Five Questions With: Kelly Milukas

"The original open studio tour spanned the four towns in a unique, double-state artist collaboration, but it was not featured as we do so boldly now."

Kelly Milukas is a multi-media, modern fine artist, working in pastels, resin, metal and watercolor. She is also founder and president of the South Coast Artists for Rhode Island and Massachusetts. South Coast Artists, which holds open studio tours, formed in 2008. It was incorporated as a nonprofit in 2009, and hosts teaching workshops, and provides newsletters for members and art activity guides for school-age children. Here, Milukas discusses her nonprofit’s mission and programming.

PBN: When you founded South Coast Artists, what was the impetus for it then and how have you stayed true to your vision so far?
We are an open studio tours event that provides free access to the arts in our region. We are non-juried and all inclusive, and open to all levels of professional and beginning artists. We offer a toolkit of knowledge to our members on how to open your doors and talk about your art, create connections, and grow from a starting or mid-level artist to a professional exhibiting artist.
Our hallmark is studio access to artists’ private personal work and live/work studio spaces. Many of the studios are only open on these two tour weekends or by appointments in other times of the year. People love seeing materials, works in progress on an easel of a carving bench, and most especially direct access to artists and their thoughts and processes on making things.

PBN: Your annual Open Studio had one session in July and is scheduled again for Aug. 16-17. What is the purpose of this event and how many artists did the July session attract?
We have 53 artists in studios and another 14 companion art spaces and art galleries that represent more than 30 of our member artists.
Our SCA open studio tours expanded to two weekends in 2008. We produce the tours on these two tour weekends as our artists and avid art fans participation is so large – the attendees can’t possibility cover all the studios on one weekend.
We are a growing daytrip, vacation, and second-home community that sees a turnover of many visitors over the summers. Some people attend in July and not August and vice versa. Most make an adventure out of the tours. We have a giant amount of guests that return each summer.

PBN: How did the nonprofit come to command the scope of both southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island? What do artists in this region share besides geography?
The original open studio tour spanned the four towns in a unique, double-state artist collaboration, but it was not featured as we do so boldly now. Tiverton, Little Compton, Dartmouth and Westport are tightly woven towns stitched together by small roads that traverse coasts, and cross farms. We share the basic service resources of grocers and gas. We know that growing our economy includes having a progressive and collaborative creative community. We kicked boundaries to the curb. We won’t even color the towns a different hue on the map, so we are all equal.
The artists, the supporting donors, and sponsors share a true grit dedication to sustaining our region. We are complimented on the quality of our events, and the organization of the tours. We warmly welcome and embrace like-minded happenings to coincide alongside our tours, and we are our collegial and mentoring in our philosophy.

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PBN: What is the biggest challenge today to public access to the arts and what makes access to the artist so critical?
[The biggest challenge is] making the seeing of visual art or experiencing music a priority again, and not on a screen. Art is a high-touch, human sport.
Light Bulb Idea… “In fact, let’s make it a sport, maybe more people will add it to their every day [activities].”
The power of genuine conversations creates moments and memories.
“Live” and “eyeball to eyeball” access to the artists offers a personal insight and a dialogue that rarely occurs in traditional brick and mortar art spaces representing or exhibiting art.
Kids and adults get to see behind the canvas and under the marble and metal piles. We invite guests to touch the tools, paint on paper, see the spaces, look in corners where artists have assembled things and share thoughts for the future art making. These experiences inspire questions a guest did not even know they had. They become very heartfelt conversations and often create long last relationships.
For the makers, often working in seclusion, this also creates immeasurable feedback for an artist.

PBN: How many members do you have and what are your plans for growth in the years ahead?
In the last five years, we had a large expansion from 30-plus members to just over 100.
The tours have become the top-attended summer event weekends of the season, and we increase our donor and community sponsors by an average of 10 percent per year. The 50,000 maps we publish each season act as a year-long guide to our region’s eats, drinks, art and shopping sites.
New artists and new community members moving to our coastal communities are on the rise, and the discovery of our region is often attributed to the South Coast Artist tours.

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