Bright red banners hang outside of 115 and 117 E. Church Street in downtown Frederick, Maryland. Inside, Jennifer Finley and a group of volunteers are hard at work painting and freshening up the building—formerly home to an all-girls school—will soon play host to Artomatic@Frederick, transforming its 40,000 square feet of labyrinthine hallways and classrooms into a tremendous five-week showcase for artists and performers.
At its core, Finley says, Artomatic@Frederick is “an all-volunteer gigantic arts festival,” as she leads me around the building. We pop our heads into one old classroom where a volunteer is painting the windowsill. He looks exhausted, but there’s a smile on his face.
“In five weeks, we go into an unoccupied space and try to put forth the best arts show we can,” Finley says. “It’s really a celebration of the arts on all levels.”
Artomatic began in earnest in 1999, when a group of a little more than a dozen artists took over D.C.’s Manhattan Laundry building. A month later, with the help of 350 artists, it was cleaned, painted, and fixed up, with artwork presented in the building’s 100,000 square feet. In that first iteration of the festival, more than 20,000 people visited over six weeks. As the festival grew, it bounced around locations in the D.C. area for years before Finley and Steven Dobbin got in touch with Artomatic founder George Koch in 2010 to figure out how to expand the festival to Frederick.
In 2011, the first Artomatic@Frederick was launched and it was a resounding success: It featured more than 300 artists and 100 performers over five weeks. Now in its third iteration, Artomatic@Frederick offers artists a very different experience than other major festivals. Because it’s unjuried, Finley says, “it’s for all artists and about all forms of art. Too often some of the very best art doesn’t get a chance to get on the walls.”
And in its third year in Frederick, Artomatic has firmly established itself in the community and its own distinct festival from the D.C. version. The Artomatic in D.C., she says, is much larger, with the 10th anniversary in 2009 featuring over 1,000 artists and 600 performers. “It was so massive that you had to visit several times to see everything.” In Frederick, things are a little smaller and it’s possible to experience the entire event in a single day.
Finley also points out that Frederick’s unique location does a lot to set it apart. “There’s so much art here, and we’re 45 minutes away from everything,” she notes, “so it’s really the perfect location. And it’s a growing city—I think it’s perfect.”
Unfortunately, the future of Artomatic@Frederick is currently in an uncertain place. Ausherman Development recently purchased the building housing the event, and although they have indicated plans to convert it into an arts and education space, Artomatic@Frederick will be without a home after this year’s event concludes in June.
That said, Finley has high hopes for the future of Artomatic@Frederick, citing her partnership with the new Executive Director of the Frederick Arts Council, Louise Kennelly, as well as her ongoing efforts to make connections between Artomatic and the city of Frederick itself.
“We’re not really sure what’s going to happen, not having the building” Finley says, “but we’re just trying to build some lasting connections here—between the artists and each other, as well as between the artists and the city.”
Artomatic@Frederick will run from May 7 – June 10 at 115 and 117 E. Church St. in Frederick, MD.
Image via Artomatic@Frederick