City becomes a blank canvas and we all become artists
By Duffy Perkins
Just as the weather takes a turn for the better, Annapolis Arts Week kicks off this weekend with events planned around the city to encourage everyone to get out and experience the incredible talent of local artists. Dozens of events are scheduled to showcase the creativity brimming around the city, and encourage conversations and community.
Arts Week is the brainchild of Darin Gilliam, who originally envisioned the week as an opportunity to create connection between the public and the arts community through in-person events, demonstrations, installations, and gatherings. In 2021, Gilliam found her ideal business partner in Alison Harbaugh of ArtFarm Studios, and the two women set to expand the festival through greater marketing and outreach.
“We consider ourselves the glue that brings everyone together,” says Harbaugh. “The arts are so spread out over our city, and a lot of people don’t pay attention to what’s going on. We work hard to put a spotlight on the arts and get the public engaged more, light a fire, and get a big energy boost for the arts right at the beginning of the summer.”
Last year, the coronavirus pandemic allowed Gilliam and Harbaugh an opportunity to “soft open” their concept, with 2021’s Arts Week offering a more truncated list of events due to closures and restrictions. “We had smaller events and fewer people participating, and indoor events were challenging. But this year, we’re coming at this headfirst, trying to get everyone in town who is related to the arts—performing, fine arts, galleries, etc.—to submit their events and participate in some way.”
The outcome of this effort is a calendar full of artistic excitement from creators with local renown to those with international appeal. Many of the cultural mainstays are pulling out installations, art walks, and special exhibits, while takeovers are happening in unsuspecting backyards and corners. Street closures will allow for larger events such as First Sunday Arts Festival and Dinner Under the Stars, while opening nights allow for hobnobbing of the Who’s Who on the Annapolis arts scene. With dozens of events planned throughout the city, Arts Week is set to be the creative firework that sets off a fantastic summer.
Getting Things Going
One of the hallmarks of Arts Week is Paint Annapolis, the plein air festival that has brought
easels to street corners for the last 20 years. Only 30 artists are selected for this year’s group of juried artists, although everyone is welcome to come and participate throughout the week of June 5-10.
Paint Annapolis’s kickoff event is Dueling Brushes on Sunday, June 5, a quick draw event where artists are given boundary maps and a time limit of just three hours. Artists arrive at City Dock with a blank canvas and return at noon for judging. The work of creating an entire painting from scratch demonstrates artists’ ability to remove limiting factors of convention and just paint.
“We’re hoping to spread art around town,” says Laura Carty, director of exhibitions at the Maryland Federation of Arts (MFA). “We use Paint Annapolis to get the public more involved and bring art to the community. It’s our way of bringing awareness to the creative process, and ultimately showcase the final product.”
Public artists will have the ability to show two pieces of art at MFA’s popup gallery June 11-15 at 4 Church Circle, while juried artists will have their work on display at Circle Gallery, located at 18 State Circle, through June 25. For more information, visit https://mdfedart.com/paintannapolis/.
At Maryland Hall, special events have been planned for the celebration. On Friday, June 10, kinetic artist Larry Fransen will install his piece Let’s Roll, an acrylic rolling ball sculpture built with engineer Tim Geis. The piece is a unique structure of half-inch steel ball bearings propelled around an acrylic frame with the help of two stepper motors, 17 acrylic gears, 24 magnets, 34 ball bearings, countless fasteners and electronics. The result is a mesmerizing study in chaos theory that invites intrigue at every angle. The rotating wheels on one side of the sculpture add an element of randomness to the design, so that the actions are consistently inconsistent.
“What intrigued us about Larry’s exhibit is that it’s hands-on,” says Katie Redmiles-Barron, director of communications at Maryland Hall. “This is the first opportunity for the public to see a piece that’s been worked on at home due to COVID, and we can now invite patrons to meet him and experience something new and unique.”
Fransen got his start not in a plastics factory, but in a woodshop, where he became fascinated with skeleton clocks. “I wanted to show the inside workings of a clock,” he says. “And from there, I started experimenting with bicycle clocks made out of chains, gears, and so on.” When his son suggested he move away from wood as an artistic medium, Fransen started experimenting with acrylics.
“When light hits acrylic, the entire reflection of the outside is within it,” he says, from his home studio. “Light bounces around, hits the edges, and the whole thing becomes alive.”
Art on Another Level
One thing that isn’t immediately obvious about the Annapolis arts community is the amount of work being done to bring art to under-represented communities. In a city with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, it’s imperative that art finds the viewer where he or she stands, and not the other way around, say organizers. “It’s one thing to have a commercial business,” says Harbaugh, who is also a professional photographer and offers classes through Fearless Girls Photography Camps. “But when it comes to education and preservation, there are a lot of uphill battles. That’s not how it should be.”
At Maryland Hall, Redmiles-Barron recognizes their outreach program as having a significant impact on young artists. “We have a new initiative where we bring high school students to Eastport Elementary School once a week to work on projects,” she says. “This gives them the opportunity to provide mentorship, engage them within their communities, and develop their own artistic skills.” A Saturday community class brings in parents as well as students for music lessons and art projects.
