Small City, Big Art

30th Annapolis ArtWalk continues to highlight artists, galleries 

By Steve Adams 

Annapolis is an art lover’s dream town. The easily walkable downtown is home to no less than two dozen galleries and studios. The famous portraitist Charles Willson Peale spent many years working here for art patrons. Annual events draw both amateurs and professionals for inspiration and camaraderie. Local arts leaders weren’t going to let the coronavirus pandemic change that tradition. 

Cynthia McBride, who owns McBride Gallery in downtown and Benfield Gallery in Severna Park, is one of the founders of the annual Annapolis ArtWalk, which for 30 years has been highlighting the many local galleries and artists by hosting open houses and special events one night every year, free of charge. This year’s event is scheduled for Thurs., Aug. 20 (5-9pm). 

The “walk” actually dates back to the 1980s, when a small group of the city’s ten or so gallery owners got together to discuss how they could join forces to raise awareness of and promote the Annapolis visual arts scene and their newest exhibits. They first tried hosting “A Round of Galleries” and quarterly open houses, but unfortunately experienced little success. Then, the 1990 relocation of McBride Gallery, one of Annapolis’s oldest galleries, inspired the creation of the open house- (or open gallery) style event that’s taken place every August since. 

“I was moving my gallery from 117 Main Street up the hill to the second block on August 1, 1990,” says McBride. “At that time all the ‘action’ in Annapolis was around City Dock and the bottom of Main Street, so I was trying to think of a way to let people know that we were in a new location. I had been reading about the popularity of art walks on the sunny West Coast and decided to rally the Annapolis galleries to help start an annual event, calling it Annual Annapolis Art Walk. And here we are 30 years later, still going strong.” 

Now sponsored by The Annapolis Gallery Association, the walk has grown from fewer than ten galleries in its first year to an average of 20 (and a high of 24) in the three decades since, with a handful of galleries having participated every year. A map helps you find all the locations (available at participating galleries). 

And it’s far more than motivation to stretch your legs—ArtWalk aims to encourage the public to discover and explore galleries throughout what McBride calls “the small city with big art talent” by offering a one-night-only experience beyond that of a typical gallery visit.  

“The primary goal is to host an enjoyable evening where the public can have fun visiting the galleries, socializing with friends and neighbors, and engaging with artists, meeting them, watching them demonstrate and explain how a painting is developed, and asking them questions,” says McBride.  

The Annapolis Collection Gallery has been a stop on the ArtWalk since 1996. “One reason I stay involved is because for the past 30 years Cindy McBride has remained steadfast in making ArtWalk run smoothly year after year,” says owner Katherine Burke. “ArtWalk is fun because it’s a special, one-of-a-kind evening for not only Annapolis art lovers but also the visitors from Philadelphia, DC, and NYC that it regularly attracts.” 

Things will be a bit different this year due to COVID-19. McBride reports that each gallery will have signs stating their limited capacity and visitors must practice safe social distancing. Yet there will be no shortage of galleries, nor types of art, for the public to experience.  

Artists working in oil, watercolor, ceramics, woodturning, sculpture, jewelry, handcrafts and more, will be demonstrating their skills. Some galleries host musical guests to boot. 

Annapolis Marine Art has been part of the festivities since the beginning. As one of the oldest continuously operating galleries in town, owner Jeff Schaub sees ArtWalk as a chance to experience great Chesapeake-themed art. “We’re very proud of our artist group, and we will be featuring a collection of John Barber original paintings from a private collection. Barber has always been our contributing artist; he is considered the artist of Chesapeake themes and traditions, shore lore, historic preservation—all are his métier. Patrons can view some special things, and hob-nob with people whose interests correspond with theirs. Chesapeake art is a well-loved tradition and it commemorates some of the richest natural resource-laden areas in the world.” 

McBride says that exposing locals and visitors to the depth of artistic talents within the city is a benefit to the entire region. 

“I’ve always hoped that there would be a broader impact as well, benefiting both residents and merchants by calling attention to new shows and boosting Annapolis’s reputation as not only a hub for history and maritime activities but also a true cultural center.” 

Whether you’re experiencing ArtWalk for the first or 30th time, there’s likely never been a better year to escape the physical and psychological stress of COVID-19 through art. As McBride says, “Just accomplishing our goal of hosting the ArtWalk at all this year feels momentous, and we can’t wait to celebrate.” 

 The full slate of participants, many of which will have live music and refreshments to accompany the viewing of their diverse exhibits, includes: 

  • Annapolis Marine Art Gallery*, displaying nautically-inspired prints and originals, spanning sailboats to sea life, from 50+ artists.  110 Dock Street,  
  • Gallery 57 West, the former Whitehall Gallery now features juried art, jewelry, pottery, photography, maps, and textiles from members of the Annapolis Arts Alliance. 57 West Street,  
  • Jo Fleming Contemporary, showcasing Human Interest, an exhibition that explores the human condition and intimate emotions through clay figurative sculptures by Chris Corson and abstracted figures in photographic landscapes by Sarah Hood Salomon.  68 Maryland Avenue,  
  • Lisa Masson Studio Gallery, with original fine art photography-on-canvas including images of Annapolis, sundry ships, the Naval Academy, and the Chesapeake Bay. 511 Fourth Street, 
  • Main Street Gallery*, with eclectic paintings of everything from landscapes to figurative works, from 32 unique regional artists. 216A Main Street,  
  • Maria’s Picture Place*, featuring collections from famed photographers M.E. Warren and A. Aubrey Bodine, as well as those showcasing Historic Annapolis, charts, and the Naval Academy. 45 Maryland Avenue, 
  • McBride Gallery*, debuting Painting Around the World, a new exhibition of oil paintings by award-winning Maryland native David Diaz, who’ll be demonstrating his work both indoors and outdoors. 215 Main Street, 
  • Nancy Hammond Editions, displaying the nationally-renowned painter’s works featuring water life, boat yards, black Labs, crab feasts, blue herons, and more.192 West Street,  
  • The Annapolis Collection Gallery, with paintings and photographs and sculptures from six Annapolis masters. 55 West Street,   

* 30-Year Participant