Studio 18 in Pembroke Pines: Artists' Studios Are a Gem

What do you do with a building that was last used as a laundry facility for a state hospital in the 1950s? If you're the City of Pembroke Pines, you turn it into an artists' colony. That is, if you have a million dollars and eight years to invest in the project.

Studio 18 in the Pines is a city-owned-and-operated 11,000-square-foot compound that includes studio space for 18 artists, along with a 1,100-square-foot display area for exhibitions, a lounge/break room, and two multipurpose classrooms. There's a kiln for artists who work with ceramics, and for artists who do sculpture or large-scale mixed-media pieces, there are five outdoor work areas suitable for welding, carpentry, and the like. With one exception, the studios have sinks, and 13 have windows to let in the natural light prized by so many artists.

All but a couple of the studios are currently leased, and all come up for renewal annually. Applicants must submit a portfolio and pass muster with a jury before being granted space, which, like most real estate, goes by the square foot. The whole complex is run by two city employees, a cultural arts coordinator and a property manager.

I'm not in the habit of giving a shoutout to political entities, but I'll make an exception for Pembroke Pines and its Arts and Culture Advisory Board. The city opened Studio 18 in March 2010, and although it's too early to tell if the project will be a long-term success, it's enormously encouraging that a Broward municipality has come out so strongly in support of the arts. In the current economic climate, art is usually one of the first items on the chopping block.

Instead, artists who are accepted here find themselves not only with a workspace tailored to their needs — the studios vary in size, from 102 to 242 square feet — but also having access to a display space where they can exhibit for free. They get the opportunity to teach, access to the lounge area for special events, and the chance to work amid other artists. And they can come and go as they please, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Both times I visited Studio 18, I was struck by the sheer quantity of art on the premises. There's something of a fishbowl quality to the glassed-in studios, which literally overflow with the work of their occupants — each has the use of wall space outside his or her studio. Every month or two, a new exhibition goes up in the common gallery space, and one wall in the foyer serves as an introduction to resident artists, who submit a 12-by-12-inch piece representative of their work as a sort of artistic business card. There's even enough room for the complex to host occasional exhibits featuring outside artists. The first Friday of every month, Studio 18 hosts an open house, with the public invited to see the current show and to visit individual studios.

On my most recent visit, an exhibition called "Drawn From Experience" was under way, featuring the work of five resident artists, including property manager Jill Slaughter. Some of her current work highlights old-fashioned dolls that are painted and perched on rods embedded in cement, juxtaposed against painted glass panels. Other works focus on the human heart — not metaphorically but literally, as in anatomical renderings that emphasize the organ's intricacy.

Intricacy is also the operative word for the work of Madeleine Bellwoar, who works with pen and ink on paper. Her large-scale Earth Elemental and Water Elemental are amazing in their attention to the lacy little details of their anthropomorphic figures; likewise her smaller works that draw on bird imagery.

Around the corner, I ran into new work by William Bock, whose career I have followed for years. Here he appears to be moving away from pure painting and photography and more into mixed media — a couple of his larger pieces incorporate fossils and toy dinosaurs. (It's as if he's become an amateur paleontologist as part of his artistic development.) His most striking works combine digitally manipulated photography with acrylics.

The most traditional of the artists in the current show is oil painter Maria Wieder, who puts her talent for realism to work in still lifes. At her best, she finds beauty in everyday objects such as a man's hat or a pair of baby shoes.

The artist whose work I most responded to is Debra Kaszovitz, who happened to be in her studio the day I visited and spoke of her art as being about "loss and recovery over time." The Atlanta transplant, who has been with Studio 18 from the start, casts handmade paper in molds, then tears it, paints it, collages it, occasionally even singes it — all to striking effect. "My work has always been about recovery," says the artist, whose father is a Holocaust survivor and whose son struggled to overcome a disability.

A scrapyard habitué who reclaims and transforms relics from the past, Kaszovitz is the perfect ambassador for Studio 18, which has undergone its own metamorphosis from abandoned state institution to artists' haven. "I love this place," she says. "I never thought I'd find this kind of opportunity and environment in Broward County."

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Michael Mills