Updated: Nov 19
written by Kendra Smith
In the last blog, I shared the first part of a delightful and informative conversation I had with Bea Poulin, the founding president of Muddy Creek Artists Guild. (If you missed that post, you might want to catch up by reading it first. You can find it here.) In Part 2, we pick up where I left off with the newly-formed Guild completing their first art show in 2009.
By all accounts, that first show was a tremendous success, drawing in scores of people interested in fine art and exceeding the predictions for sales. The Guild members were thrilled.
With one in the win column, the Guild continued to plan and host more shows in 2009. The commercial real estate scene in South County at that time was struggling, creating abundant rental spaces that the Guild could once again magically transform into a weekend gallery space. The second show, “A Harvest of Artists,” was held in the building formerly occupied by Blockbusters in Deale. Visitors remarked on how exciting it was to see good art without having to drive into DC or Annapolis. December 2009 saw the first “Gifts from the Arts” show, a popular one that has continued every year since (excluding the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, of course). Over the years, venues have included community halls, storefronts, a Greenstreet Gardens greenhouse, Captain Avery Museum, Honey Harvest Farm, and Homestead Gardens, just to name a few.
Throughout that first year, the Guild spread the word about what it was doing and encouraged more artists to join their membership. Lo and behold, artists came out of the woodwork. As the second year began, the membership had more than doubled to 60 or 70 artists across a variety of mediums.
As with any new organization, there were rough spots the Guild faced in those early years. Opinions differed, and communication among members was not always consistent, especially as its numbers grew. Bea recalls one of the challenges centered on the practice of jurying in new members. Admittedly, it is hard to jury your peer group, particularly when they are often also your neighbors. The Guild stood behind its criteria, though, that membership be offered only to those who are actively engaged in creating art, not craft, and live or work in South County. This was based not in value judgment, but rather a desire to preserves the Guild’s mission and protect it from trying to be all things to all people. Bea emphasized that no one was turned away because they were new to their art—a policy that lives on today. In fact, many of the original members were only recently discovering their talents. The focus was (and is) on nurturing those across many mediums who were growing their art and striving to be fine artists.
Bea served as the Guild’s first president. During her tenure in that capacity, Bea was repeatedly able to call on her training in management to keep the Guild forward focused. She organized a two-day retreat every other year in which the members would review activities from the previous period, identify where they wanted the Guild to be 3-5 years down the road, and develop a plan for how to get there. She conveyed to the membership the value in identifying strengths and opportunities, along with weaknesses and threats. At these retreats, members also took time to make art and eat together, helping to grow new bonds and strengthen existing ones between members. The very first retreat was held at the sailing school in Galesville early in 2010. On the second day, it started to snow, covering the landscape with a glorious white blanket. A day remembered by all who attended.
As a wholly volunteer organization, the Guild has relied on the talents of its membership to get things done. Everyone who comes and goes contributes in some way. For example, Steve Schulman lobbied for the addition of the studio tour and Janet Goldberg, treasurer during Bea’s tenure, brought the idea of DoART to the membership. Both endeavors were quickly adopted and recognized as a means to engage community residents in the making of art. One of the first DoARTs was held at the Captain Avery Museum. A huge canvas was laid out, with paint and brushes provided by the Guild. Participants were instructed to paint whatever they wanted. Bea recalls the organically created piece was quite amazing.
After serving 6 years as president, Bea stepped down to encourage new blood to address marketing and infrastructure growth. Jennifer Heinz came in as the Guild’s second president. With a good head for policy, Jennifer spearheaded the development of the Guild’s bylaws and got the accounts organized. When Mike Dennis, with a construction management background, became president, he was able to help members understand the approach to working up a show. Subsequent leaders have left their unique mark on the Guild’s growth and development.
The Guild has continued to thrive from 2009 to the present, holding three art shows and a studio tour each year in various locales around South County. Bea estimates that these events have brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in artwork sales. Bea feels you can’t put a price tag, though, on the tremendous value MCAG has had in South County by filling a cultural need for art. “Art is essential; whether you sell it or not, having a place where people can experience it is of utmost importance,” Bea asserted. The Guild embraces this philosophy, through its shows, community events like DoART, and the Art Education Fund, which provides funds to local students studying art.
MCAG activities have nurtured the development of countless artist members along the way. Some have felt empowered enough by their Guild experience that they went on to exhibit in larger venues, have solo shows, and even start their own art-related businesses. Asked what advice she might give to artists considering guild membership, Bea’s reply was threefold. First, even though having your work judged can feel intimidating, embrace it and you’ll learn a great deal. Next, be open to trying new things and experimenting with process and medium. Don’t get stuck in an artistic rut. Finally, share with your fellow guild members; it’s the comradery and common purpose that maintains the strength of any guild and reaps you, the individual, the most reward.
Bea had a few words of advice for the Guild, too. Keeping everyone on the same page is hard in a large group, but resist the temptation to have only a small number of members doing the bulk of the work. Leaders need to be continuously mining talent within the membership in order to keep the organization healthy. Make it a goal to keep members engaged and coming back. Add art play to meetings; the bonding that happens is an investment in the Guild’s future. Cap the membership at a number that ensures artists get the attention they need, and take care not to over represent one medium over another. Last but not least, (and this is a big one but totally do-able according to Bea), consider investing in a permanent brick and mortar gallery space.
Where’s Bea now? Well, after retiring from her county position, she moved south to St. Mary’s County and pursued her art full time. She joined the North End Gallery, a 37-year-old artists cooperative with a permanent storefront gallery in Leonardtown. Her artwork can be found displayed there and on her website at beapoulinart.com. Bea continues to contribute her managerial talents to North End, currently serving as the gallery director.
We welcome your comments on this story and any memories you may want to share about the early history of the Muddy Creek Artists Guild. Post comments below by scrolling to the section below.