With the county’s big art event behind us, director Ginny Fite shares her insights
When word came that Jefferson County would host the first non-urban Artomatic, some expressed skepticism. The free community arts event begun in 1999 has been held only in D.C., Cleveland and Frederick, Md.
But the local art community quickly embraced the opportunity, with more than 50 visual artists signing on to display their works on weekends last month at the onetime Rock and Tile building off U.S. 340 in Charles Town.
Todd Coyle of Earth Vibe Productions & Events put together a diverse lineup of musicians to perform and dozens of others offered performances from comedy routines to dance. Others read poetry or excerpts from plays and other writings. Tara Sanders Lowe organized “This Is Art,” a standing-room-only fashion show complete with a yoga demonstration and belly dancing.
Visitors had the chance to get in on the act with workshops in book-art (led by Liz Goins), clay (with Marie Segal) and other local experts plus Harpers Ferry’s Art Shack, Baby! offering free crafting opportunities for adults and Miss Emily Art of Shepherdstown working with kids to create fun art every Sunday. An “Art Wall” at the gallery’s entrance invited anyone interested to add their contributions to the outdoor display.
Ginny Fite, director of Artomatic@Jefferson, agreed to talk with the Spirit’s Christine Miller Ford about some of the highlights from October and what’s ahead.
Q. So what an incredible art event! It must have been such a whirlwind for you … did the month go by fast?
Fite: The year has flown by fast! I began looking for space in October 2012 and have hardly caught my breath since.
Q. When you look back on everything, what stands out most? Were there moments that you feel particularly proud of? Moments that surprised you?
Fite: What stands out the most from the entire Artomatic@Jefferson experience is the hum, the buzz, the vibe of excitement in the space when visual artists, performers, visitors and writers were all in the space at one time. There is definitely value added by having all the arts represented.
Having never produced an Artomatic event before, one of the delightful surprises for me was how serendipity worked on our behalf. Artists choose their own spaces, what they exhibit and how to exhibit it. I watched each section come together, worrying about how different elements in the diverse work would go together and in the end, everything was perfect as if some genius curator had put it all together.
Another happy surprise is how the community responded to Artomatic@Jefferson. Over 4,000 people visited the event – people of all ages, people who already felt linked to the local art scene and people who had never been to an art exhibit; people from Virginia – Winchester, Leesburg and Lovettsville – and Harrisburg, Pa., as well as Shepherdstown, Harpers Ferry, Martinsburg and Charles Town; people from nearby farms whose families have been here since 1837.
People we didn’t know told us over and over how wonderful the event was. People who had never purchased an original painting bought one. In fact, we had fantastic sales, another surprise. One of our artists sold 14 pieces, another seven paintings, another sold enough work to make $1,000 over her costs for preparing for the exhibit.
Q. I’m guessing you heard from artists and others who wished they’d gotten more involved from the start. How did you respond? Will there be an Artomatic@Jefferson next fall?
Fite: We have a list of people who would like to participate next year. Everyone is welcome to participate in Artomatic. And we are delighted people could see how wonderful the event is. I think there will be an Artomatic@Jefferson next fall but it all depends on finding a space for free.
Q. What about things that didn’t go so well … any lessons learned that you could share?
Fite: We needed BIGGER signs for way finding! I would have liked to have had food and beverage vendors. This year’s participants are responding to a survey I sent them and we’ll have a better idea of ways to improve on our execution when all their answers are in.
Q. This was the first Artomatic in a smaller, more rural area. Will other communities be inspired, do you think? Any advice for them?
Fite: Yes, this was the first non-urban Artomatic event. George Koch, Artomatic founder, said we had established a model for smaller communities to follow. I would be happy to mentor any other community similar to ours. My advice is just to jump in and learn on the fly!
Q. Anything you’d like to add? What did I neglect to ask you?
Fite: I want to specifically thank Jen Rolston of Eden Design, Sandy Sponaugle at Platinum PR and Nancy McKeithen of Fluent Magazine for giving us their valuable services for free.
We deeply appreciate the financial and in-kind support we received from Phil and Becky McDonald, who provided the Rock & Tile building; American Public University; City National Bank; Blackwell Property Management; Lyn and Ron Widmyer; Jefferson Distributing; Reid’s Distributor; Jumbo Seafood and all the people who donated to the event.
We had extraordinary support from local media, like the Spirit, and from our partners and sponsors in the community. It made a huge difference to know that the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, the Development Authority and County Planning and Zoning were in our corner.
Another Artomatic event set for Friday
This week brings a chance to join the Artomatic@Jefferson scene as the group, along with the Arts & Humanities Alliance of Jefferson County, hosts a special event focused on Appalachian literature.
The reading at 7 p.m. at the Fire Hall Gallery at 108 N. George St. in Charles Town will include Gretchen Moran Laskas reading from the Anthology of Appalachian Writers Volume V and Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt, director of the Appalachian Heritage Writer in Residence Project at Shepherd University.
Others set to read at the event: Mary McAteer, Steve McKenzie, Kim Ballard, Janice Hornburg, Sonja James and Sue Silver.
The free event is open to the public. A reception and opportunity to chat with the writers and buy books will follow the reading. For details, go online to ajajc.org.