Creative Life in the Gateway Arts District

The Brentwood Arts Exchange Brings “Reality” to the Gallery

My favorite guilty-pleasure television was brought to the people in 2010 by Bravo, “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.” The premise of the show was basic, trap 14 self-nominated “creative” people in New York and put them through a series of competitions in order to determine which one is worth of a cash prize and solo show at the Brooklyn Museum. What was so fascinating about the show (besides the engaging and illuminating presence of art critic Jerry Saltz) I believe Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times put best, “Without even trying, Work of Art resurrects academic debates of the 1980s and ’90s as it implicitly asks us to determine what kind of art has more value.”
So it was with great interest that I’ve followed the conception, development, and realization of Project America’s Next Top Master Artist by the Brentwood Arts Exchange at Gateway Arts Center. Today I got the opportunity to talk to Phil Davis, Acting Director, Brentwood Arts Exchange at Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission a little more about where the idea to use a reality TV style competition in the gallery came from, what he’s looking forward to about their upcoming Meet the Artists Night, and hear more about other great happenings at the Brentwood Arts Exchange. 


Where did the idea for Project America’s Next Top Master Artist come from?

One the art world’s darkest secrets – one of the one’s you won’t admit in front of people who other people say are important – is that we all watch reality TV.  Not only that, but we’ve all developed elaborate defense mechanisms to shield ourselves from the fact that as a paradigm for cultural participation, reality TV is kicking the pants off everything we do in our arts administration day jobs.  For my part, I actually believe reality TV’s cultural paradigm is a viable one.  Not so much all the crying and cat-fighting…  But I think galleries, museums, etc. can learn a lot from how shows like American Idol, Project Runway, and Dancing with the Stars involve their audiences in critical interpretation. 

My personal back story is that when I went to teach at University of Toledo back in 2006, for the first time in my teaching career, freshman studio foundations students told me they knew what art critiques were.  They said it was a lot like Project Runway.  And they were right.  More than students in the past, they understood my role in elevating their standards, and they had ideas about the kinds of student behaviors in critiques that led to improvement as well as which ones usually foreshadowed getting voted off the show. 


Tell us about ‘Meet the Artists’ Night. What are you most excited about this evening?

There are a couple of things about Meet the Artists Night that are exciting.  Round 1 of Project America’s Next Top Master Artist showed some really good and diverse artwork.  But as much as anything the voting separated out the artists who campaigned for support from those who didn’t reach out as much.  Honestly, once an artist’s work is good enough to merit support, reaching out to build support is a crucial part of an artist’s career.  So, for Round 2’s Meet the Artists Night, we’re just adding a little focus to help make that interaction easier, friendlier.  And that brings me to the other part that I’m hopeful about – that by inviting people to interact with people they don’t know, that we’re chipping away at some of the reasons why so many people hate to go to opening receptions.  It’s an (admittedly small) attempt to make sure we never, ever become a “scene.”  We want to be a place where people want to be. 


Where can people go to vote?

All voting is done by text message and can be monitored live on our website at  The top 5 vote getters (the number advancing to Round 3) are shown at the bottom right.  Each artist has a unique code that you can get from a sign as well as the artwork labels in our gallery.  To vote, text the artist’s code to 22333.  You can vote up to two times per round.

What else can we look forward to at the Brentwood Arts Exchange?

The Brentwood Arts Exchange, along with Prince George’s Parks and Recreation’s Youth Services Division are sponsoring three events at the Mount Rainier Skate Park presented by local musician Marc Blackwood, called the Southside Mount Rainier Music and Skateboarding Series.  Marc and his band Inner Loop will perform live music at each event, and charcoal grills will be available to use across the street at Red Dirt – BYO grillables.  The June 21st event will feature a skills clinic with a professional skateboarder.  July 12’s event will feature a skateboard painting workshop with free decks and paint, and will actually follow an all-day skate competition that’s part of a County-wide series presented by Parks and Recreation.  August 2 will feature a skate competition indigenous to the Southside Series.  All of the events are free and open to the public, 1-4pm.

We also host 6 weeks of Creative Expressions Camps for children ages 6-12.  The camps are currently full with waiting lists – which is proof that the non-artists and families of the Gateway Arts District love art too, and want their children to benefit from learning it.  Look out for a summer packed with awesome chalk drawings underneath Margaret Boozer’s new installation in our courtyard.

Anything else you’d like to tell the Gateway Arts District?

I’d just like to say to people that if they haven’t been in our store for a while, they should have another look.  We have a ton of new things by artists who are new to our store.  As you know, the mission of our store is to support local artists who make craft and functional art.  We only keep a 25% commission on sales – which is half of what most store take.  A full 75% of each sale price goes directly to the artist.  There’s not much better way to support artists than to buy, use, display, and enjoy their work.


About neenajoe

Joe’s Movement Emporium is a cultural arts hub that acts as a catalyst for creativity and economic opportunity for all through productions and programs in education, artist services and work readiness. Located in the town center of Mount Rainier, Maryland within the Prince George’s County Gateway Arts District, the organization supports and promotes creative projects of local artists and community groups. For additional information on programs and events, please visit

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