“A big part of our history, a part of who we are, is taking the art where it needs to be,” she says. “We want to see more diversity and opportunity for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, and different art interests.”
One of Art Week’s most anticipated events is doing exactly this: Jeff Huntington, the mural artist responsible for roughly 30 murals around Annapolis, will begin the installation of a mural of Eva Cassidy, the local singer-songwriter whose early death ended an incredible career. Cassidy has many ties to Annapolis, and her mural on the wall of Stan and Joe’s, between two prominent music venues, is appropriate.
Huntington’s Cassidy mural is part of a larger project orchestrated along with his wife, Julia Gibb, both co-founders of the non-profit Future History Now. Future History Now brings together youth and underserved communities to create murals around town, providing an authentic studio art experience and getting new artists involved in creating monumental street art.
Huntington and Gibb are now working on what is called the Kids Making History Mural Tour, a walking tour with QR codes installed near each of the murals to provide viewers with a “virtual docent,” a child artist describing the mural and the work involved. Videos provide contextual history for the mural and showcase its creation.
Huntington and Gibb have been working together artistically for over a decade, but it was only in 2016, at a time of crisis, when they began to realize the direction needed to change. At the time, one of Huntington’s projects came under fire from those concerned with the historic preservation of Annapolis’s colonial façade. One mural, a Mayan-themed scene painted by local artist Jason Liggett, fought for its survival in court but ultimately lost. To celebrate its life, Huntington planned a “mural funeral,” and invited residents to celebrate its life by painting over it.
“More kids showed up for that event than we ever would have anticipated,” says Gibb, who worked with the advocacy group Process Preservation Coalition to mitigate the mural’s demise.
The couple saw that young artists were the gateway to a vibrant future. “You have to understand that the underbelly of this town holds a wealth of talented artists who span a huge range,” says Huntington. “We provide these projects as community collaborations that allow everyone to take ownership, have pride, and especially access. We treat everyone as a fellow artist, and everyone is in on the collaboration.”
Future History Now works with between 250 and 300 young artists each year, developing community projects, creating mentorship programs, and providing access to other local artists. “It doesn’t take a huge amount to touch someone’s life,” says Gibb. “One brief, positive experience can shift your view a little bit, and give you hope that there’s a different way to live your life if you choose.”
See the mural in progress on Sunday, June 5, during the First Sunday Arts Festival and Wednesday, June 8 at Dinner Under the Stars, two events that are set to have the largest numbers of attendees. You can read more about Huntington and Gibb’s work at futurehistorynow.org.
Art in Unexpected Places
In Eastport, the celebrated art fete Art Between the Creeks is back for its 20th showing over the weekend of June 10-12. Art Between the Creeks is a beloved pop-up experience where local artists transform a public warehouse into a gallery. The Friday night opening reception allows guests to see the artwork and rub elbows with the artists themselves, who are often neighbors and colleagues. It’s a fun night full of funky art and cool people. This year’s event happens at Backyard Boats, located at 222 Severn Avenue.
And truly, who’s to say that you even need a gallery to showcase a masterpiece? A 2021 collaboration between the Annapolis Arts District, the Inner West Street Association, the mayor’s office, and the David Hayes Art Foundation brought the work of contemporary artist David Hayes to some of Annapolis’s most frequented public spaces. The David Hayes Outdoor Museum showcases some of the artist’s provocative sculptures outside Annapolis libraries, Maryland Hall, the Banneker-Douglass Museum, the Eastport Democratic Center, and many more places.
Hayes was a contemporary sculptural artist whose catalog of work spans six decades and has been exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim. Appealing to the viewer’s imagination, Hayes worked with steel to change shape and texture, arriving at a place that defies a literal interpretation and instead asks the viewer to interpret it. Putting the sculptures along some of Annapolis’s busiest corridors allows fine art to be accessible and intriguing.
On Monday, June 6, ArtFarm is hosting the artist’s son, David M. Hayes, in a discussion of the artist’s life and work. The free talk will be at ArtFarm Studios, 111 Chinquapin Round Road. The discussion begins at 4:30 but arrive early to check out ArtFarm’s incredible galleries and gift shop.
Whatever your preferred artistic medium, Annapolis Arts Week offers a showcase of all that the excitement happening around the area. Be sure to come out, connect with artists and vendors, and help strengthen this city’s vibrant community one brushstroke at a time.
Within Maryland Hall’s galleries, Yumi Hogan and Mina Papatheodorou Valyrakis’s “Dialogue Between Nature and Environment” showcases the female perspective on the natural world from both an Eastern and a Western lens. The exhibition of Maryland’s First Lady’s work is only open through June 24, so don’t sleep on seeing it.
To experience art-in-the-making, Reflex Improv creates a storytelling experience that is one part combustible conversation and one part relevant hilarity. These actors tell the jokes everyone is thinking, but not saying. They’re putting on shows Monday, June 6, and Saturday, June 11, at ArtFarm.
Dinner Under the Stars returns on June 8 with Noche Latina, or Latin Night. Street closures allow restaurants to pull tables out into West Street to enjoy a special form of ambience and allure. Night owls will see Karnival Bounce Crew, the energetic street performers who can turn West Street into Buenos Aires with a hop, step, and a jump.