This article was first published by The Town Courier.
Jaree Donnelly and Tony Glander were among the first to work at the newly renovated circa-1900 Arts Barn when it opened as part of the City of Gaithersburg’s cultural arts campus in 2002. The two long-term artists-in-residence offered their respective retrospectives of the facility’s galleries, studios, theater and programming, and how the experience has affected them personally and professionally.
Donnelly, who shares her Arts Entwine studio with her artist husband Jack, started out as one of two front-desk staffers who “helped get everything set up. It was really fun and exciting to be part of that … Everything was new and the possibilities wide open.”
She recalled that “the first performances were sometimes so tiny, the performers would set up chairs on stage, so the patrons would enjoy an even more intimate performance. We held camps backstage and classes were in the resident studios. One studio had a shop, and we featured the work of local artists.”
Since those earliest days, Donnelly said, “as the word spread and the arts evolved, we have grown and adapted to the needs and desires of the community. We are so happy to have broader–and bigger–audiences for theater; we have added wonderful concerts and family programming, we are able to rent the studios and theater, and we have two teaching studios, which has allowed us to have a fantastic arts education curriculum for all ages. The shop has moved into the gallery, where we still feature the work of a variety of 2- and 3-D artists, but we have a regional reach now.”
The community’s input has been key. “We are not afraid of change; we are constantly seeking feedback from the community, so that we can be the center for the arts that they envision,” observed Donnelly, who also sits on the boards of the Kentlands Community Foundation and Gaithersburg Arts and Monument Funding Corporation where she “helps ensure that the arts remain strong and continue to grow in our community.”.
Back in 2002, Donnelly had given up her “work as a federal contractor to pursue a career in the arts, which was my true love.” In the intervening years, she has worked “in so many different capacities (teaching artist and education program leader) at the Arts Barn … which has really been a gift in my own growth as an artist and an advocate for the arts.”
From Donnelly’s point of view, the Arts Barn’s most important role “is to be a year-round source for the arts, both performing and visual. We want to be one of the first places people look at when they think about theater, music, visual art or arts education. There are wonderful opportunities downtown certainly, but you don’t have to go that far … We are right around the corner! We want Gaithersburg to be known for the arts.”
Glander was one of the five original artists selected for residential studios for the Arts Barn. Opening Fitzpatrick Glass there was the start “of a new stage in his business,” he said, noting that he had just closed his stained-glass retail store in Olde Towne Gaithersburg,” which involved “a lot of marketing and a lot of attention to sales and helping people. The new phase was more on commission work and teaching.”
The Arts Barn’s “simple mission,” said Glander “is to bring art to the community.” And via “a lot of hard work by City staff, the programs are gathering steam.” One factor is that the programming appeals to a wide range of ages; for example, the theater’s intimacy, he noted, allows “kids to see theater up close and adults to get to know the performers.”
“Little did I know,” Glander added, “the full mission was to also bring out the artists from the community. Last month, there was incredible artwork from a Gaithersburg police officer in the gallery space. And over the years, the Barn has teamed up with a number of different local theater groups, so when you come to see a performance, you may know someone on stage!”
The facility’s “ingenious” design, Glander noted, affords parity to visual and performance arts: “You have to pass through the visual art on the first floor to get to the performance art on the second floor.”
His Arts Barn studio has allowed Glander to “teach kids workshops …The kids teach me how to ‘let go’ and look, especially at designing, in a whole new light! Their willingness to experiment has infected me. Adults have a similar impact, but it’s more along the line of discovery and excitement of learning something new.”
The Arts Barn ambiance has had a profound impact on this glass artist. “Working around other artists in different mediums and a hard-working staff dedicated to the arts has inspired me in many ways,” he said.
Still, Glander is certain that the Arts Barn’s most important role is “proving how valuable art–all art–is to the heart and soul of its community.”
Arts on the Green presents an Anniversary Celebration kickoff from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, at the Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg. Activities will include music by Pritchard Music Academy, demonstrations by resident artists Tony Glander and Jack and Jaree Donnelly, an exhibit of historical photographs, and remarks and a proclamation by the Mayor and City Council. Refreshments, an anniversary cake and a cash bar will be available. Admission is free. Wear the number 15 in honor of this milestone year for a chance to win a prize. Call 301.258.6394 or visit www.gaithersburgmd.gov. View the Arts Barn and its upcoming events on CultureSpotMC here.