Annmarie Gardens Finds Socially Distanced Ways To Enjoy Art and Nature

Written By: Annilee Hampton

Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center, a gallery located in Solomons, Maryland, has not let the COVID-19 pandemic deter them from spreading appreciation of art and nature. Rather than cancel events, they have found new ways to let the events continue while still adhering to safety protocols. 

ArtsWalk, a COVID-19 safe reimagining of the annual ArtFest event, was held on Sept. 19 and 20 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The gallery has held the juried arts festival annually since 1993, featuring artists demonstrating their craft and selling their wares, entertainment from local performing artists, and a myriad of family activities for all ages to enjoy. ArtFest is one of the gallery’s biggest events, drawing many artists together from around the country. However, in order for the event to take place in 2020, they had to think outside the box.

Another event, the annual Insectival, was key in planning the new ArtsWalk. The Insectival, an “insect festival” in which children of all ages can learn more about insects and nature, is traditionally held indoors, but this year was spread out across the gallery’s 30thirty acre site. Annmarie Garden development director Pam Shilling said the event was “extremely successful”. This led to the reimagined ArtsWalk. The event is typically held solely in the gallery’s parking lot. However, in adherence to social distancing protocols, artist booths were spread across the grounds, in parking lots, woods, and all along paths — all in accordance with social distancing protocols. 

Distancing was notn’t the only protocol the gallery strictly adhered to. Masks were required to enter the event, shop artist booths, and enjoy activities. Hand washing and hand sanitizer stations were dispersed throughout the grounds. Most notably, tickets ran on a timed entry system. Guests reserved their tickets in advance and were allowed to enter the event during the times listed on their ticket. Each time slot had a guest limit in order to prevent large crowds. In addition to physical artist booths, this year introduced virtual artist booths, with customers being directed to the artists’ websites through signs posted throughout the event. All artists, whether their booths were physical or digital, were in the running for a series of awards. This year, the “Best in Show” award was presented to Devin Mack, the “Best New Artist” award was presented to Robert Wertz, the “Best Demonstration” award was presented to Eddie Maier, and the “Spirit Award” was presented to Janette Ashworth. 

Due to the pandemic, some normally congested areas had to be eliminated, as well as the omission of the children’s tent and main music tent. In addition, the event attracted a much smaller number of artists and volunteers than in the past. “Of course [I thought about not attending], I think everybody thinks about whether they should do it or not, because it’s a serious thing,” said driftwood artist and jewelry maker Anja Zander. “My income dropped significantly, and I think that is not only true for myself but for many other artists and also art institutions like our local galleries. Most of us struggle for our survival as businesses and are very grateful for all the support we get.”

Despite certain hurdles, the event was overall a success — so much so that the gallery has already scheduled another event, Halloween in the Garden, for Oct. 24th from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. The event is envisioned as “a socially-distanced, low-touch/no-touch day of Halloween fun and games,”, and will be using the same spread-out format and ticketing system as Insectival and ArtsWalk. The event’s prime goal is to create a fun, yet safe experience for families. 

“COVID is awful and has impacted all of our lives and taken all of the lives of so many, but what can we do to find some joy in the midst of all this and share that joy with our community,” said Annmarie Garden director Stacey Hann-Ruff. “We need these outlets and the arts are uplifting and are transformative and exactly what we need in the middle of a crisis.”

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