Art Lotto

Interview by Cory Kuklick
Issue 42 • August 2016 • Harrisonburg

As these exhibition organizers are discovering, when artists make portraits of other artists, it really brings out the best of the whole community.

It’s relatively straightforward to see how artists interpret the world around them by viewing their work, but how do they envision their fellow artists? As the Art Lotto organizers have discovered over the last five years, pretty much anything goes. The event is the brainchild of Brandy Somers and Denise Kanter Allen, who were interested in organizing a show that didn’t force artists to create a massive output, but was still compelling for everyone involved. The concept is simple but innovative: each artist participant is assigned another one at random, then tasked with creating their portrait in the medium of their choice.

“There’s the challenge of having that experience with the subject, that awkwardness of getting together and talking with somebody you might not know at all,” said Laura Thompson, a participant and organizer of this year’s event along with Somers, Kanter Allen, and Lindsay McHone. “This year there’s a documentary, so we have a film format portrait,” said Somers. “One guy created a perfume for his portrait of a person, he created a scent just for her, which is so cool.” Thompson said the participants share “a sense of playfulness. You see what other people are doing and you’re like, okay, that’s what I have to top. It becomes a friendly competition.”

Encaustic portrait of Sarah Hade by Jewel Hertzler.

This year’s event, which takes place August 5 at the Spitzer Art Center, features 50 artists in total. Awards and prizes are given out for numerous categories including originality, best use of medium, artist's choice, judge’s choice, and even a kids’ choice award (given last year to a portrait on a cake). The whole thing is a labor of love for the organizers, who meticulously plan the show for eight months. “We’re communicating with so many people, Brandy is emailing all the artists, sponsors, and judges,” said Kanter Allen. “Time is another challenge. We talk about it in December, do a call for artists in January, do the Luck of the Draw in March, a Midway Mixer in May. Now we’re doing all the prep work, and then August is the event.”

Instead of being a typical gallery exhibition, Art Lotto is more of a party to showcase the Harrisonburg arts community. Besides the artists themselves, dozens of local sponsors, including Brothers Craft Brewing, Mark-It, and Tiller Strings, have helped to make the event the mainstay it has become. “That’s part of what the sponsorships are about, to invite as many people as we can and show them what art here is all about, and the joy behind it,” said Kanter Allen. “It could easily just be a First Friday opening, but we want to want it to be a celebration,” said Somers. “We’re not a gallery, we’re a group of people who want to celebrate the artists of Harrisonburg.”

Valerie Smith is holding the portrait she painted of artist Erin Murray with her wife Colleen Kivley.

Art Lotto 4 will be held at Spitzer Art Center on Friday, August 5 from 5–8 PM. For a full list of participants, visit

Photography by Brandy Somers

The Whurk Week

Five cool things happening in Virginia each week. Delivered to your inbox Monday mornings. Sweet.

More From Issue 42
More Interview Features
Other Recent Stuff