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Curating Art Communities

How the Fairfax Art League and co-chair Carol Caputo strive for community art education and enrichment

By: Forrest Meng and Brayden Wang

Image by Anna Kolosyuk

[Art] is part of us. There's a beauty there, sometimes it's not even a beautiful thing that you're looking at, but it's something that brings out feelings in you. It's good for a person.”- Carol Caputo 

Every Saturday, members of the Fairfax Art League meet up at the Old Town Hall in Fairfax City to discuss plans for future galleries, talk about their pieces, and work on artwork in workshops.

The Fairfax Art League (FAL) was founded in 1986 by six local artists and was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization two years later, and was continuously supported by one of the founders, Kathryn Higgins, over the years. Since then, FAL membership, shows, and community involvement grew.

“We had George Mason students sign on with the [Fairfax] Art League...and we had sponsored Fairfax High School’s art festivals,” said Carol Caputo, the current chair of the Old Town Gallery and co-chair of FAL.

Caputo has been a part of the FAL since 1999. Since she took on the position, she, and other board members, have led many art-enriching activities, shows, and projects. She has seen FAL grow over the years, from a small membership to a larger community of artists. Originally, the league had galleries in a section of the Old Town Hall.

“Later, we grew to have a second gallery in new buildings...they were not pop-up galleries, and we later moved into four of the non-rented places. Membership grew, and a lot of people liked [having room to work],” Caputo said.

The League offers many activities and services for its members and the public, including hosting free art shows every two months. FAL also helps sponsor other shows from schools and special galleries from specific artists and groups. Another service FAL offers is its monthly art demonstrations, which are also free and open to the public.

“We have a meeting first and then we have someone, one of the local artists that's pretty well known...who lines them off…those [are] once a month.

On days that schools may be closed due to holidays or teacher workdays, the FAL offers Children Introduction to Art at the Main Street Child Development Center. Students read about certain artists and do projects that mimic the artist’s work. Caputo believes introducing children to art is principal to their appreciation for artists and nourishes their creative spirit.

“You want to start that creative spirit, especially like now we go through hard times,” Caputo said. “If you look [around], everybody's presenting art because it helps one’s helps you rise above the anxieties. Children who are taught about art will have that throughout their life and will be able to look at artists differently, especially if they're exposed to different types of art, like performing art and visual art...It's an important part of education.”

The FAL continues to create bonds in the art community through its Art and Lunch sessions. Caputo says these sessions are different from demos and workshops because of the close interactions between artists and their peers.

“They're the people that are your peers, and they're the people that you're putting on these exhibits with every month. It's more of a closer relationship.”

Besides the normal services FAL offers, the League has had several special exhibits, such as Hawaiian dancing and Celtic music, book releases, and community projects, including an exhibition for the homeless. FAL gave supplies and lessons to the homeless at the Lamb Center in Fairfax and exhibited their art in one of the FAL galleries.

“Art wants to help art,” Caputo said. “We don’t just want to bring art to [the League] members; we want to bring art to the community.”

Actively involved in creating art through pictures, Caputo practiced film photography and has her work shown in FAL’s art shows. She values photography because she can capture a moment to be shared by anyone who views the image.

“I love what I photograph [and] convey that to others... When you hang out in a gallery, [you] can see [photographs] over and over again, [you] don't have to be there at that particular time [it was taken] but [you] can still enjoy what has been captured... Those moments can live for you and others, if you share [photographs] with others.

Influenced by her mother, one of her favorite subjects to photograph is nature, ranging from flowers to wildlife. She also takes interest in architecture as she frequently travels and frequently takes pictures wherever she goes.

Caputo’s photographs have won recognition in FAL galleries, including a recent photograph, titled “Strength in Aging.” The photograph depicted an old tree trunk standing up straight.

“When you look at it, you just think that there it is. It's still standing up straight,” Caputo said. “To think about how much energy that takes for an old person [to stand straight]... Your body isn't energetic like when you were young. But, here's that tree; it's old and it's kind of leaning, yet it's doing its best to just stand up straight.”

Serving as the co-chair for FAL, art has been a key part of her life for many years, and she believes art is essential in bringing the community together.

“[Art] is part of us. There's a beauty there, sometimes it's not even a beautiful thing that you're looking at, but it's something that brings out feelings in you. It's good for a person,” Caputo said. “If you want a healthy community, you want to have art and want to have people to be able to share this strong, fine feeling.”

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Fairfax Art League, unfortunately, has to suspend its services. However, to anyone who may be thinking about getting into art or want to learn more, she recommends to go and view workshops and galleries when they open and experiment with different mediums.

“You could go to the Lorton workhouse and the Torpedo Factory; they have artists right there and they love to talk to people who come in. You'll find things you would like to do, maybe you think that watercolor would be for you…, maybe oils… [or] maybe you want to be a ceramicist. Do what you want to make,” Caputo said. “Look for places [where] you can go and look at art that's not by people who've already come to a certain level, but somebody, like you, who might just be starting now.”

Caputo said the Fairfax Art League is welcome for all aspiring artists, as they have both experienced professionals and novices alike at the League.

“If you stay with it, you're going to see improvements, you're going to learn to do things differently,” Caputo said. “Get started, go out there, and find your way.”

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