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Laurel Factory working to boost arts community

By Gwendolyn Glenn

11:46 AM EDT, October 10, 2012

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It's not a bricks and mortar building, but Laurel resident and artist Karen Isailovic has big production plans for the Laurel Factory, a concept she launched to spark the growth of the city's arts community.

"I want Laurel Factory to be a grass roots (incubator for) research and development of arts and entertainment in the city, where artists can help each other produce more," Isailovic said. "I want to help promote and develop the producers of art, music, design and creative businesses, and bring trade and artisan skills together to give the city a vibe."

Isailovic plans to accomplish that using social media, meet-ups and other networking activities, where local artisans and related business owners can gather and collaborate on projects and ideas. She is using art exhibits and educational sessions to accomplish her goals.

Isailovic's mission may sound a bit ambitious for a small city like Laurel, but she thinks the concept for Laurel Factory is very possible, especially since the city already has a designated arts and entertainment district along C Street and other streets in the Main Street Historic District.

Although Laurel Factory is still evolving, Isailovic has launched several events to get the ball rolling and the word out about her plans. In September, Isailovic launched Laurel Factory's first major event, a 14-week schedule of visual, educational and performing arts events, held mainly at the C Street Gallery on Saturday afternoons. Dubbed the 2012 Experience, a major component of the event involves monthly art exhibitions of local artists' work at the gallery.

The September exhibit, "White Noise," attracted artists from Laurel, Beltsville and other nearby areas. Although she comes up with the themes for the shows, Isailovic said she gives artists a lot of leeway in what pieces they submit for consideration.

"When I put out the call for artists, I was vague in what the concept should be because I wanted the artists to interpret the 'White Noise' theme," she said. "We had beautiful glass pieces, three-dimensional pieces and sculptures. One artist painted a raven on muslin material and another used a sliver of a tree trunk to paint a bird's skull on it."

On Saturday, Oct. 7, the October exhibit, "Black Silence," opened, with works from 11 area artists on display through the end of the month. All of the art work is for sale, Isailovic said, with prices ranging from $50 to $100.

Each artist submitted three pieces for the show and in line with her theme to help artists succeed, Isailovic plans to hold a sale in December of pieces not chosen for the exhibit.

"A lot of gallery owners have told me that the art market is kind of dead right now, so I like to offer opportunities for artists to show and sell their works. We all know that artists have to do different things to pay their bills, so through Laurel Factory, I want to come up with innovative ways for them to get income and be self-sustaining," Isailovic said. "Laurel Factory is about us helping each other."

To attract people to the Saturday exhibits and make them lively, musicians and bands have performed, and there have been educational workshops, dance lessons and open mic opportunities at the gallery. This month, poetry readings are on tap.

"We had poetry read by Laurel storyteller Charles Clyburn (Saturday) and on Oct. 13, several poets published in the Little Patuxent Review will do readings. Truth Thomas, a published poet and musician, is on the schedule for Oct. 27," Isailovic said.

Being able to hold her exhibits at the C Street Gallery is an example Isailovic can point to of artists helping each other. Isailovic said after working on the C Street Arts Festival this year with the gallery's owner, Abbie Chessler, she approached Chessler about collaborating on future projects. Chessler, who also owns the nationally recognized Quatrefoil museum display design company on C Street, offered the use of the gallery to Isailovic for four months.

"I told her I'd slam Laurel with culture and see how it would go and so far, it's been great. The word is getting out and the number of people coming through is growing," she said.

Creating 'a vibe'

A former owner of a successful general contracting construction company for 10 years, Isailovic discovered her love and talent for art in 2001, when she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. She took her first art class that year and was hooked.

"I loved it and didn't care if I had talent or not. I loved the process," she said. "I took oil, finger painting, pastels and drawing classes at the Corcoran (Gallery in Washington) and MICA in Baltimore and was just hungry to learn."

Now, 10 years later, Isailovic has moved from painting in her laundry room to an 800-square-foot studio in the back of her home where she holds some of the Laurel Factory art workshops and poetry readings. She also plans to have meet-up gatherings there at times, where members get discounts at other members' businesses, and painting sessions at her studio as well as other locations.

City economic director Karl Brendle described Isailovic's efforts and those working with her as "an integral part of a growing movement to establish and grow the arts community. … The group's energy will certainly boost the local availability of the visual and performing arts. …"

But not everyone is happy with Isailovic's events on C Street. Deb Randall, owner of Venus Theatre complained that Laurel Factory's live music events have disturbed her productions next door.

"I'm having huge issues with Laurel Factory," she wrote in an email message. "They refuse to collaborate in terms of scheduling."

But Isailovic said she has been considerate of Randall's theater productions, which is why she said she scheduled poetry readings during this month's Saturday exhibits, so as not to interfere with Randall's new play.

Laurel Board of Trade administrative coordinator Roxanna Bangura says although she thinks Laurel Factory is a "great" concept, she has concerns as well.

"It's a wonderful concept that I hope comes to fruition, as long as it doesn't compete with say, Venus Theatre," Bangura said "Noise is an issue and it shouldn't go on when something is going on at Venus."

But when the concept for an arts and entertainment district was developed, city officials talked about having numerous events going on at the same time to create a lively atmosphere in order to attract more people to the area. But Bangura said, "Laurel is too small for that. I do like seeing her (Isailovic) at the Farmer's Market painting and with cuts to school arts' programs, I like the opportunities she's planning for children."

Bangura was referring to Isailovic's plans to open an arts school, Art Haus. She said she has diverse instructors lined up and is close to settling on a location. As for the criticism about Laurel Factory, Isailovic said she is trying to remain positive and collaborate with others in the arts and entertainment district as she continues to work on a project she is passionate about.

"I absolutely love the character of the historic and arts district and I have an intentional interest in being instrumental in making the arts district happen in Laurel," she said. "I want to create a vibe so others will know that there are artists in Laurel. You have to have faith, and I do that it will turn out well."