Meet the Artist Who Helped Start Marin Open Studios

Artist Nicki Adani (right) shows off her work (Courtesy of Marin Open Studios)

For oil painter Kay Carlson, moving to Marin in 1983 and settling in Woodacre was the best thing a novice artist could do. “I was nurtured by a group of people in West Marin and we had a potluck every month to share art,” Carlson says. “That family is what prepared me to do Open Studios because I realized the value of gathering artists together, having them see each other’s work and supporting one another.”

To facilitate that idea on a larger scale, Carlson asked sculptor Tim Rose if he would like to partner on an event that would connect professional artists and the art-loving community. “He looked at me like I was nuts and I said, ‘Well yeah,’ and so we did it.” In 1993, the first Marin Open Studios (MOS) took place and it has become a signature Marin gathering ever since.

The event, held the first two weekends in May, has grown to include some 250 artists in fields including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and more. “I saw that artists in the region didn’t know one another and that they needed to make a living,” Carlson says. “The only way I saw for artists to make a living is if they became known to their community. And what better way to do that than to have an open studio?”

Some positive trends that Carlson is seeing this year are more interior designers recommending clients choose MOS artists for their projects (there is even a portal where active artists can provide stylistic details for designers); continued partnerships with underserved artists from Marin City and the Canal district; more abstract and figurative art (see this year’s Open Studios guide cover by Kathleen Lack for the latter) than in years past; and a program to help artists find space to work in costly Marin County.

Carlson says that about 150 of the artists showing have each been with MOS for at least 25 years. “They are sort of the model for the emerging artists that start with us,” she says. “There’s an influencing going on between the professionals and the emerging, which is what happened for me as a newbie.”

There are two great ways to see the art of Marin County. The first two weekends in May offer a chance to take self-guided tours and meet the artists at your own pace, while each artist will also have a piece in the Marin Open Studios Preview Gallery, April 22 through May 12, at the new Sausalito Center for the Arts.

As for what the public gets out of the event: “I think the experience of art making is fundamental to us as humans,” Carlson says. “An exposure to creativity is really at the core of it — the most important thing is to be able to transfer that creativity into their own lives.”