Cecil County Q & A: Annmarie Hamilton, Executive Director of the Cecil County Arts Council
Oct 28, 2015 02:49PM
● By Richard Gaw
On East Main Street in Elkton, it is almost impossible not to notice the Cecil County Arts Council building now. Just recently, Executive Director Annmarie Hamilton had a multi-colored sculpture of an elk installed on the front yard of the property.
The installation is just one part of the incredible – and expanding – presence the Council continues to make throughout Cecil County, from gallery shows to art classes to open studio tours and opportunities for children. Recently, Cecil County Life sat down with Annmarie to hear about the continuing goals of the Council, during which she also spoke about her favorite artists, and who she would like to have seated at her dinner party table.
Cecil County Life: As we gear up for the winter season, what can the readers of Cecil County Life expect to see coming out of the offices of the Cecil County Arts Council over the next few months?
Hamilton: Our next and most important event will be our annual silent auction and gala on Nov. 13 at Schaefer's Canal House in Chesapeake City. That is a giant event for us. We sold out last year, and we had bids on more than 70 auction bundles. It was the first time we didn't bring anything back. In December, for the first time ever, we're having an opening. The theme is "Simply Styers" and features a husband-and-wife team of artists. In conjunction with our Holiday Art Mart, we let artists bring whatever they hope to sell during the holidays. From January through April, for the fifth consecutive year, we will host Wine and Dine for the Arts events with restaurants in the area. Menus are made just for us at fixed price and we sell anywhere between 15 and 50 seats.
Cecil County Life: There is a strong connectivity in Cecil County between its art patrons and the artists themselves. There is very little separation between the two, and the Cecil County Arts Council is in large part, the facilitator in what has become the fabric of Cecil County life. How do the arts contribute to the bottom line of Cecil County, and how does this figure in the overall development plan for the Council?
Hamilton: Our goal is to reach everybody within the county, and even those in the surrounding counties outside of Cecil. The contribution that the arts make to tourism and tax revenue and even to jobs is always very high on our list of goals. We were lucky that we were funded again by the county, given that the State had cut arts funding for fiscal year 2015. The new governor reinstated funding to the arts through an increase to the Maryland State Arts Council, who then spread it to county arts councils. We actually have a bigger budget than last year.
A perfect demonstration of how this funding continues to help artists was in the story of a gallery opening the Council had created for a 97-year-old watercolor artist. It was the first art show of her life. She painted a lot of works of barns and landscapes, and on the day of the gallery opening, she sold about 100 prints of her work. The truth was that in many ways, she was living for that opening, because on the evening of her opening, she was in the hospital. Through a Skype connection from the Council to the hospital, she could see all of the people attending her opening. Within a matter of days, she passed away. She continued to sell her prints throughout the next month, and we shipped them all over the country.
Cecil County Life: An artist can create any type of genre, but they can't exist in a box. They have to make a connection to the public. How does the Council help these artists? In other words, if a sculptor in Cecil County reads this interview, what advice would you give him or her?
Hamilton: First, I would recommend that the artists go to the Maryland State Arts Council's website to enter a sample of their work and include their contact information. Second, I would encourage the artist to enter every single show that the Cecil County Arts Council has throughout the year. When they become brave enough to apply for their own show, the Cecil County Arts Council will handle all of the marketing for the artist, which includes sending postcards to all of our current members, as well as to every school and library and local newspaper. I believe that nearly every artist who has ever had a gallery show, has either sold and original, received commission work or been hired to teach – and that includes some of our younger artists.
Cecil County Life: Are you an artist yourself?
Hamilton: I am very creative by nature, and although my background is in business, I come from a family of artists, every single one of whom is self-taught. My mother picked up acrylic painting at some point, and encouraged me to try it myself. Finally, about 18 years ago, I picked up an old milk can and painted a winter scene on one side and a summer scene on the other. She and I would travel around Cecil County, selling our painted furniture projects. My biggest claim to fame was that I sold one of them on E-bay to a stranger!
Cecil County Life: So you come at this position not only from the standpoint of your business background, but from the standpoint of knowing what it feels like to be an artist.
Hamilton: I hand hold, because I remember what it is like to feel vulnerable. I had a group of high school art teachers, who would randomly enter pieces into our exhibits. I told them, 'Apply for your own show. Get all of the scaredy-cats together, and apply for your own show.' They did just that and each one of them sold several pieces. They went from being cheerleaders for their students to being successful, confident exhibitors.
