Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival

Interview by Tess Osmer
Issue 63 • May 2018 • Reston

When a community comes together in support of the arts, almost anything is possible. That’s how this street fair has found continued success for nearly three decades.

“Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”
— President Lyndon Johnson, Remarks at the Signing of the Arts and Humanities Bill
September 29, 1965

For the Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE), whose mission is to enrich the community by promoting involvement and excellence in contemporary arts, the notion that art is a nation’s “most precious heritage” is inarguable. Located at 12000 Market Street near the heart of Reston Town Center, this non-profit organization offers contemporary visual art exhibitions in their gallery space, presents educational programming for all ages, and hosts numerous special events. But of all their activities, the largest and most celebrated would have to be the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival.

Gerardo Leccese

Now in its 27th year, the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival returns this month from Friday, May 18 through Sunday, May 20. During the event, the entire town center is transformed into a smorgasbord of art and craft vendors hailing from both near and far. “We have utilized the entire landscape of the Reston Town Center which allows for about 200 artists to participate in the festival,” said Lily Siegel, the Executive Director and Curator of GRACE.

As one of their major annual fundraisers, Siegel is extremely grateful for the estimated 30,000 attendees who help make it a success. “We present year round art programs and so the support is huge,” she said. The entry fee is a $5 donation to GRACE, which includes a coupon redeemable at participating restaurants in the area. Though there are not food vendors at the festival, Balducci’s Food Lover’s Market, one of the key sponsors, will be offering samples of their wares while supplies last.

With 16 different categories of artists and mediums, there’s something for just about everyone to discover. As Siegel noted, the casual, bazaar-like atmosphere of the festival “allows for a more personal interaction between artists and the community.”

Krissy Maier

One festival favorite from years past is 651 Vintage, which will be showcasing a line of tote bags, belts, and knick knacks. All 651 Vintage products are handcrafted and designed by Reston resident Krissy Maier, owner of The Great Maier Mercantile and wholesaler of artisan handcrafted accessories.

New this year is Lalo Workshop, a clothing line based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Lalo’s line includes zero-waste, ethically made, and one-of-a-kind garments for women and children, produced and designed by Anne Bisone.

Another notable artist that will be attending the festival is James Skvarch. Based in Syracuse, New York, Skvarch is mainly involved in printmaking landscapes, murals of nineteen different literary works and whimsical renditions of grand architecture.

James Skvarch

The process for being accepted as a festival artist is a competitive one. Erica Harrison, GRACE Associate Curator and Festival Director, explained, “We ask artists to apply and go through the jury process. Since they have to apply every year, we don’t always get the same people.” And while there are artists who have developed a following by coming back every year, Harrison said, “new artists are popular, too, because people want to see what’s new.”

This year’s festival jurors are Spencer Dormitzer, Isabel Manalo, and Francis Thompson. Dormitzer is currently the Director of Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery and lives in Washington D.C.; Manalo is the Founding Manager of The Studio Visit, a collaborative art blog featuring artist interviews in their studios; and Thompson is a Project Manager for the Art Program at JLL, a global professional services firm specializing in commercial real estate.

As part of the artist selection process, the jurors use a seven-point criteria to award the ten best artists with a $500 cash prize. Traditionally, the winning artists would be announced on the last day of the festival. However, in an attempt to mix things up, this year’s festival will feature an awards ceremony on the evening of Saturday, May 19 at The Pavilion at Reston Town Center. The party will be catered by The Counter, a contemporary burger chain, with beer served by Blue Moon, all sponsored by Boston Properties. Admission will only be granted to members of GRACE, though membership registration will be available to festival-goers. Ticket price for the party is $50 for individuals who are not artists participating in the festival.

As both Siegel and Harrison stressed, the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival is the largest fundraiser for GRACE and provides a substantial amount of the annual operating funds for the gallery. The GRACE gallery is always free to the public and the donations received during the festival are vital to keeping it that way. They love seeing the way the community comes together to help make their programming happen, specifically mentioning the efforts of over 500 volunteers who work during the festival weekend. It’s that kind of dedication to the arts that will carry forward the most precious heritage for generations to come.

Patricia Kessler

The Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival will be held from May 18–20 at the Reston Town Center. Festival hours are from 10 AM–5 PM each day. Admission is $5, free parking in the parking garage courtesy of Boston Properties. For full schedule of events, visit

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