Social Justice and the Visual Arts

November 2nd, 2015 by GeVonna

Raised by parents who emigrated from Liberia, West Africa as foreign exchange students in 1978, Lendeh finds inspiration from her African heritage and explores themes of identity in landscape, portraiture and pattern design. She was compelled to initiate her most recent series of painted and printed portraits on silk in response to the public discourse surrounding the highly publicized Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin shootings. Below, Lendeh discusses social justice and activism through the visual arts and the origins of her current project, the “Pain Portrait Series”.

Lendeh Sherman:

Feeling enraged from the Trayvon Martin case and other high profile cases of police violence against unarmed African American men and women was really the starting point of several automatic drawings, a combination of portraits and textural marks.

Try On My Grief (Lesley McSpadden). Pigment Dye on Silk Crepe de Chine (16mm), Glass Beads, Thread. 2015.

Portraiture has always been a subject I enjoyed and I wanted to focus on the emotional turmoil of the parents because they are the ones left to suffer. More than capturing a likeness, the heavy toxic emotions they expressed is where I found my heart open and yet felt others completely closed.

“I wanted to create something that would totally confront you. I enjoy art that confronts social injustices because of the opportunity to engage in conversations on difficult issues with strangers where perceptions, opinions and beliefs can be challenged. I feel a sense of responsibility to focus on what disturbs me personally.”

I’ve had a mix of reactions to the Pain series. Most people are intrigued by the scale, materials, and are interested in the process. Quite a few people have mentioned feeling strong emotions from the images without even knowing the stories behind each portrait. I plan to continue working on the Pain portrait series as well as a series of portraits based on Ebola survivors which I have already started.

rise + fall: new works by Adjoa Burrowes and Lendeh Sherman” will remain on view through December 4th, 2015 at the Betty Mae Kramer Gallery.  Lendeh has worked in the field of graphic design and has exhibited her artwork in many galleries and festivals including the International African Arts Festival, Artdc Gallery at Lustine Center, the Embassy of Liberia in D.C., Artomatic, A.I.R. Gallery and FestAfrica. To view more of Lendeh’s work, visit

Transforming the Cardboard Box for “rise + fall”

October 30th, 2015 by GeVonna

Recently, mixed-media artist Adjoa Burrowes created an installation for the Kramer Gallery exhibition”rise + fall” composed of cardboard boxes and recycled paper-based  materials.  Below, Adjoa discusses her installation at Kramer Gallery and interest in working with repurposed materials.

Adjoa Burrowes:

In the past, my artistic practice consisted of primarily working in 2-D collage. My current work with cardboard boxes, however, was sparked by a cross media class I took at the Corcoran/GWU while working on my Masters. The professor encouraged us to experiment with a variety of media and to fully explore the true nature and meaning of materials. I was drawn to cardboard because it is so commonplace, yet the multiple layers consist of smooth and textured board that intrigued me, as well as the variety of natural tones inherent in the plain boxes.

“A box is basically a geometric shape with the ability to hold, house or conceal something – or not. Initially, my main concern was to transform these plain cardboard boxes into something else and at the same time draw attention to questions of our consumer habits and larger environmental issues.”

One aspect of my installation consist of large floor sculptures created from basic brown cardboard boxes that have been torn, twisted, folded and peeled to reveal multiple layers.My intent was to examine my consumer spending and draw attention to issues of consumerism and waste in western culture. Many questions came to mind as I worked on these pieces including: what do the items you value and consume on a regular basis say about who you are, the society you live in, and our culture? Also as an artist, how can I transform a fairly mundane object into something else?

Each of these brown artifacts was produced from a single cardboard box with the exception of one bright orange floor construction that was made from multiple shoe boxes. The colorful wall-hung sculptures were produced from primarily shoe boxes, either cut or torn into linear constructions. In many, several boxes were combined. Shadows play on the wall behind them. Many have a skeletal feel, reminiscent of an excavation. I tried to maintain the integrity of the object by refraining from using adhesives and fasteners as much as possible.

