Open exhibit is equalizer for Howard artists

Despite the threat of the area's first real snow accumulation this year, the lobby of the Howard County Arts Council was buzzing with activity Jan. 5. Artists from all parts of the county stopped by to submit a piece of their artwork to be included in the Arts Council's upcoming HoCo Open exhibit, opening on Jan. 13 and running through Feb. 24.

Typically a biannual event, this year marks the third year in a row for the show, as a special show was held in celebration of the Arts Council's 35th anniversary last year. Artists ages 18 and up who are either a resident, or who work or study in Howard County, can enter one piece of their art at no cost to be included in the show.


"This show is one of the [Council's] signature shows," said Coleen West, executive director of the Arts Council. "It's perfect for those artists who are emerging or starting a second career who are afraid to enter a juried show. It has a career boosting element."

"It's an unbelievable opportunity for people," said Mark Cates, who submitted an abstract painting. The Elkridge artist has entered the show in past years with other mediums as he "came late" to painting, he said.


"What's good about this show is that we're all equal," Cates said. "Everyone gets to be the artist they are."

Erin Cassell, owner of Roll Up N Dye, has entered her tie-dye art in the show for the past three years.

"So many artists don't have the means to get their own shows," Cassell said. "This lets you get at least one piece out there."

Standing near the entrance to the lobby Thursday, Betsy Stark greeted artists and provided them with the necessary paperwork to submit their pieces. As chairwoman of the show for several years, Stark said she enjoys seeing the creative side of the county's residents.

Award winning director Stephen Kinigopoulos of Running Bear Films is right where he wants to be — at home in Howard County shooting a drama thriller feature entitled "Fishbowl."

"It's fun to see what comes through the door in terms of medium," she said. "I've gotten to know a lot of these artists. Some of these artists have switched their mediums."

As she looked around the lobby, Erin Cissell, 21, was excited to submit her work in the show for the first time.

"I have a cartoonish-kind of style, probably different than other things here," Cissell said. "I'm probably one of the youngest here."

A retired art teacher, Barbara Svoboda created her submission on a round tabletop.

"I like the round format a lot," she said.

Her piece featured tiny row houses made of polymer clay spiraling around the center of the table, which featured a mosaic of tempered glass.

"When I got here, I was given number 72," Svoboda said. "I was really surprised. I though maybe there would be two or three ahead of me."

Spotting the exhibit

By 6:30 p.m., the official closing time of the drop-off period, 117 pieces of artwork in all sizes and mediums leaned against the walls of the main gallery. Resting side-by-side, the works were organized into groups by topics like architecture, still-life and floral so West could begin the next phase of the evening — spotting the exhibit, or laying it out on the walls and display area.

"We started making these zones last year," West said, of the listings. "It used to take me five hours to spot. This shortens the process to three hours."

In truth, West began spotting the event as pieces arrived, casually moving items from specified sections and around the room as she eyed similarities outside of subject matter. The first theme she spied was circles and within a few minutes after the drop-off closed, she had gathered numerous works with circles — including Svoboda's piece — and placed them along the far wall of the gallery.

"I have really good accent walls," West said, pointing to the two walls at each end of the gallery. "That is where I start. I try to gage what I have to work with ... to use to hold attention of the long walls."

"It's fun to watch her spot," Stark said, of West. "She has got such an amazing eye."

West, Stark and Laurie Hansen, a volunteer, decided together that the other accent wall should feature a series of floral pieces that would flow around a corner into the main long wall. As they moved pieces back and forth around the rooms, they chuckled occasionally.

"That one was tacky," West said of a painting.

Stark said there are often a few pieces each year that aren't quite dry that the artists finished in a hurry to submit.

"One of the best parts is getting to meet all these new artists," Stark said. "They come out of the woodwork."

Last year, there were 123 pieces entered and the year before that featured 124 items, according to Katie Wofford, gallery and programs assistant.

"It is nice to have room to breathe," Wofford said. "It was very crowded last year."

The majority of the pieces in the show will be for sale, West said, although artists are not required to sell their pieces. The gallery takes a 20 percent commission, which "is really low for galleries," according to West.

"We are not a commercial gallery geared for sales," West said. "We are a nonprofit and do it for the public good."

West finished spotting the exhibit around 10 p.m. that night. All but one wall had art in place by Tuesday, Jan. 10. The exhibit is scheduled to open on Jan. 13.

"It's going to be a great show," West said. "We always have a nice mix."

If you go

HoCo Open 2017 runs Jan. 13 through Feb. 24 at the Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City. A reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 20. Call 410-313-2787.