As the new year unfolds, ceramic artist and sculptor Margaret Boozer is looking forward to continuing her collaboration with artists in Northern Ireland, who recently visited her Red Dirt Studio in Mount Rainier.
“They’re trying to get a ceramics studio going — they came here to learn and meet people and go back and set one up,” says Boozer, who opened Red Dirt in 1996 in the Gateway Arts District.
Arts districts are increasingly seen as a factor that can spur development because of their power to attract people to shops, restaurants and other businesses.
“There’s a synergy of so many talented people here,” says Boozer about the artists who live and work in studios, lofts and apartments in the arts district, which stretches along Rhode Island Avenue from Hyattsville through North Brentwood, Brentwood and Mount Rainer to the Washington, D.C., line.
Boozer’s commitment to the local arts district as well as her own far-ranging work were reasons why the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council recently recognized her with its Arts Excellence award.
Six other individuals and organizations also received awards at the council’s black tie awards gala on Nov. 17 at Bowie State University.
The event marked the opening in 2012 of the university’s $71 million Fine and Performing Arts Center, as well as the council’s 30th anniversary.
“We didn’t have a platform to celebrate our artistic treasures, the people as well as the cultural treasures,” says council executive director Rhonda Dallas, who organized the gala.
“BSU is a cultural asset, but some people don’t know that it exists,” she says. “We want to create awareness of who we are and that our county is a cultural force in the region.”
A native of Alabama, Boozer earned a bachelor’s degree in sculpture from Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., followed by master’s in ceramics from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y.
She taught for 10 years at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C., before opening her Red Dirt Studio in Mount Rainier, where she teaches advanced workshops in ceramics and sculpture that help students transition toward becoming professionals with their own studios.
“It’s like an artist incubator,” says Boozer about the converted warehouse space. “It gives people coming out of grad school a chance to work in a place that’s already established, with a chance to meet people and get connected.”
“It gives people a launching pad and gets them plugged in,” she says about her network of fellow artists.
Boozer, meanwhile, continues to develop her own art, which includes working with the colors and textures of clay and other soils, including pieces that show how clay cracks into intricate designs as it dries.
Last year Boozer collaborated with a soil scientist to display, in a large Plexiglass grid of small boxes, dozens of soil samples from New York City’s five boroughs.
The display was part of the “Swept Away: Dust, Ashes and Dirt” exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.
Visitors were able to see the rocky, greenish soil from Staten Island and the glittering schist bedrock from Central Park in Manhattan, she wrote in her artist’s statement about a resource, both visual and environmental, that is often buried under pavement.
Last year Boozer also began creating furniture and other products for interior designer Darryl Carter, who grew up in Bethesda and is opening a new store in a converted 1800s building in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Boozer, who has lived in Mount Rainer since 2005, says she believes the Gateway Arts District is attracting more attention with the success of the Busboys and Poets restaurant in Hyattsville and fundraising efforts under way to establish the Prince George’s African America Museum and Cultural Center in North Brentwood.
“There’s a groundswell — I think it’s undeniable any longer,” she says. “It’s becoming more visible, and the momentum is picking up. There’s a lot of work to do, and I’m pleased to be part of the team that’s working on it.”
Also recognized for their contributions at the November gala by the Arts and Humanities Council were six other individuals and organizations.
The Creative Industry Innovation Award went to Laurel-based Quatrefoil Associates, which designs museum exhibits and is a key player in the movement to create an arts district in Laurel, Dallas says.
The Steven C. Newsome Arts Scholars Award, which recognizes arts educators, went to Emory Andrews for his direction of the Oxon Hill High School Choir and to Maria Saldana, who coordinates the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts at Suitland High School.
Newsome, who died in September 2012, was a former director of the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council and a founding director of the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center planned for North Brentwood.
Attorney June White Dillard of Dillard and Associates, a past president of the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council, received the Arts Leadership Award for her advocacy on behalf of the arts.
Council Program Manager Ethel Lewis received the Arts Service Award for her more than 15 years of work with the arts community.
The Arts Philanthropist Award went to Mike Little, president of B&W Solutions, a human resource firm based in National Harbor that was also one of the contributing sponsors of the gala.
“We have such a diverse cultural mosaic, and we really wanted to celebrate that,” says Dallas, who plans to make the awards an annual event.