Jon Gann has never considered himself an artist.
“I was a graphic designer for many, many years,” he says. “But I am not a fine painter or illustrator by any stretch. And while I can do some glasswork here and there, it’s nothing that anyone would pay money for.”
Nevertheless, Robert Deutsch, longtime organizer of the Bethesda Row Arts Festival, thought Gann would be a good fit to lead the 22-year-old event, billed as the area’s largest outdoor fine arts festival with a reputation as one of the nation’s best. Gann recalls Deutsch telling him they wanted him aboard because they “want to do something new in Bethesda.” A consultant to film festivals around the country as well as the former director of the DC Shorts festival, Gann welcomed the offer.
With help from co-director Jim Taglauer, Gann has implemented a few subtle yet significant changes at the annual event, which takes place this weekend and features over 200 artists, nearly half of whom are new to the event. The slate was selected by three jurors looking for variety within the 16 artistic disciplines represented, from wearable fabrics to woodworking.
This year’s event is also designed to attract new, younger art collectors — specifically with the creation of the stARTer Gallery, a separate, non-juried exhibition featuring 14 local artists whose artworks fall into a more affordable range — roughly $25 to $300 apiece, as opposed to the juried work, which ranges from $50 to upwards of $10,000.
The festival is also launching an interactive map for mobile devices, one that “knows where you are at the show and tells you who’s closest to you,” says Gann. “So it’s easy to find the artists you’re looking for.” The mobile map comes as part of a larger technological overhaul that’s “really beefed up the [festival’s] website. Every artist is on there — all of their social and websites. We really wanted to make it easy to connect with one another.”
The Bethesda Row Arts Festival is Saturday, Oct. 12, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 13, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., in a blocked-off street in downtown Bethesda. Free. Visit www.bethesdarowarts.org.