Cecil County Life: What continues to be the key goals for the Cecil County Arts Council?
Hamilton: Soon after I moved to Maryland, I was the 100th member of the Council, and we are now around one thousand members. I have been in my position for one year, (7 years total) and my plan has been to make the Cecil County Arts Council shine a little more than it once did, and to get every single person I could to walk through the doors. It astounds me how many people have grown up in Elkton, and now live and work here, and tell us that they were not aware that we were here.
We coordinate with local schools to get children to visit the Council, we work with Senior Services to welcome adults and we partner with Upper Bay Counseling & Support Services to welcome their mental health patients to the gallery. We continue to upgrade the gallery by making improvements including new rugs and freshly painted walls. We contributed to installing a community garden out back, created a garden in front, and placed sculptures in our front yard. People are starting to see the changes here.
We are always looking to expand our membership, as well as being able to partner with for-profits and non-profits in order to get our reach even farther. Recently, we partnered with Dove Valley Winery, for a weekend event that drew over 1,000 people.
Cecil County Life: You talked about bringing schoolchildren here to the Cecil County Arts Council. Isn't that the future of art, not only from the standpoint of giving them the venue to express their own creativity, but to allow them to come to a place to appreciate creativity?
Hamilton: Yes, and they're learning that they can also become a member of the Cecil County Arts Council, they can bring pieces into our gift shop and enter their works into our exhibits. There are tremendous opportunities here for our kids. We also partner with the Judy Center to take art camps to children living in underserved neighborhoods.
Cecil County Life: The Cecil County Arts Council is located in Elkton, but how does the Council spread its influence throughout the other towns in the county?
Hamilton: We promote and represent all things art. We offer a self-driven open studio tour, with maps and directions that takes visitors to artists throughout the county. We work with communities all over the county, whatever they ask for we try to make it happen. Whether they ask for advice, for a specific class or workshop, for advertising or a mention in newspaper, we don’t ever say, ‘No.’ The Cecil County Arts Council goes everywhere. You can't name a town in Cecil County where we haven't been!
Cecil County Life: Who are your favorite artists?
Hamilton: Believe it or not, some of my favorite artists are involved in the Cecil County Arts Council. Seven years ago, a woman in her seventies walked through the door of the Council, and her soul was broken. She had just lost her sister, and she was a primary caregiver for her. We struck up a conversation, and it turned out that she was a self-taught artist, and she told me all about these funny rules she has for her art. She began coming here and painting, and has entered every show and won prizes for her work. Just yesterday, she was in here at the same time we entertained a group of schoolchildren. Their teacher came to me and said that the faces of the children around the artist looked as if they were looking at a rock star. She was giving the children tips and pointers.
I've admired every single artist we've ever heard in the world, but it's the gang here that I admire most..
Cecil County Life: What's your favorite place in Cecil County?
Hamilton: Do you want to guess? It's here at the Cecil County Arts Council. I'm a freak for this place. Before I leave, this will be the tiny arts council that could.
Cecil County Life: You are the host of a dinner party. You can invite anyone, living or not. Who would you like to see gathered around that table?
Hamilton: Johnny Depp, because he is candy for the mind and the eye. I find his acting so incredibly diverse. I'd also like to invite a chef, because I love to cook and watch cooking shows. I'd also like to invite Leonardo DaVinci. That guy was a genius at everything. I was recently reading that he invented the first concept for what would eventually become the helicopter. Art was a sideline for him. I'd also invite Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, for her classic style. I'd also invite Audrey Hepburn, because she, too, had such a classic elegance. I think they would both be such a compliment at the dinner for DaVinci and Depp. I'd also invite my mother, because she is all of these things.
Cecil County Life: What kind of food would we always find in Annemarie Hamilton's refrigerator?
Hamilton: I am horrified at the amount of cheese I have in my refrigerator. Right now, there are between 12 and 14 different kinds of cheese in there. There is also the last harvest of vegetables from my garden, as well as all different types of condiments, but cheese is everywhere. I may need a 12-step program for cheese.
The Cecil County Arts Council is located on 135 East Main Street , Elkton, Md. 21921. To learn more about the Cecil County Arts Council, and to become a member, call 410-392-5740, or visit www.cecilcountyartscouncil.org.
– Richard L. Gaw