I worked as a packaging designer for large corporations across the country, including Mattel Toys, Campbell Soup and at one point even Barnum and Bailey Circus. I spent so many years designing detailed, elaborate packaging for a variety of foods and objects of play. I think it’s interesting that now I’m focusing on the opposite – the deconstruction of consumer packaging in my art practice.

rise + fall: new works by Adjoa Burrowes and Lendeh Sherman” will remain on view through December 4th, 2015 at the Betty Mae Kramer Gallery.

2015 Emerging Leader Award Winner Jason Loewith

October 22nd, 2015 by Amina

At this year’s County Executive’s Awards ceremony, Mr. Ike Leggett will present the 2015 Emerging Leader Award to Jason Loweith, Artistic Director of the Olney Theatre Center. A brilliant producer, director, playwright and dramaturg, Jason has directed the NNPN Rolling World Premiere of Steven Dietz’s Rancho Mirage, Avenue Q as well as the musicals Carousel and the Helen Hayes nominated How to Succeed in Business.  Below, Jason discusses his remarkable career and shares his vision for future of regional theater.

Reserve your ticket today and join us on October 26 at 7pm as we honor Jason and many others, at the 2015 Montgomery County Executive’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts in Humanities

Jason Loewith on joining Olney Theatre Center:

I’ve always been a storyteller – from the kid in the family who spins a shaggy-dog story to a young professional with inspiration, pen and paper.  Somewhere along the line I learned I could gather groups of likeminded souls to tell stories for whole communities of people:  one hundred, five hundred, even a thousand at a time.  And if I could do it with enough artfulness and emotional depth, I could share a glimmer of transcendence with those communities.

Producing, for me, is about getting the right creative minds in a room to tell a story, and then sharing it with the audience. So when Olney Theatre Center announced it was looking for a new Artistic Director, I was really intrigued.  I’d run a suburban theater company previously just outside Chicago, and was known in my little world as a bit of a turnaround expert when it came to institutions.  And Olney Theatre Center was in great need of a turnaround.  It was a perfect match of skills and interests and needs.

“Olney Theatre Center has the potential and the energy and the support base to become a mid-Atlantic destination for extraordinary theater performance and education.   We’re the second-largest job creator in Olney, and we’re a theater.”

One day soon, when theater-lovers from around the country plan a visit to the DC region, they’ll go online to check what’s playing at our theater.  And that doesn’t make us unique – each production is, of course, unique – but it makes us an essential part of the national theater fabric.  And on a local level, we become a true cultural center for our neighbors in Montgomery County – a place their children go for classes, their parents go for lectures, their friends go for dance concerts or films, and of course, they all come for theater.  We have the resources in Montgomery County to make it happen, and we have the audience here to make it happen.

Proudest Moments:

Watching audience members burst into tears, night after night, during the finale of A CHORUS LINE, the first show I produced at the theater.  Being thanked by our Master Electrician for bringing the amazing Helen Hayes award-winning play COLOSSAL to the company.  Getting told by artists that they want to work at Olney again, after a long time away, because of the changes we’re making.  But honestly the proudest moment I think was the first Thursday I signed payroll checks… nearly forty full-time staff members, sixteen apprentices, ten National Players, and dozens of part-timers and artists and craftspeople were relying on us for their livelihood, and thanks to our commitment were eking out a living in the arts in this country in the 21st century.

Celebrating National Arts & Humanities Month with Round Up for the Visual Arts!

October 1st, 2015 by Amina

October is National Arts and Humanities Month and we’re celebrating with an exciting initiative called Round Up for the Visual Arts! All month, when you shop at any of PLAZA Artist Materials store locations in Bethesda, Rockville, or Silver Spring you can donate the change from your purchase (or more) to AHCMC!  One hundred percent of the proceeds from this campaign will go to support our grants to individual artists. Last year, Round Up for the Visual Arts! helped Silver Spring-based printmaker Miriam Mörsel Nathan expand an incredible project visually documenting her family before World War II.  Below, Miriam discusses her work and shares how the funding has made a difference.

