The scene at a recent Open House Brooklyn event. Photo by Lauraberth Lima of lefemmflaneur.com, all photos courtesy of Open House Brooklyn.
Melissa Diaz may be the director of the nonprofit Open House Brooklyn, an organization that hosts DIY art galleries and live performances in the private homes of willing Brooklynites, but she doesn’t like calling herself one. Aside from her lack of affection for that title, Open House isn’t yet an official 501(c) 3 organization in the eyes of the federal government (a formal organizational structure and lots of paper work are needed first). So technically speaking, calling her a ‘director’ is a bit of a misnomer as it is.
So what is she exactly — a community organizer? A creative arts therapist (as per her master’s degree from Pratt University and her day job)? An up-and-coming party thrower in arguably the liveliest arts and music scene in the country?
You could call her all of those things, but Diaz would rather give credit where she feels credit is due.
“I just make sure every Open House event carries the same spirit, but it’s the hosts that make every Open House special,” she tells BTR. “I just discovered a group of very talented people and am trying to make the most of it.”
She has a knack for that. After graduating from the University of Florida in 2005, Diaz was surprised to find the city of Orlando to be sitting on a rather thriving arts scene. Along with a handful of college friends and area artists, Diaz started hosting events similar to those she’s been coordinating for the past few years in the northeast but as a much smaller and more insular collective.
“There were only ten of us, but we were passionate about each other’s work. That experience really sparked the idea of how DIY events can be a great, alternative and creative venue and gallery space for people who want to showcase their work. As an audience member, there’s greater room for you to be part of the experience at a DIY venue.”
Two years later, Diaz moved to the Park Slope South area of Brooklyn, NY, and found herself again in the presence of talent in need of an outlet. This time, however, the collective was so large that it seemed to be bursting at its seams.
“We were all pretty much centered around the Roots Café in Park Slope. After every show at the café it seemed like everyone from the Cafe was going and hanging out after, almost on a nightly basis,” Diaz reminisces. “It was impossible not to try to branch out and take this party to the surrounding neighborhood.”
In 2009, Diaz began conspiring with Roots Café regulars like Dan Binschedler, cellist of the recent BTR Discovery Artist selection, Point Reyes. Together, they orchestrated the first-ever Open House Brooklyn. Since they shared the same apartment complex, they split the evening’s festivities between Binschedler’s residence, who hosted the music performance, and Diaz’s apartment, who hosted the art gallery.
For the next few years, OH events started to slowly circulate outside of Park Slope South, eventually branching out into the increasingly diverse Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood. Creative personalities of variant backgrounds began volunteering to host events, ensuring that each new Open House would be different from the last. Past OH events have included spin art, installations, live painting, and a backyard “Spring Fling” semi-formal dance.
Spin art crafted by OH event attendees.
For Diaz, ‘the more the merrier’ is a prime maxim for OH parties, even if attractions are taking place simultaneously. “I’ve always liked there to be multiple layers when it comes to Open House shows, there shouldn’t just be a visual aspect but an aural as well,” says Diaz. “Each event should be all-inclusive and encourage as much involvement from the audience as possible.”
After that, almost anything else is possible at an Open House show. Diaz remembers the spoken-word themed night hosted by poet Adele Soto as being particularly poignant. “Adele just owned that night, and that’s just everything you could possibly ask for from a host. He just took the ball and ran with it.”
Diaz lending a hand at the spin art table.
Even though most events have primarily taken place in the Park Slope South area, the spirit of the movement depends on the passion and creativity of the hosts to inform the content of their events. In which case, there’s just no telling where the next Open House Brooklyn party might be next and despite her organization’s name, Brooklyn is no be-all and end-all for Diaz.
“We were recently approached by a recent attendee who lives on the West Coast and is extremely interested in hosting an event in Los Angeles,” Diaz excitedly reports. “I’m trying to see if we can host a show in Brooklyn on the same night and Skype between performances.”
As for the future, Diaz has some big ideas and bold ambitions for a concept that began with such loose criteria. First off, a central facility might be nice. Not that she would ever cease to hold OH events in city apartments, but giving her organization a home-base would help to accomplish Diaz’s more altruistic goals.
“I’m very interested in bringing a communal aspect to Open House and somehow incorporate my background in Art Therapy. My idea would be to have a space to host creative arts therapy groups involving dance and movement therapy, and include a showing space so there could be performances while we continue to have events off-site.”
However it should be noted that her goals on servicing local residents could be taken somewhat literally. “Wouldn’t it be great to have a food-truck riding around the neighborhood with art supplies that would also host outdoor arts events?” she asks giddily.
Sounds like a good idea to us.