5 Questions I’ve Never Been Asked: Maria Simeone of Backyart



Now we take time for something different: a look at Backyart, an innovative and intriguing idea out of Williamsburg, in the county of Kings, also known as Brooklyn. What is Backyart? Check out the mission statement from its website:

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Created by artists and patrons of the arts, backyart strives to create an environment where artists are free to share, showcase, and explore innovative work without the pressure of commercial success.

In the backyard of Williamsburg natives, backyart works to eradicate the delineation between artist and audience member. Just as grapevines and concrete come together to form the space, we encourage participants and observers to come together and create a unique and exciting artistic experience.

It’s very what-did-you-do-during-the-recession? And it’s very smart. The last event of Backyart’s season is set for this Sat., Aug. 29. Here’s the 411:

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summer series
Aug. 29, 2009
649 Metropolitan Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(L train to Lorimer)

This month, just by coming, you will have the chance to win a FREE headshot or portrait session from fantastic photographer and participating artist Caitlin Greer!!! (more info below)

Art Opening w/ complimentary hors d’oeuvres and music 6:30-7:30pm
Performances Start @ 8:00pm.
$10 entrance/$5 unltd. beverages.
Snacks and more also available.

And with our new tent, don’t let bad weather deter you from coming out!


NY Monologues
written by Mike Poblete, featuring Max Woertendyke
After a highly publicized run in Dublin, Ireland, New York native Mike Poblete finally brings an excerpt from this highly successful play to his hometown.

Hawk & Owl
The collaborative musical stylings of John Dyer and Hilary Hawke, with fellow musicians Mike Brown and Brian Geltner. This alt-bluegrass, old-time, Americana rock band was recently featured at the Roosevelt Live Festival, NYC. http://www.myspace.com/hawkeandowl

Chapter 8: Mikey’s Birthday of Belated Apocalypse
written by J. Anthony Roman
New York City author J. Anthony Romanpresents the next chapter of his 12-chapter novel in this, the eighth segment of a year long Backyart reading series.

Meeting Bernard
written and directed by Joonas Rutanen
A short film from Finnish director Joonas Rutanen. A romantically odd comedy about a New Yorker who travels to Finland to meet the girl of his dreams.

Art Installations by:

Caitlin Greer
NYC photographer Caitlin Greer has been published in NY Magazine and will be exhibiting selected works from her ongoing series, “In My Backyard.”

Hannah Davis
Visual artists and musician Hannah Davis combines two passions in her “Painted Guitar” series. Meant not only to be looked at, but to be played as well.

Lucien Pellegrin
Seattle-based multidisciplinary art works – two-dimensional and tactile.

Steve Pavlovsky
Psychedelic light show to live music.

Want to be part of backyart?
If you’re a filmmaker, a painter, a playwright, a musician, a poet, a dancer, an actor, a comedian, a photographer, a mime, a puppeteer, an acrobat, a carnie or anything else under the sun and you’re interested in presenting some work at an upcoming Backyart summer event, drop us an e-mail and we’ll be in touch.

This “5 Questions I’ve Never Been Asked” is with Maria Simeone who, with Max Woertendyke and Lia Woertendyke, is one of the co-founders and co-producers of Backyart.

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And now, 5 questions Maria Simeone has never been asked:

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1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“How is it different from what you’ve already done?” — asked by Backyart participant Mike Poblete.

Backyart started out as a simple idea: Max, Lia and I decided we wanted to host a monthly outdoor event with a few of the artists we knew. We’re now coming to the last event of our second “Summer Series” and in that time Backyart has showcased well over 60 artists. As we’ve developed, we’ve continually been trying to expand our definition of what an art form can be as well as diversify our artists and audience. At the same time, we want to make sure that we maintain a space that is comfortable, familiar and consistently enjoyable. We’re really proud of how far we’ve come since our inception, but we are definitely looking forward to finding new ways of soliciting work, showcasing it, and fostering connections between artists and audience members alike, so that it never becomes stale or too predictable.

2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Why should you have to charge me so I can chill in your yard?” — some guy who walked in off the street during last April’s event.