Miriam Mörsel Nathan:

“My parents came from the Czech Republic. My father was in the Dominican Republic during the war years, my mother joined him after the war and I was born there. My parents spoke Czech and German at home, we ate fried plantains as well as goulash and dumplings. I am a blend of cultures and histories and I tend to think my work has that sensibility– of being a combination, a juxtaposition of many elements that ultimately (and hopefully) become connected and integrated.

We all have a need to make sense of the fragments of our history.  I do this work because I feel it is an imperative to reclaim individuals lost to war and to provide an acknowledgement of lives lived. I have continued to expand a particular body of work for a number of years, the source material being pre-WW II photographs of family members. By transforming the photographs into works on paper and offering narrative, I bring these individuals forward, say their names, give them voice.

Uncle Josef's Wedding Prague 1941 © 2009 Miriam Mörsel Nathan

My process in creating this series has been predominantly through print making. In order to realize this next step of the project, I plan to work with Lily Press in Rockville. AHCMC and Plaza makes this possible through Round Up for the Visual Arts which will subvent studio and master printer fees as well as the cost of materials.

“It is extremely challenging to actualize a vision, to bring forward a project, without financial support. The award provides funding for me to continue to create a visual document of family members and their lives in Europe before and after World War II.”

Marton and Fredy © 2009 Miriam Mörsel Nathan

My vision for this next segment of work is to create a series of prints based on images of my first cousin, Hana, who was a child during the war. Although she did survive the war, for me she has become the bridge for life both before, during and after the war. The images I have of her include those as a child as well as a young woman. Working with her image expands the family archive and brings it closer to present day.

All images ©miriam mörsel nathan

Public Art as Intervention

August 19th, 2015 by Amina

With the development of the Public Art Roadmap and the recent announcement of our  NEA Our Town award, we’ve been having many thought-provoking conversations about public art, urban design and our role as a local arts agency in activating County spaces through creative placemaking and social engagement.

"The Silver Pass" Mural by Byron Peck

Montgomery County initiated the commissioning of public art in 1983 and since that time, this collection has grown to include more than 800 works that are embedded in the fabric of our community.  With the soon-to-be-released Public Art Roadmap, we will now have a tool that will allow us to evaluate exactly how, over the last thirty years, public art has articulated and reflected the County’s neighborhoods as well as help us determine which communities lack these cultural assets.

This project is very much connected to the amazing public art project we are spearheading in Wheaton. In our community convenings in Wheaton, we asked residents and other members of the arts community how could public art best support their neighborhoods.  We learned of the community’s hopes that our work would do more than just place a shiny object in their town center.  They described a host of pressing community issues, including the absence of the lack of performance and exhibition venues despite the abundance of vacant, underutilized spaces and a lack of interactive, socially engaging creative work in the community.  These conversations helped us quickly realize that a public art project similar to those historically commissioned in the County wouldn’t be appropriate.

"A Brushstroke of Discovery" by Narcissus Quagliata

The emerging interest in public art that engages communities and seeks to address social issues is a departure from what has traditionally comprised the public art commissioning process, but at AHCMC we’re not shy about stepping into new territory. We asked Matthew Mazzotta, a conceptual artist known for integrating community voice into his projects, to design a public art project for Wheaton.  Matthew traveled to Wheaton in May and over the course of a week, met with dozens of residents, artists, and policy makers who shared with him their reflections and vision for Wheaton.

