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Advocating the Arts

by Charissa Hipp + photos by Chris Jackson


With growing prestige, Washington County Arts Council mirrors the local artists it showcases.

The Washington County Arts Council seems right at home nestled in the heart of Hagerstown’s Arts & Entertainment District at the Walker House on 34 South Potomac Street. The red brick exterior has somewhat of a stately appearance; the result of an old building made new again — fitting for one of the oldest Arts Councils in the state. The warm glow of the interior exhibit lights is inviting to patrons, luring them in to see what treasures await in the gallery and gallery shop. With an upscale and cozy feel, the space manages to maintain a sense of elegance and prestige.

The Arts Council has been actively working to enrich the cultural, social and economic life of the community by nurturing arts since 1968. “Our mission is to support local arts and living arts,” Executive Director Mary Anne Burke says. “We do that by granting Community Arts Development [CAD] grants. Some of our state money is used to fund arts and education. We also have gallery exhibits here which change monthly and we have our gallery shop.”

Mary Anne is a longtime community arts advocate and has led the way for the Arts Council since October 2008 when she was brought on as interim director. She was officially appointed as the executive director in February of 2009 when the Arts Council was located on West Washington Street. In 2012, as the Arts Council’s lease on West Washington Street was about to expire, Mary Anne and several of the board members began looking for a more suitable space that would keep them in Hagerstown’s A&E District.

“We had looked at this space early on and didn’t think it was going to work,” Mary Anne says, “but we came back and talked with Mr. Bowman and Bowman Development has just been wonderful. They customized this space for us and were so accommodating. The new location is ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant, a significant improvement over the former space.

“We were very fortunate to be granted the Partners in Economic Progress [PEP] incentive from the City of Hagerstown, which helps subsidize our rent for a two year period,” Mary Anne says. “We are thrilled to be here and we hope the Arts & Entertainment District will continue to expand with even more businesses.”

Exhibits change every month at the Arts Council Gallery. Artists are already applying to have their work exhibited in 2015. “They submit information about themselves, photographs of their work, and an artist statement,” Mary Anne explains. She and a committee then review the submission and also try to make sure the artists exhibiting are varied and not the same individuals over and over. With only a small amount of marketing funds, the Arts Council relies on postcard mailers to announce each exhibit and social media marketing through Facebook.

“We support local artists in Washington County and within a fifty mile radius, so you will see art from places like Berkeley Springs or Chambersburg, but we don’t seek artists from Baltimore and D.C.,” Mary Anne says. “We are funded to support local and the gallery shop is handled somewhat the same way.” The Gallery Shop represents about 76 artists with more than 1,900 pieces of art sold on consignment. For many local artists, it is their only place to show and sell their art.

The Gallery Shop houses a treasure trove of unique art. There’s plenty of wearable art like jewelry, scarves and even purses. Well-lit display cases are filled with beaded trinkets, anodized aluminum pieces, paper and wire creations, sterling silver pendants, earrings and bracelets, and even origami jewelry. Original paintings and photographs depict nature and scenic landscapes. Glass creations catch the light coming in the windows and sculpture takes on all forms from metal sculptures to monster dolls. Pottery is available from a number of local artist and boxes and bowls expertly carved from wood. You’ll even find a handful of books by local authors.

The Arts Council works cooperatively with the nearby Barbara Ingram School for the Arts. “Each month, during the school year, we bring art students over to meet the exhibiting artists. We usually have 50 to 55 students come in to view the art. The artist will talk a little bit and then there’s a question and answer both from the teachers and the students.”

Even the literary arts students from BISFA utilize the Arts Council. “They usually visit and interpret a piece in prose or poetry,” Mary Anne says. “The Arts Council also co-sponsors, along with the [BISFA] Foundation, the annual Literary Arts Summit.” The event is geared toward teachers of English and language arts and those interested in the literary arts.

One glance around the Washington County Arts Council and it’s clear that the Arts — in all forms — are thriving in Washington County. The Arts Council’s new location in the heart of Hagerstown’s Arts & Entertainment District is a class act; a true reflection of the local artisans it showcases.