Appreciating space to create

Exhibit: For 20 years, resident artists used Howard County's arts center

for the program's anniversary, their works are on display.

May 20, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

In a former Ellicott City classroom full of hundreds of vibrantly colored glass rods, canisters of powdery pigment and a propane torch, Alice St. Germain-Gray has found her artistic refuge.

The studio in the former school that is now the Howard County Center for the Arts "is just such a haven to me," said St. Germain-Gray, a glass-bead artist who has been in residence for a year and a half.

Some artists have been working at the center since it started offering space two decades ago, while others are relative newcomers. But as the residency program celebrates its 20th anniversary, they say they are thankful for affordable, dedicated space in which to create.

In honor of the program's milestone, the center is featuring 20 Years in Full View , an exhibit of work by its resident visual artists, through June 18 in its galleries. Representational and abstract paintings, pastels, collages, installation art and glass beads are part of the diverse display.

"One of the issues for the arts, of course, is affordable space," said Coleen West, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council, which operates the center.

She said the artists, who are admitted by a jury, pay $6.40 per square foot per year. They have 24-hour access and two-year renewable leases.

Artists say that Historic Savage Mill has studios, but is more retail-oriented and that Oella Mill in Baltimore County faces uncertainty over redevelopment. But the Center for the Arts is affordable and unusual in its willingness to let artists stay as long as they want (if they observe the provisions of their leases.)

The center has 14 individual resident artists and also houses the Eva Anderson Dancers, the National Quilting Association and Piano Perspectives School of Music. Other groups use space at the center on a regular basis for meetings, classes and events, and the building includes two galleries, a dance studio and a black-box theater.

As a result, West said, the center is a place to see all kinds of art being produced. "Certainly one of the reasons the program was started was to create this kind of vibrant community arts center," she said.

St. Germain-Gray, 32, of Woodstock, said she likes the center's dedication to the artists. "I can meet customers here," she said, "but there's not high pressure to create a retail environment."

She was hooked by her first bead-making workshop in 1995, she said, because "it was a way to play with color on a real intimate scale." Now she has her own studio at one end of a partitioned classroom and sells her beads at shows.

Joan Bevelaqua, 51, of Columbia, previously had studios at Savage Mill and Oella Mill and ran galleries at each one. She moved to the arts center a year and a half ago and calls its combination of public access and quiet work space "the best of both worlds."

Artists "love to sell our work," she said, "but we also need to produce our work."

Bevelaqua, who focuses on painting still-lifes - especially clothing - also teaches art at the University of Maryland University College. She said she enjoys the atmosphere at the center. "The artists have the support of each other, the respect of each other," she said.

Ann Aves Martin, a painter from Columbia, agrees.

"It's a wonderful community of people with all kinds of skills and knowledge," she said.

For Martin, 69, the reputation of the place preceded her application about two years ago. "I'd wanted to come here for a long time," she said. "It's the juried home of the super-artists."

The Howard County Center for the Arts is at 8510 High Ridge Road. Admission to the exhibit is free. Information: or 410-313-2787.

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