McLean Project for Arts sees some advantages to online exhibits

McLean Project for the Arts will not be able to display young people's creations at McLean Central Park during this year's all-virtual MPAartfest, but is encouraging children to submit artworks for possible display online. 

The McLean Project for the Arts’ (MPA) galleries do not have artworks on display now and most of the group’s staffers have been working from home during the pandemic, but the organization is ramping up for a busy fall.

MPA, an independent non-profit organization based out of the McLean Community Center, has extended its current “SHIFT” exhibit through Sept. 15. MPA switched to a “virtual” format for the exhibit because of the pandemic, and found the new method had some benefits, said spokesman Deb Bissen.

“We’re really happy with the number of people who turned out online for our opening,” she said. “We actually reached more people virtually than we do at our in-person events. That was kind of a nice surprise and benefit, in this time when we have to do things so differently.”

The arts organization also will use a virtual format for its next exhibit, “Sculpture NOW 2020.” Done in conjunction with the Washington Sculptors Group, the show will be on display Sept. 17 through Nov. 14 and feature artworks by more than 50 sculptors. There will be a virtual artists’ reception Sept. 17 from 7 to 8 p.m. and a talk with some of the participating artists on Oct. 22 from 7 to 9 p.m.

Exhibitions director Nancy Sausser will curate the show, which will be installed in MPA’s gallery space. MPA leaders are examining the possibility of letting some people view the exhibit in person if they make reservations first.

Virtual exhibits can reach a wider audience, but examining artworks  in person still has its advantages – particularly with three-dimensional sculptures, Bissen said.

“From every direction, it looks differently,” she said. “You also get to see the size of it. Especially with sculptures, a lot of the works are really large and you can’t see that scale through a photograph.”

Gallery visitors also get to view the artworks’ placement and the exhibit’s overall aesthetic flow, as intended by the people who installed it, she said.

In addition to posting photos of the individual sculptures on the Web, MPA is mulling the production of a video of the upcoming exhibit, which could give online viewers a better impression of the artworks, Bissen said.

“We’re learning as we go here, trying to see how we can make the virtual experience more valuable and more interesting,” she said. “We realizing that it’s nice to offer both options [virtual and in-person], ideally. As things open up more, hopefully I think we’ll continue to do that.”

In other happenings:

• MPA has begun registration for its fall classes, including a limited number of in-person classes in the Susan B. DuVal Studio on the main level of the community center. There also will be plenty of online offerings, similar to ones that have been available during the pandemic, and Abrakadoodle art classes for young children on Thursdays and Saturday mornings.

MPA also will offer a drawing-and-watercolor class for children ages 6 to 10 on Mondays, when Fairfax County Public Schools’ elementary-school students will not be receiving live instruction from their teachers.

• MPAartfest, the organization’s signature event normally held the first Sunday of each October, will be conducted in an all-virtual format from Oct. 4 through 18.

Fifty-two artists will be selling their works and each will have an online gallery for displaying them. MPA is looking for sponsors for those artists, who will be grouped by medium on the organization’s Website, Bissen said.

“We’ll be promoting those artists through some lunchtime artist talks to give people the opportunity that you would not otherwise have in person,” she said.

MPA also will provide a virtual version of one of the event’s most popular features, the Children’s Art Walk. Instead of having children produce art in person at McLean Central Park, as in years past, MPA this year is asking youths to submit via the Web artworks  they have created, which then will be curated into a display. The initiative is sponsored by the New Dominion Women’s Club of McLean.

Young artists who live in the attendance pyramids of Langley and McLean high schools, or go to private or parochial schools in the area, may submit their Virtual Children’s Art Walk art projects through Sept. 6 by visiting The display also will feature artworks created by students at MPA’s summer camps this year.

MPAartfest in the past has provided space for other community groups to showcase their activities and MPA hopes to let those organizations provide similar information online this year.

• Building on the popularity of “Drive-Thru Drama” plays offered this summer at the McLean Community Center, MPA leaders are thinking of holding a drive-in concert in the facility’s parking lot “to create some joy in the community,” Bissen said.

“We’re still finalizing details,” she said. “It hopefully would be very safe and physically distanced, with people staying on or in their cars and a limited number of people who could attend . . . It’s an opportunity to bring the community together during these times.”

• MPA continues to work with the Fairfax County Park Authority regarding a proposed art-and-education center that would be built at Clemyjontri Park in McLean.

“The process is going forward with the county,” Bissen said. “We continue to be very excited about that. We hope to soon be in a position to announce an agreement with an architecture firm who’ll be designing it . . . The idea of a new community space that offers opportunities for gatherings is so appealing. We’re still really hopeful about that project.”

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