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Art in Unexpected Places

By Meg Walburn Viviano

As the mother of two rambunctious little boys, I choose our outings carefully. White-tablecloth restaurants are out, as are shops carrying fragile figurines.

Needless to say, I’d never invite my 3- and 5-year-old to an art exhibit full of beautiful paintings priced in the thousands of dollars. Yet that is exactly where we found ourselves this past Sunday, quite by accident.

We’d gone to Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis in search of a county park the boys hadn’t explored before. They enjoyed the playground, the shaded gazebo, and the plentiful tables for picnicking. But the visitor center piqued their curiosity. Entering the first level, I remembered the ice-skating facilities from my own younger days. But my sons wanted to see what’s upstairs, where a wraparound porch is set up with inviting tables.

Climbing the stairs to the second floor, we found that the space is set up as a two-level art gallery. It currently features the work of Jen Sterling, an Annapolis artist who paints big, bold abstract art in acrylic. The colors were strikingly vibrant, with noticeable layers and texture as we walked closer to each canvas. I gave my “Look, but don’t touch!” warning several times over.

Despite my anxiety about keeping the paintings safe from my busy boys, I loved seeing them take in the artwork. “Which are your favorite colors?” I asked. “ALL of them!” said my 3-year-old, gesturing grandly.

“What do you think that one’s meant to be?” I asked, pointing to an unusual shape in red, yellow, black and brown. “A volcano!” announced my 5-year-old without hesitation.

We stayed in the exhibit about 15 minutes, and I’m relieved to say no paintings were harmed in that time. Better yet, my boys got an unplanned experience in the fine arts. And that’s precisely what is great about public art—it enriches your life, sometimes when you least expect it.

Making plans to visit an art museum or gallery may feel intimidating, expensive, or otherwise hard to fit into our schedule. Most of my art museum visits have been for the benefit of out-of-town guests I’m hosting. But art, put on display outdoors or in public spaces, is approachable.

Throughout Chesapeake Country, public art opportunities are popping up everywhere, especially outdoors. The pandemic left arts organizations looking for safe ways to display work, and open-air exhibits offered a solution. This week’s issue of CBM Bay Weekly highlights some outdoor art opportunities just arriving on the scene, or some you may not have known about.

From murals to sculptures, gardens to public parks, art is easy to find even if you’re not trying. So put on your walking shoes and go take some in!