Local Artists Share for Charity

Jessica Harper

Creativity and goodwill collided over the weekend, as thousands of area residents opened their hearts -- as well as their wallets -- for NIH Children's Charities at the annual Bethesda Row Arts Festival.

"It's the community coming together on a beautiful day, and the artists' work is just exceptional," said Charities President Randy Schools. "The nice part is that every artist donates one piece from their collection, and then all that money goes back to help our charities."

Nearly 180 of these donating crafters lined the sidewalks of Woodmont and Bethesda avenues, Elm Street and Bethesda Lane Saturday and Sunday.

Amid crabcake aroma and mainstage jazz tunes, metalworkers, photographers, jewelers and more shared their handiwork with hordes of browsers and buyers.

Many artists said they were warmed by the charity presence.

"It's good that part of the proceeds from the art sale will go to charity, and not some conglomerate that owns the show," said photographer Greg Knott. "It's not necessarily NIH; it's just nice that the money goes to a charity."

A festival first-timer, Knott described the show as a "a nice mix of artists" minus the pretension of other fine art events.

Coloardo native and jewelry maker Catherine Nowicki, 51, said the charity element, along with the "phenomenal" craft displays, keeps her coming back. "I've been coming to the festival for eight years," she said. "Any time you're supporting children, it's a great cause. Kids don't always have much of a voice."

Despite the giving overtone, not every artist saw the charity art sale as a perfect plus. Wooden bowl exhibitor Mark Speiser donated a piece to the NIH charities, but expressed doubt about the event's overall message.

"Most of the people who do these art shows are not making a huge amount of money, especially compared to people who make six figures," Speiser said. "The art probably gets sold to a pretty wealthy person, who gets something for their money, and that's very nice, whereas we're giving it away for free. It's a little odd, but nobody wants to say that."

But Schools said the festival atmosphere has traditionally been a welcoming one, so much so that he has brought his charity to the Row for the last 10 years.

NIH Children's Charities include three programs: the global-reaching Children's Inn, and the locally based Special Love Inc./Camp Fantastic, and Friends of the Clincal Center. Of the three, Friends of the Clinical Center is the only one that offers financial assistance.

"Friends of the Clinical Center is a program for children who are undergoing treatment for various diseases at NIH," Schools said. "Their mom or dad may have lost their jobs, so we try to help them with a mortgage or car payment, just so their minds are relieved for a little bit."

Festival attendee Connie Bevitt applauded the effort. "Our children in America are in dire straits, and more and more families are in poverty," she said. "I like that some of the proceeds will help solve that problem. It encourages me to pay for this art."

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