From Brooklyn Eagle
The Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC) is celebrating its 45th year as an arts organization in 2023.
What began with a handful of artists in the DUMBO/Vinegar Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1978 is now an artist-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization operating the BWAC Gallery on the Red Hook waterfront.
Despite the challenges that a grassroots arts organization faces, BWAC has been a resilient presence in the Brooklyn arts community for four decades, including after the extreme conditions imposed by Superstorm Sandy and more recently, COVID.
To commemorate the longevity and resiliency of their institution, BWAC is hosting three exhibitions: “Reunion: Celebrating Artist Members Past and Present,” “Color,” a national juried exhibition and “Visions of Glass.”
The Early Days
A look back at BWAC history.
The original group of artists who quickly began using BWAC as a name identifier, negotiated with landlords to put on exhibitions in vacant spaces in DUMBO. Within the first few years, the group had successfully installed exhibitions in what was, at the time, raw space at 68 Jay Street, then 20 Jay Street. The early exhibition spaces had no amenities, and no electricity.
Outdoor Sculpture Shows
By 1980, BWAC was hosting annual outdoor sculpture shows at the Empire Fulton Ferry State Park. The small group of artists had grown exponentially, and gained a reputation for staging these large-scale events. BWAC continued presenting outdoor sculpture shows in the park alongside the Brooklyn Bridge for more than a decade. In 1984, the organization filed to become an official 501(c)(3) incorporated nonprofit in New York.
The Move to Red Hook
In 1992, the original founders were in contact with Greg O’Connell, president of the O’Connell Organization. Mr. O’Connell generously invited the group to exhibit in Red Hook, so since vacant real estate in DUMBO was beginning to disappear, BWAC made the move. In the first few years, exhibitions were held in different locations along Van Brunt and Beard Streets, with the common de- nominator of being within the waterfront buildings owned or managed by the O’Connell Organization.
It was a few years later when BWAC settled into its current location at 481 Van Brunt Street, a Civil War-era warehouse built in 1869. BWAC manages 25,000 sq. ft. of art exhibition space on two floors. Mary Bullock, a long-time member artist who came to BWAC in the beginning of the 2000s, recalled when she first came to the gallery. “They told me to be sure I was out of the area by 5 p.m.,” said Ms. Bullock.
Red Hook was a rough and tumble neighborhood decades before BWAC moved in, but the times were changing. Soon Fairway Supermarket and IKEA would make the area a destination for New Yorkers who rarely crossed the freeway demarcation line established by Robert Moses in the 1940s and ‘50s, separating the waterfront neighbor- hood from the rest of Brooklyn.
And Now, it’s Time for More Exhibitions
To mark this auspicious occasion, BWAC is hosting three exhibitions at the BWAC Gallery — “Reunion: Celebrating Artist Members Past and Present,” “Color,” a national juried exhibition and “Visions of Glass,” a solo exhibition by featured artist Renee Radenberg, opening at the Red Hook gallery on Saturday, September 9, from 1-6 p.m.
BWAC president Alicia Degener remarks upon the occasion, “We’ve been able to bring the artwork of more than 25,000 artists to an appreciable audience over the past 45 years, and our tradition continues on September 9.”
To demonstrate the art of resiliency, BWAC is blen ing the work of former and current member artists in “Reunion: Celebrating Member Artists Past and Present.” “We thought it appropriate at this time in the organization’s history to invite former members to exhibit in the gallery once again,” said show chairperson Audrey Anastasi, adding, “the show includes artworks by alumni members who have been practicing their creative craft for up to five decades.” In the same venue, there are artists who are exhibiting their art for the first time. “That’s what BWAC is all about,” added President Alicia Degener, “presenting opportunities for artists to exhibit, and gallery visitors to enjoy a wide range of art in a relaxed atmosphere.”
Color: A National Juried Exhibition
The exploration of how we perceive color and its sub- conscious effect on our hearts and souls is a core element in the making of art. At the same time, colors can mean different things to people, based on their personal experiences, cultures, and their time in history. This is reflected by the national presence of artists from around the country. The exhibition’s juror, Armando Jaramillo Garcia — poet, author, artist and Whitney Museum Gallery Guide — chose works that examine and express the various shades of human existence in living color. Curator Stephanie Norberg has arranged the works to form an immersive color experience.
Visions of Glass
As a native New Yorker, Renee Radenberg has al- ways been an artist, having first discovered this passion at an early age. Throughout her art journey, she worked with many different painting and drawing media — oils, ink, acrylics — but the past 22 years have been devoted almost exclusively to working in glass. Renee resides in Rockaway Park, where living by the beach and in an artist community and has strongly influenced and inspired her work.
Renee Radenberg’s solo exhibition, “Visions of Glass,” depicts her personal journey of exploration of kiln-form- ing glass (fused glass) techniques over the years and bringing to life other forms of her art into glass, such as her live model sketches. Fused and cast glass are the main components of the work presented here, with the occasional use of wood and metal within the art pieces.
There will be an artist reception for all the exhibitions on Saturday, September 9, from 1p.m. to 6 p.m. BWAC is located on the Red Hook waterfront at 481 Van Brunt Street in Brooklyn. The exhibition runs from Saturday, September 9 to Sunday, October 8, 2023. BWAC is open weekends from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. or by appointment.
Perhaps the last word is best expressed by long-time member artist Daniel Genova, describing what BWAC has meant to artists in Brooklyn and beyond, “I remember being new in New York in the early eighties when I stumbled onto BWAC.
At that time the gallery was located in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn. Being that I was part of an artist-run gallery in Denver, I was happy to see a similar grassroots effort taking place here. I always thought it was (and is) important for artists to have a say in where and how they want to show their work.”