Nancy Abeles first learned about Artomatic by word of mouth; that was back in 2000, the second time the free arts spectacular took place in the Washington metro area. Through the years, as various locations in and around D.C. accommodated the unique event in its empty spaces, the Bethesda painter’s involvement escalated from awed visitor to participating artist to co-chairing a children’s activity committee and various other administrative capacities.
This year, Abeles is taking part both as an artist showing her representational statement work and as co-chair of marketing and communications for the first-ever Artomatic to be held in Montgomery County. Thousands of visitors are expected to attend the exhibition that will be open Thursday through Sunday from Nov. 3 to Dec. 9 on two otherwise unoccupied floors of an office building in the Park Potomac development. The 45,000 square feet of display space will accommodate between 350 and 400 multimedia visual artists as well as musical, theater and dance performers.
To take part, an artist pays a nominal fee that covers a portion of the basic costs—electricity, security and trash removal. In addition, each participant volunteers a minimum of 15 hours to assist in preparing the space and running the show.
Among the show’s distinctions is that it is not juried. Anyone can present their work at Artomatic, a nonprofit, all-volunteer-run organization chaired by George Koch, a D.C.-based painter, arts activist and founder of the artist’s service organization A. Salon, Ltd. “Since 1970, I have been engaged in the issues of work and presentation space for myself and fellow artists,” he said. Koch attributes the existence of Artomatic to “the offer (in 1999) to use the historic Manhattan Laundry on Florida Avenue that presented local visual artists the challenge to utilize a 90,000-square foot space. That coming together provided the experience and opportunity to mold the concept.”
Prior to 1999, Koch said, “no prototypes (existed) for a temporary open environment effort that partnered with property owners that was free to the public and managed and operated by volunteers, which also focused on building community among artists and building an audience for artists.” Now, 17 years later, he observed, “The platform it has provided for artists to be seen, to be heard and to be experience has proven to be a viable model for development of an artist’s experience with the public and fellow artists.” In fact, Artomatic “is licensing other artists’ communities to create their own Artomatic events,” he said, citing groups in Frederick and Jefferson County, W.Va. Similarly, the events have grown in scale–to as much as 400,000-square feet of display space, and thus, even more artist participants.
For Abeles, Artomatic is a perfect fit. “With a professional creative background oriented to deadlines, plus a stint as a nonprofit theater production manager, creative ventures like Artomatic, of a ‘can-we-pull-it off-in-time’ collaborative nature, are deeply ingrained in me–and I enjoy their challenge,” she said. “[Its] scale, intensity and experimental ‘test the artistic waters’ nature still makes it the most exciting and spontaneous art event I have ever experienced in this region.”
Based on having been tasked with evaluating “the organizational effectiveness of Maryland State Arts Council Operating Grant applicant organizations” in the past, Abeles feels qualified to call Artomatic a singular arts nonprofit organization. “Though everyone is a volunteer under very trying circumstances, their dedication, cooperation and hard work is astoundingly professional and effective,” she said. “But the best part of Artomatic is that you become colleagues and friends with like-minded people from all demographics and parts of the region.”
Abeles advises visitors to approach Artomatic: “with a sense of wonder, adventure and fun. Artomatic is where each individual artist can be themselves and present themselves as they wish.” In stark contrast, she noted that the traditional art market is a “strange place where art is homogenized, commercialized, commoditized, by ‘branded’ artists directed by external influences to appeal to a certain clientele, or, regardless of inherent quality, where artwork becomes a status emblem for financial investment that rarely remunerates the artist or is accessible to the public.”
Artomatic has significant advantages. “Because there are all kinds of artists at Artomatic and they curate themselves, visitors can see surprising and unusual art,” Abeles said. “Artomatic’s additional mission is to create community among artists and between that community and the greater community. Artomatic offers visitors opportunities to participate, interact and learn.
“It must be that Artomatic is a response to mutual artist-audience needs for the kind of community interactions that our hectic, technology-driven world hampers. At Artomatic, visitors can get inspired and get in touch with the artist within themselves.
Koch’s counsel for visitors is more succinct: “Come and see if you can find something that you find interesting without someone telling you what to like.”
Artomatic 2016 will be held Nov. 3 to Dec. 9—Thursdays (except Thanksgiving Day), noon to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, noon to midnight, and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.—on floors 5 and 6 of 12435 Park Potomac Ave., Potomac. Admission is free, but an adult must accompany those younger than 18. For information, visit www.artomatic.org or view this event on CultureSpotMC here.