We charge because we want to stay afloat and continue producing events. Backyart wants to expand and grow so we can offer more to our audiences and artists. Over the past year, we have been able to make significant improvements, such as purchasing a projection screen and an outdoor canopy (for those inevitably rainy days) and that has been possible solely because of the money Backyart makes each month through admission fees and donations. One of our main focuses for next season is to find better ways to show our appreciation and give back to the artists who help make this event possible. Unfortunately, like it or not, that can’t be done without some money, although having our own space does admittedly make growth a little easier. We think you get your money’s worth and we hope the guy who asked the question felt like he did too after he saw what we’re about.

3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I wish we had a really great anecdote for this but in all honesty we’ve never gotten any really out-there questions. People seem to be into the idea and more often than not the kinds of questions we get are about what, if any, limitations Backyart has on the types of work that can theoretically be shown at one of our events. There are no specific, set-in-stone limitations, so people should feel free to reach out to us with all sorts of weird (but good) ideas about what they might be interested in showcasing.

4) Backyart seems like a great come-one-come-all artistic idea. How do you pick which performers and musicians and artists are going to take part and how do you organize who does what and when? Talk a little bit about how the Backyart experience is structured for people who stop by.

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We’re pretty diplomatic in the “first come, first serve” kind of way in terms of which artists show their work. We first try to fill the months with people who have expressed interest in participating as artists as well as seeking out new pieces from artists whose work we’ve seen and dug. Then we create each month’s specific event so that there’s a balance between the kinds of work shown (theater, film, music, literature, visual arts, etc.) as well as an occasional undercurrent theme set by Max, Lia and I. Lia and I really like to center our themes around seasons and holidays while Max makes sure the theme is topical: Halloween in October, when everyone’s feeling fall-festive, rather than in July, when you’re hot and can’t find enough pumpkins in New York City to have a carving contest. That being said, we’re currently in the process of revamping our submission process to allow Backart to design each month’s event more purposely, more in advance and help facilitate the creation of the art being shown. We will be announcing this formally and in detail at our Oct. 31 event and posting all the information online for those interested in presenting work during our 2010 season. So stay tuned.

5) What do your neighbors and neighborhood residents think of Backyart? Do any — how shall we put this? — interesting people show up, er, fresh off the subway, as it were?
The neighborhood is pretty young and luckily somewhat more arts-centric than other areas of Brooklyn or New York City in general. A lot of times, when we’re in the house, we can hear people walking by and commenting on the ever-present “Backyart” sign that faces the street. In fact, I just heard a young father say to his daughter, “Look kiddo, here’s the Backyart sign,” and then they chanted “Backyart! Backyart!” together.

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During our June event, a really nice couple walked in from the street. It turned out that the woman had taken classes in the building when Max and Lia’s mom used it as a yoga studio. She saw our sign and wanted to come check out what was going on and really had a blast. We also (much to the appreciation of our humble yet human egos) had an older couple who were vacationing in New York from San Francisco attend one of our events, based on the recommendation of a previous Backyart audience member who told them it was something they “definitely had to check out.” Right now we’re really word-of-mouth based and seeing where that leads us. So far it’s been great.

Bonus Question:

6) Do you have favorite artworks that you’ve displayed? Or favorite performers? Or have there been any truly memorable, wacky situations that have come to define the Backyart aesthetic?
Each one of us has our personal favorites, and of course “all of our acts are the best,” but there were a handful of performances/presentations that were either significant for Backyart’s progress or were simply so wacky and fun that not mentioning them would be a shame. Captain Sharky’s Historical Gender Equality Reactualization Burlesque Society and Filthy Glamour, both burlesque acts, were absolutely outrageous and tons of fun — pasties, glitter and candy bars, how could they go wrong! Last April, Lia curated a 12-artist group show in our downstairs studio and completely transformed the visual landscape of the space; to date this was our biggest visual art showing. Anthony Roman signed on last January to do a yearlong reading of his upcoming novel Belated Apocalypse — one chapter a month (join us for Chapter 8 on Aug. 29). Last March, we hosted an International Film Fest alongside a group from Dublin called the Attic; we’re planning on doing it again in 2010 possibly, with another film collective based in Berlin. These are obviously just a few of the wonderful acts we’ve had and we’re definitely looking forward to finding more “favorites” as we continue to grow.