Matthew (center) in May with community organizers in Downtown Wheaton

Since his visit, Matthew has spoken to us about how his experiences in Wheaton will inform his creative process and include considerations such as, “what kind of intervention will serve the community the best?” Matthew describes his work as “participatory public interventions”, noting that he hopes to trigger conversations and actions within the community where his work is sited that will help create solutions to real issues.  As a local arts agency approaching 40 years of supporting the arts and humanities in this community, we know that the arts and humanities have the power to create solutions to social and community issues, and that is exactly what we aspire to do in Wheaton.  With the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and Montgomery County we are truly excited about the next phase of this project and look forward to staying in touch!

To learn more about this project, contact us at

Working Together to Support Our Local Community & Economy

August 17th, 2015 by Suzan

The FY16 budget for the Arts and Humanities is approved, and in light of the many challenges facing our local economy we believe that this budget is a good one. We are pleased that rather than diminish funding for GOS, MSO, SOG, IAS, AIRSG and ASCG and AHCMC Administration as proposed by the County’s Emergency Savings Plan, that the County Council accepted our proposal to take $200,000 from the FY16 Matching Fund.

The County Council also voted to take $141,000 from the remaining FY16 CIG funds. Consequently, we will not accept any application for FY16 emergency capital improvement grant funds nor will we distribute matching funds in FY16.

The following FY16 amended AHCMC budget has been approved:

  • Operating Support Grants – $3,004,852
  • Small/Midsize Orgs & Individual Artists and Scholars – $698,883
  • Advancement Grants – $250,050
  • Arts and Humanities Matching Fund – $0
  • Wheaton A&E District – $90,000
  • Administration – $429,830

Total AHCMC FY16 NDA – $4,473,615

  • Public Arts Trust – $140,000
  • Capital Improvement Grants – $1,000,000

Thank you for your support of our Savings Plan proposal and for all of your great work on behalf of the arts and humanities in Montgomery County; we sincerely appreciate YOU!


FY16 Arts and Humanities Budget Approved

June 9th, 2015 by Suzan

It’s official!  On May 21, Montgomery County Council approved over $5.8 million dollars in funding for arts and humanities in Montgomery County in the FY16 County Budget on May 21, 2015. The total allocation of $5,813,615, a 4% increase over funding for the arts and humanities in Montgomery County’s FY15’s budget, includes $698,883 in support for Small, Mid-Sized organizations and Individual Artists and Scholars, as well as over $3 Million dollars in General Operating Support to help fund the County’s largest arts and humanities institutions.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Operating Support Grants – $3,004,852
  • Small/Midsize Orgs & Individual Artists and Scholars – $698,883
  • Advancement Grants – $250,050
  • Arts and Humanities Matching Fund – $200,000
  • Public Arts Trust – $140,000
  • Wheaton A&E District – $90,000
  • Administration – $429,830
Total AHCMC FY16 appropriation (in all categories) $4,813,615. Funding notifications for Operating Support Grants will be sent by June 30, 2015.

Additionally, FY16 Capital Improvement Grants have been approved and are as follows:
  • American Dance Institute – $70,081
  • Montgomery Community Television, Inc. – $119,181
  • Round House Theatre, Inc. – $155,572
  • Sandy Spring Museum, Inc. – $30,170
  • The Writer’s Center, Inc. – $250,000
Total FY16 Capital Improvement Grants awarded:  $625,004
Capital Improvement Grants are awarded and contracted directly through Montgomery County Government. Should you have question or concerns regarding your contract, please contact Beryl Feinberg at or by calling 240-777-6022. Also, when your project is completed please let us know; I am certain AHCMC staff and County legislators would like to attend your ribbon cutting, if possible.

There are $141,000 in FY16 Capital Improvement Grant funds remaining available for emergency needs. Should you have an emergency Capital Improvement Grant Request, please contact our grants department by emailing Any request for emergency funding will go through an ad hoc panel process to provide recommendations to the AHCMC Board and County Executive prior to approval by the County Council.
As with all Montgomery County based grants, please make certain to send letters of appreciation to all Councilmembers; their email addresses may be found by clicking here; Congratulations to us all – wishing you All the Best in FY16!

