3 Howard artists gain as work is recognized

Program: The State Arts Council selected 103 winners of its Individual Artists Awards this month, giving each of them $1,000 to $6,000.

March 20, 2003|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Artists across the state, including three from Howard County, received a vote of confidence and a financial boost from the State Arts Council this month when the agency announced its Individual Artists Awards.

Denee Barr of Columbia received a $3,000 award for her work in photography; Richard Roussell of Ellicott City was awarded $1,000 in the category of three-dimensional visual arts; and Kathi Ferguson of Ellicott City won $1,000 for her accomplishments in choreography.

"A thousand dollars can probably make a big difference to an individual," said Roussell, who makes bronze, wood and metal sculptures. "I know [the award] can be very helpful to someone who is living on the margin of being able to afford to do their work. I think that's nice and very admirable."

"We are very proud that we are able to offer individual artist awards along with our major grants [to organizations]," said Theresa Colvin, executive director of the Maryland State Arts Council. "Individuals are the cornerstone of the tremendous creative community we have in Maryland."

The program has been making awards to individuals for more than 10 years, judging strictly on artistic merit, Colvin said. In 2000, the state increased the program from $200,000 to about $250,000.

Even in difficult economic times, Colvin said, the council is committed to supporting individual artists and encouraging them to continue working in Maryland communities.

This year, out-of-state juries selected 103 winners from 678 applications. Winners in seven categories, including music composition, playwriting, poetry and visual arts received $1,000, $3,000 and $6,000 awards.

These categories alternate years with the judging of eight other writing, dance musical and visual art categories focused on performance.

Roussell was surprised to receive an award. He said he is just starting to refocus on making art after a year of significant distractions, including the birth of his second child and renovations of his home.

"I appreciate having a little more money," he said. "Now maybe I can find a little more time."

Roussell earned a bachelor of fine arts degree at Oklahoma State University, where a "really good teacher" helped him discover an affinity for three-dimensional work. In 1992, he earned a master's degree from Maryland Institute College of Art. In 2002, he was part of the International Young Art program, a series of exhibits and auctions for promising young artists from around the world.

He still works at the art institute in the facilities department and takes advantage of its resources for casting bronze and making other sculptures. Many of his pieces combine elements of human figures, such as hands or heads, with graceful abstract shapes.

Roussell said he will use his state award to buy supplies.

"I try to work as inexpensively as I can," he said, "but ... it's hard to get around the price of tools and everything else involved with hand-making sculpture."

Barr also understands the practical cost of being an artist.

"Photography is extremely expensive to produce," she said. "The award will basically help me to further expand my career and to expand the projects I already have in the works."

A longtime Columbia resident, Barr was involved in theater and art as a teen-ager and studied radio, television and film at University of Maryland, College Park. She drew on her visual and storytelling experience in the 1980s, when she was asked to take her first professional photographs for a Rouse Co. brochure.

Today, Barr is a full-time visual artist, exhibiting her work around the world, acting as curator for exhibits at the Artists' Gallery in Columbia and elsewhere and doing photo illustrations for publicity material.

"My work is whimsical, it's fun, adventuresome, creative," she said.

She likes to mix other media with her photography, such as textured paper and hand-coloring over black-and-white images.

Barr is launching a women's photography group that she hopes will expose the community to the diversity and creativity of the art.

The first exhibit, Reconsidering the Negative: Five Women Photographers on the Cutting Edge, will include work from women who create photography for advertising, portraits, journalism and commercial projects. It will be on display through March 31 at Borders bookstore in Columbia, with an artist's talk at 7 p.m. March 26.

"It is my way of bringing more to the forefront these women photographers working in the field," Barr said.

Ferguson also reaches out to other artists as a choreographer and teacher, as well as a dancer.

She started dancing when she was 4 to overcome shyness and never stopped.

Today, she is artistic director and president of Howard County Ballet; director and president of Aesthetics Dance School; a half-time instructor at Goucher College (where she has taught for 19 years); and an adjunct faculty member at Howard Community College.

"It's the movement and the expression through movement that I just love," she said.

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