Artists Promote 'Creative Economy'

Artists Promote 'Creative Economy'

Just how artsy is Great Falls? According to Great Falls Studios, a civic group of 73 artists who live or work in Great Falls, the answer is “very artsy and getting more so all the time.”

More than 1 percent of the households in the village are now home to a working painter, sculptor, potter, jewelry designer, quilter, photographer or other artist, the group says, based on new data from its growing membership.

Great Falls Studios was started in 2003 as a loose affiliation of a handful of artists interested in providing each other moral support and making their work better known. By 2005 it had grown to 33 artists. This jumped to 44 in 2006, and 73 today.

As the group grew, its mission and programs expanded as well. Initially, it sponsored art shows and sales and an annual tour of home studios, but it gradually grew into a community service organization, stressing art education and building on the notion that quality of life improves in places where art flourishes.

“Our membership has just passed that magic one percent mark of the 6,200 Great Falls households,” said Laura Nichols, a potter who serves as president and founder of the group. “As our network of local artists has expanded, we have become much more active in the community. We still represent the interest of the artists, but increasingly we have become a force for making the visual arts central to life in Great Falls.”

Most of the artists in the group exhibit and sell their work. Some are represented in galleries in the Washington D.C. area and beyond, or show their creative output in juried shows throughout the region. Members have taught art in places ranging from the Corcoran School of Art to Sidwell Friends School. For some, art is a full-time occupation. For others, it is a fulfilling avocation, with the group providing encouragement and support.

“As part of our mission, we have worked hard to make Great Falls known as a destination place to see and buy fine art created locally,” said Jill Banks, a painter who helps to coordinate exhibits sponsored by Great Falls Studios. “I am constantly amazed at the quality of work created right here. It’s a great resource for the people of Great Falls and throughout the area.”

As part of its community mission, Great Falls Studios has been particularly successful in addressing a problem facing artists throughout Fairfax County: a shortage of affordable studio workspaces. The group rented a space with dormer windows above the Silk Purse store in the Village Center and leased out individual work areas to seven local artists. This working studio and gallery is called the Artists’ Atelier. Two months ago, Great Falls Studios arranged to knock out one wall to expand the space. The enlarged Atelier now serves 11 artists and is open to the public whenever an artist is working.

Long term, the group hopes to establish a permanent center for the arts in Great Falls. This community facility might include room for art education, a gallery and expanded studio space for working artists — possibly even an art museum.

“We are devoted to what has become known as ‘the creative economy,’” said Jonathan Fisher, a wood sculptor in the group. “This doesn’t just mean generating dollars from art. It means creating an atmosphere where people, especially kids, look at problems creatively and solve them differently. We’re not a manufacturing economy anymore. We’re an economy of computer programmers, inventors, chefs, small business people and others where the key to success is inventiveness and creative thinking.”

Artists interested in taking part or joining Great Falls Studios can find out more about the group on its Web site: Membership is $50 a year. Those interested can also write to the group at 438 River Bend Road, Great Falls VA 22066. Or phone Laura Nichols at 703-901-7002.