Public Art in Montgomery County: What’s Next?

May 13th, 2015 by ToddBressi

Todd Bressi, Public Art and Place/Urban Planning expert  is working with the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County to develop the “Public Art Road Map”.  Read below for his thoughts on how this tool will help integrate public art into future development and urban planning strategies:

Chances are, you’ve seen one of the hundreds of public artworks in Montgomery County during your daily travels — perhaps at a school, a library or a park; perhaps in an urban space in Bethesda, Rockville or Silver Spring. Chances are there is a public artwork somewhere that has become a treasured part of your day because it brings a smile to your face, triggers a memory or simply lets you know where you are.

Montgomery County residents can enjoy hundreds of sculptures, murals, glassworks and other public art — commissioned over the years by the County, the cities of Gaithersburg and Rockville, and private developers — that are now woven into the fabric of the community.

Now, for the first time, the County is developing a “roadmap” for what kinds of artworks should be commissioned next, and it is asking for input from people who live or work in the County. As the County continues to grow in population, cultural diversity and economic vitality, public are will be an increasingly important part of the mix.

The Roadmap, a project of the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, and the Public Art Trust, is asking an essential question: What new public art projects would be of the most benefit to people in Montgomery County today?

Looking around the world, there are exciting new models for public art that have emerged in recent years. Some examples of these can already be seen in Montgomery County, and the Roadmap will consider whether there are opportunities for creating more:

  • Placemaking projects, such as the Silver Creek fountain in Silver Spring, Darnestown Heritage Park or the Public Safety Memorial at the police headquarters building, create environments for social gathering, celebration, reflection and other activities.
  • Artist-designed pedestrian, bicycle and transit facilities, such as pedestrian bridges, bike racks and transit shelters, enhance ordinary infrastructure.
  • Social projects focus on community issues and identity. Just recently, AHCMC organized an Outdoor Living Room with artist Matthew Mazzotta to stimulate thinking about creative placemaking in the Wheaton Arts and Culture District
  • Environmental artists are developing projects that connect people with stormwater, weather, flora and fauna in new and engaging ways.
  • Temporary artworks are activating urban spaces for short periods of time.

The Roadmap will also examine areas of the County that could benefit most from new public art projects.

  • Are there areas where there are fewer public art projects, relative to population? Wheaton, East County and “second-ring” residential neighborhoods just outside the Beltway might deserve a closer look.
  • Can public art ideas and projects be seeded during comprehensive land-use planning process, and implemented as capital projects and private development occur?
  • Are there collaborations that can help support the mission and priorities of other County agencies and cultural initiatives, such M-NCPPC’s focus on small urban parks, or the County’s three Arts and Entertainment Districts?

We hope you will lend your voice to the conversation. How can public art impact the future of Montgomery County? What types of projects would be most beneficial? Take the Montgomery County Public Art Survey to give us your direct feedback.

Public Art as a Catalyst for Community Engagement

May 13th, 2015 by Michele

Michele Cohen, Ph.D is an public art expert who has been working with AHCMC and the Montgomery County Public Art Trust to manage the commissioning and conservation of the County’s broad collection of outdoor sculpture and two-dimensional works.  Below, she blogs about our most recent public art initiative: The Wheaton Outdoor Living Room:

In tune with contemporary public art trends which emphasize social engagement, the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County recently launched an innovative public art initiative in Wheaton’s Arts & Entertainment District (AED).  MIT-trained public artist Matthew Mazzotta, widely known  for his award winning project “Open House“, visited Wheaton and met with residents, business owners, and elected officials over the course of a week to gain a sense of Wheaton’s past, present, and future – from the community’s perspective.

