Saturday, January 02, 2016

Best of Bethesda Magazine (redux)

I'm in broken record mode...

About two years ago, after going through the January 2014 issue (Best of Bethesda issue) of Bethesda Magazine, I started this trail:

1. Read this first.

2.Then I wrote this open letter to the magazine.

3. And then Bethesda Magazine's editor responded to my letter; read the response here.

To summarize, for decades now, I've been complaining about this beautiful magazine's lack of interest and coverage in their focus area's visual arts. 

If the magazine gave the visual arts 5% of the attention that it gives to restaurants, theatres, books, and even cinema, perhaps the area's always struggling, but once promising visual art scene, wouldn't have collapsed as it did a few years ago with the closure of nearly all of Bethesda's independently owned fine art galleries. 

I know, I know... probably from their internal research, the mag's staff believes that their readers probably could care less about their visual art scene... the magazine is giving its readers (and advertisers) what they want to read, blah, blah, blah.

The January 2016 Best of Bethesda issue magazine itself is beautiful, always offering a deep insight into the social, culinary, educational, political (there's a major piece in the current issue pretty much painting (no pun intended) a glowing portrait of Congressman Van Hollen, who is currently campaigning for a move up the Congressional food chain, and is running for Senator), etc. take of Bethesda, Maryland. From the article I learned that he's apparently never held a private industry job (other than part time summer jobs in college) in his life and has apparently always worked for politicians in government until he also became a career politician.

There are two tiny, peripheral mentions of the visual arts in this issue (none of them as part of the Best of), but they are glancing at best - but better than nothing, as it has been in the past. 

That's an improvement over last year!

In his response to my open letter about the magazine's track record of largely ignoring the area's visual arts, the magazine's editor wrote that we would be "seeing more coverage of the arts in Bethesda Magazine..." and that he also agreed with me "about the Best of Bethesda, and we will have at least one arts category in next year's issue."

Cough, cough... There has been some slight improvement, but I think that the magazine has a long way to go.

At the risk of repeating myself:

Here's a small slice of what the magazines' editors generally ignore, and because of their apathy towards the visual arts, what the magazine's readers are essentially missing:

- The Bethesda Fine Arts Festival is one of the highest ranked outdoor arts festivals in the nation and it is the highest ranked outdoor fine art show in all of Maryland. There are other significant outdoor art festivals in Bethesda Row and in Rockville. There was this coverage in 2015... as a listed event, not as a focus piece.

- The Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards (also known as The Trawick Prize in honor of Ms. Carol Trawick, a Bethesda supporter of the arts who sponsors the prize) is a visual art prize produced by the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District that honors artists from Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia. The annual juried competition awards $14,000 in prize monies to selected artists and features the work of the finalists in a group exhibition. It has been going on for over a decade and it produces an exhibition that is usually one of the highlights of the Greater DC area visual art calendar. The prize winners didn't even get a mention in 2015.

- The Bethesda Painting Awards is downtown Bethesda's annual juried art competition that exclusively honors painters from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. $14,000 in prize monies are awarded to the top four painters annually. It also produces an exhibition that is again one of the highlights of the Greater DC area visual art calendar. The prize winners didn't even get a mention in 2015.

I wish that the magazine could go back in time and cover the once struggling Bethesda art gallery scene, but in the last few years most Bethesda art galleries have closed their doors due to lack of sales or local interest. Closed are the physical spaces for Fraser Gallery, once the DC area's largest commercial art gallery. Gone are Orchard Gallery, Neptune Gallery, Discovery Gallery, Zenith Gallery, Heineman-Myers Contemporary, and several other galleries. Nonetheless, Waverly Gallery, Strathmore, VisArts, Gallery B, and others continue to offer monthly visual art shows that are routinely ignored by the magazine... other than for their calendar.

I understand that running a glossy magazine like this one depends on a tenuous relationship between its advertisers' ability to pay for full page ads, and thus try to reach the area's readers with disposable income. 

And I also know that art galleries generally do not have the financial ability to advertise in a glossy such as this beautiful magazine is, and thus a chicken and the egg syndrome exists from that angle.  

Unless the magazine has an "insider" who can see this, and thus champion the fact that exposing the visual arts to its readers should be an expected condiment to the magazine's final soup recipe, the problem/issue will never be solved, and as far as readers (and would be advertisers) can infer, the visual arts does not exist in the area.

Also repeating myself: What can Bethesda Magazine do to help to kindle awareness (and thus develop support) for the Bethesda visual art scene and Bethesda artists?

- Two or three visual art stories and/or reviews a year... stories or reviews, not social scene pieces.

- Two or three small highlights a year on Bethesda artists (like you do routinely for authors, and doctors, and chefs, etc.) - like this one, but with an art (rather than just social) approach.

- In each issue, highlight one piece of art that is being displayed somewhere in Bethesda; like the outdoor mural mentioned in the current issue, but do not just focus on public art: spread the wealth and highlight a piece hanging in one of the area's few remaining art spaces. It is curious that this particular mural received not one, not two, but three mentions in the magazine throughout the past year! In fact, from looking at this search, one easy way for an artist to get into the magazine is by creating a mural!

- And for the love of art, please create art a category dealing with the visual arts in your Best of Bethesda issues!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for hammering this issue home... great points!


Anonymous said...

Shameful actually, you're being too nice to them, I never even knew that those galleries once existed in the area.