Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bethesda Magazine and Bethesda Art

As I noted a few days ago, I thumbed through the Jan/Feb issue of the annual Best of Bethesda issue from  Bethesda magazine.

As usual, this in an ad-filled, beautiful, glossy, magazine! It featured the editors' and readers' picks in 86 categories... and it really painted and offered a deep insight into the social, culinary, educational, etc. take of Bethesda, Maryland, with an under laying current that as usual seeks to offer a view of the town's cultural tapestry.

There are a couple of huge holes in that tapestry, and since the holes keep coming back year after year, I've written an open letter to Bethesda magazine and I'm also publishing it here and also intend to mail it to them. I wrote a very similar letter almost a decade ago on this exact subject, and since that letter was ignored, I suspect the same fate awaits this one:
Steve Hull
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher
Bethesda Magazine
7768 Woodmont Avenue #204
Bethesda, MD 20814

Dear Mr. Hull,

I've just finished reading the 2014 Best of Bethesda issue, and once again, I am immensely disappointed to see zero coverage or attention for the once thriving Bethesda visual art scene.

Unless one considers "Children's Photographer" or "Food Art Contest at Walter Johnson High School" to be what your editors see as the best of the Bethesda visual art scene, this huge cultural hole in your otherwise gorgeous magazine is unfortunately a trend that I've noticed with the magazine's apathy towards its art galleries, art spaces, art festivals and visual artists.

Not that your readers do much better; in fact, they ignore (or are not aware) of the city's rich visual art scene. But it is a vicious loop: if the magazine ignores the visual art scene, then it is natural for the readers to be mostly unaware of it.

Unfortunately, this is a trend with Bethesda Magazine. In 2013 the closest that your Best of Bethesda issue came to the visual arts was "Best Plating as Art" under the "Food & Restaurants" category.

That's a real stretch on my part, but, hey! food as visual art seems to be a topic of interest to your editors... if only one of them took a peek at "art as art..."

In 2012, not even food made it as visual art.

It was zip for visual art again in 2011.

And also in 2010.

Here's a small slice of what your editors, and because of their apathy towards the visual arts, what your readers are 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.

- 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 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.

I wish that I could still also tell you about the thriving 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, Orchard Gallery, Heineman-Myers Contemporary and several other galleries. Nonetheless, Waverly Gallery, Strathmore, VisArts and others continue to offer monthly visual art shows that are routinely ignored.

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

- Two or three small highlights a year on Bethesda artists (like you do routinely for authors, and doctors, and chefs, etc.).

- In each issue, highlight one piece of art that is being displayed somewhere in Bethesda.

- And for the love of art, include something dealing with the visual arts in your Best of Bethesda issues!


F. Lennox Campello