At the end of his visit, Matthew staged an “Outdoor Living Room” in the middle of  Wheaton Veteran’s Park, located in the convergence of Downtown, the Wheaton AED and Central Business District.  The sight of rugs, sofas, and lamps in the middle of this public space helped spark an incredible dialogue about public art amongst a diverse cross section of community members.

Matthew’s projects grow from the inside out; not only do they provide visual interest, they act as sounding boards and community catalysts.

Before Matthew’s arrival, we collected ideas and feedback from Wheaton residents and policy-makers about how our new “Wheaton Cultural Grants” funding opportunity could help support local creative placemaking activities and promote Wheaton’s relatively young Arts & Entertainment District.  We held several charrettes to hear directly from residents how they envisioned the arts and humanities playing a transformative role in their community.  What we learned was that Wheaton’s cultural and creative community wanted more places to display expressions of culture that embodied the spirit and diversity of their community and that would have the potential to transform Wheaton into a cultural and creative destination.

These outreach and research activities culminated in Matthew’s “Outdoor Living Room” which was an inspiring convening of community members truly invested in Wheaton’s future.  Matthew is developing a proposal for a public art design informed by his observations and the feedback he received.  We all look forward to seeing the next stages of this incredible project take shape!

AHCMC Welcomes Nabil Ghachem

April 3rd, 2015 by Joe

Nabil Ghachem, a grants manager with an impressive background in theatre and arts education, recently joined our staff as our new Grants Program Officer.  Below, Nabil discusses his new  role at the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County, his international career in grants management, and more.

I was born and raised in Tunisia, a tiny country on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa lodged between Libya and Algeria. I grew up in a neighborhood where a mosque, a church and a synagogue were established only a few blocks from one another. This incredible diversity along with my family’s multi-cultural lineage had a huge influence on what would become a bit of a globetrotting career.

After high school in Tunisia, I was accepted into university in Brussels, Belgium, where I earned an accounting degree and was able to visit almost all of Europe.

In Brussels, I worked at the Arab Cultural Center, writing operating grants, producing international music and theatre festivals, and locating city and state project funding and office space. There, I developed a passion for theatre and enrolled in the Brussels Theatre Academy training program.

I participated in several theater residencies with Yoshi Oida, the GITIS Moscow School of Theatre, and the NO Japanese Theatre and led an immigrant theater group to win the Brussels Capital Theatre Tournament with Dario Fo’s Not to Pay.  Together, we developed arts education programs, short films, and documentaries that dealt with youth, education, and social issues. Following Brussels, I spent two fabulous years in New York  translating and directing Algerian author and poet, Hawa Djabali’s, The Cry of Desire for the Lincoln Center Theatre Director’s Lab, and Athos Fugard’s, Master Harold, and The Boys.

My work in grants management began in Santa Cruz, CA where I managed the County Arts Council’s Grants Program from 2002 until 2012. During my tenure, we completely re-structured the program by implementing new funding criteria, panel processes, and evaluation mechanisms, while initiating collaborations with the private sector and education institutions. We moved the grant making process online, expanded the technical assistance program, strengthened grantees’ managerial capacities, increased access to funding opportunities, and facilitated numerous forums, including the Bay Area Funders’ Forum.  I also had the privilege to launch the Santa Cruz County Poet Laureate program.

We were able to maintain a strong grants program thanks to the support from local city and county council members, local and regional foundations, state and federal support systems, and most of all thanks to a community who was involved in and advocated for the arts as a tool to enrich people’s lives, emotionally, intellectually and economically.

I think we were able to instill a model for collaboration and mutual support that I already see in effect here. As I learn more about Montgomery County’s arts and humanities landscape, I hope to have a chance to meet and work with the exceptional individuals, small, mid-size, and large organizations that contribute to advancing the creative economy in this region.

Nabil brings accounting know-how, extensive grantmaking experience, and a background as creative and cultural producer to this role.  We could not be more excited to welcome him to the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County.  To learn more about Nabil, check out his bio and send him a note of welcome at!