mühlhaußer, and Heidi Elbers.

Jason Talley (Jaclyn's husband since 2009) stretching out in his studio space.
Jaclyn's studio space
Mike Gibson's space, ready for BOS.
Paintings by Mark Opirhory

Branden Wallace with his transformer made from vintage porn VHS tapes!
Heidi Elbers in her space, surrounded by her paintings
Work by Alvaro Luna

Nico LeBarge with her work

Chris Marshall's studio space
“I love working here and being around people I graduated with,” Jaclyn said. “You always have someone there to help you out, give you a critique when you need it, or grab a drink from a local bar."  

The network of Academy artists at the Troutman building has become more than just a social group. It has also become a real support system for the artists. In August 2012, when Jason Talley was diagnosed with leukemia, Academy alums came together to find a way to support him, which led to an exhibition/fundraiser hosted by the Academy.  

"That was pretty amazing," Jaclyn said. "Even though I am miles from my family [in Canada], it made me feel like we had family here: our Academy family."

Jaclyn and Chris Marshall relaxing on the roof.
Stephanie Lindquist, Heidi Elbers and other alumni hanging out at one
of the many BBQ parties on the roof deck.

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