Updated: Nov 19
written by Kendra Smith
I had the pleasure not long ago of chatting with Bea Poulin, fine art photographer, artists co-op member, gallery director, and one of the founders of the Muddy Creek Artists Guild. Bea has a wealth of knowledge and experience with the art scene here in Anne Arundel County and, most recently, St. Mary’s County. She earned an undergraduate degree in Art, a Master’s degree in nonprofit administration, and ran local government programs prior to giving full-time commitment to her artwork and the North End Gallery in Leonardtown, Maryland. Bea shared MCAG history with me, as well as her ideas about what makes an art guild successful. I’ve done my best to capture Bea’s accounting below. I hope you find her stories as interesting as I did.
The year was 2009 and Bea had been back into what she calls her “art brain” for some time at that point, having earlier set aside art after college as her life became filled with family and career. As an employee of Anne Arundel County, Bea was quite familiar with the ever-growing presence of galleries and artists in and around Annapolis. Just a year earlier, in 2008, the Art in Public Places Commission had designated a portion of the city dense with galleries as the Annapolis Arts District and funded ArtWalk, a project intended to turn the streetscape into a visual gallery of large original works. Opportunities were popping up for artists of various mediums, with the city at the focal center. Annapolis’s identity as a cultural center notwithstanding, artists in lesser populated areas of the county were left looking for outlets closer to home and more suited to their local needs. Drawing on what she saw on the job and as an artist, Bea was acutely aware of the paucity of art venues below the South River.
Turns out, Bea was not the only South County resident seeking a means to share her artwork. Through her connections with other photographers, she heard similar stories, confirming that artists in South County were thirsty for opportunities to present their work to the public. One of those artists was Joanne Riley, a friend and fellow photographer with whom Bea had done shows at Discovery Village in Shady Side. They agreed that a consistent flow of weekend shows periodically throughout the year might create that opportunity they otherwise lacked. The two women began floating the idea with other local artists and were emboldened by the positive response. Soon Bea had 5 or 6 like-minded artists in her living room tossing out ideas and drawing up the beginnings of a business plan, her administration degree coming in handy. As Bea recalls, “We were all still working in full time jobs but also feeling explosively creative.”
This small group quickly had their ideas down on paper. Why not create their own gallery by renting a space for occasional weekends to house the show? Like a spark to a wildfire, their excitement and enthusiasm spread quickly. But first, recognizing a small number of artists would be hard pressed to sustain this model alone, Bea suggested forming an organization of artists. They scheduled a meeting for the nascent guild and put out a call in The Bay Weekly for any interested South County artists to attend. About 30 in all showed up at that first meeting. Again, enthusiasm, commitment, and volunteerism reigned, with each person agreeing to contribute a small sum to establish the guild and support it during the first year. Potential names for the new group were bandied about, with “Muddy Creek Artists Guild” winning the group’s approval. One illustrator designed a logo for the guild and the husband of another artist drew up the paperwork establishing a corporation. Now they needed to locate a rental space.
Though they didn’t use the term “pop-up” show, the Guild members envisioned a gallery that would appear at predictable intervals and various locations as if out of thin air and then disappear in similar fashion. It was important, they agreed, that the show be set up like a true art gallery—not a flea market or garage sale. They wanted professional displays for the art, food, wine, music, and a reception. Keeping this in mind and looking for a suitable venue, Bea, with her County connections, contacted the community hall in Galesville. Even though the Guild was prepared to pay for use of the space, the Galesville community generously offered it free of charge for that first show. Elsie Whitman, Laura Dixon, and Roxanne Weidele, all of the River Gallery at that time, were instrumental in assisting the group in figuring out the show’s gallery aspect. A small group of volunteers gathered in Galesville to build display panels—still in use today, by the way.Others went to work on publicizing the show, which they titled, “Artists on the Half Shell.” The vision was coming together through the collective efforts of many volunteers.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my conversation with Bea Poulin in the next MCAG blog. In the meantime, please share your thoughts about the story by scrolling down and adding to the Comments section below.