The Art of the MatterMar 01, 2022 ● By Lisa Sciortino
With more than 100 active members, the nonprofit organization provides area artists opportunities to display their work at the trio of juried exhibitions it hosts annually at Frisco Discovery Center, 8004 Dallas Parkway.
VAGF, which receives a grant from the Frisco Arts Foundation each year to assist with its operational costs, also strives to educate the public about the city’s burgeoning visual arts scene and community.
“Frisco is Sports City USA. … There are a few people who really want it to also become Arts City USA, but that’s a bit more of a challenge,” explains Suad Bejtovic, a professional photographer who is in his second year serving as president of VAGF’s board. “What we try to do is support the artists that we do have, give them a chance to show their art (and) possibly sell their art.”
Following a lengthy career in corporate America, Bosnian-born Bejtovic’s wife, Jennifer, encouraged him to pursue photography professionally. The owner of Frisco-based Suad Bejtovic Photography, he got involved with VAGF in 2018 and won an award at the first of its juried shows that he entered.
“That kind of gets you motivated to get involved,” he says of his work on VAGF’s leadership team. “Because it’s a nonprofit, people are (volunteering) because they want to do something with their time, and that’s inspiring in and of itself.”
Bejtovic, who is also on the Frisco Chamber of Commerce board of directors and the City of Frisco’s Public Art Board, recently hosted his second solo photography exhibition at The Cove, a cooperative venue in McKinney.
“I’ve met a lot of artists who became serious about pursuing their art in their later years,” he says. “Maybe they became an empty nester and picked up some watercolors or whatever it may be and discovered this hidden talent within them, discovered a purpose or a passion.”
Earlier this year, VAGF resumed hosting its monthly in-person meetings, which are held at thegallery8680 on Main Street in Frisco, following a two-year hiatus in the wake of the pandemic.
The meetings, which feature guest presentations, are important as they provide guild members (most are amateur and professional artists) an opportunity to network with fellow creatives “who may be doing … similar (work) or are maybe a little bit advanced in their craft. They can (share) advice or learn about an event or a grant that they can apply to,” Bejtovic explains.
The guild is dedicated to raising public awareness that there is plenty of locally created artwork available for appreciation and purchase in Frisco. People “don’t have to go to Dallas to buy art,” Bejtovic says. “We need to connect Frisco artists with Frisco art collectors or art lovers and let them know that they’re here so that they can … create some kind of a partnership.”
He says the guild also hopes to partner with area businesses that will “open their doors to us and say, `Hey, I have this wall. Why don’t you put some art on it,’ which has happened to us a couple of times and we’re working on expanding those relationships. It’s just about making art accessible.”
VAGF’s annual Fresh Start show, featuring the works of its members, is on exhibit through March 26 at Frisco Discovery Center. A reception, which will be open to the public, is scheduled March 13. Additional details are available at facebook.com/visualartsguildoffrisco.
In June, the guild will host its annual Artrageous exhibition, followed in October by its signature Crème de la Crème show. All visual artists (they needn’t be guild members) are invited to submit works for the juried shows.
“We have people from around Frisco, and some (participate) quite regularly,” Bejtovic says. Others, like sculptor Curtis Frederick, live in Rockwall. He has taken part in several VAGF exhibitions and won awards including first place at a previous Crème de la Crème show.
More important than winning is the exposure that VAGF’s exhibits provide, says Frederick, owner of Frederick Studios and a member of the Rockwall Art League, Texas Artists Coalition and the Visual Arts League of Allen. “There have been good turnouts at (VAGF’s) receptions, and I’ve met several artists” through the shows, he says.
Frederick plans to display his latest piece, a 40-pound carved-limestone sculpture titled Bully, at one of the guild’s exhibits later this year. “It’s basically a kid in a hoodie with his head down, there’s no face to it. It’s a hollowed-out hoodie (looking) depressed, shoulders down. … It’s something I’m really proud of because it’s not just decorative – it shows emotion.”
Quarterly, VAGF puts out a call to its members to submit paintings, drawings and photography for the Art in the Mayor’s Office exhibit, for which it partners with the City of Frisco. The winning artist, who is selected by city staffers, sees about a dozen of their original works displayed on the walls of Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney’s fifth-floor office at the George A. Purefoy Municipal Center.
The program, which was the brainchild of Mayor Cheney, began shortly after he took office in 2018, according to Stephen Ross, public art administrator for the City of Frisco. “The mayor was looking for a way to support the arts even more than he already does,” Ross explains. Each quarter, after the artwork is hung, Cheney meets with the winning artist to learn details about the pieces.
“It’s almost like a mini solo show,” says Bejtovic, who previously had some of his photography displayed in the mayor’s office. “We get told by the city staff that whenever the mayor has meetings over there … he actually gets questions about the art, and he likes it when he meets with the artists. He likes to talk about the art and the technique and the inspiration (for the pieces) so he can then talk to his guests (at the office) about that.”
Soon after the Art in the Mayor’s Office program commenced, Ross recalls, “I did get a couple of really interesting emails from other cities that were interested in doing the same thing, and that’s when you know you’re doing the right thing, I think.”
Mayor Cheney calls the program “an overwhelming success. We have a lot of meetings in here and (the artwork) always strikes up a conversation,” he says. Because the pieces rotate quarterly, it “gives the office a completely different look every time” people visit. “I personally enjoy it because it freshens (the space) up.”
In establishing the Art in the Mayor’s Office program, “I was trying to bring attention to the visual arts and certainly send the message that the visual arts are important to us as a city and we appreciate the work being done,” he says. Increasing arts awareness in Frisco is “one of our top 10 items right now. … We’re certainly evolving as a city and looking to be well-rounded” through the performing arts as well as the visual arts. He points to the murals displayed on buildings throughout Frisco’s Rail District as well as the city’s public art program as “things that add value to the community.”
On display through May 2 in the mayor’s office are several landscape paintings by Lewisville artist Kalika Antao, who also serves as VAGF’s vice president. A former healthcare-industry executive, she began her art career in earnest after retiring from her job three years ago. She has since shown her pieces in dozens of area exhibitions and won several awards and numerous accolades.
Art has “been a lifelong passion for me,” says Antao, who is also member of the Oil Painters of America, one of the nation’s largest professional art organizations.
In early February, she spent an afternoon hanging a selection of her paintings – including landscapes inspired by her travels to Hawaii, Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park and Colorado’s Garden of the Gods Park – in Mayor Cheney’s office. She returned the following day to discuss the paintings with him.
The two stopped and viewed each of Antao’s pieces and she shared details about the color choices and techniques employed. The mayor deemed a landscape titled Peaceful Morning, featuring a scene depicting a Michigan lake, his favorite of the bunch. “It’s almost like I could literally see myself sitting back in the woods and kind of peering out across a broader landscape,” he said.
Antao says the painting, which she created from a photograph of the scene, was inspired by the morning light and reflections on the lake. “What (the mayor) zeroed in on … is what I was trying to show – the distance. It’s early morning (and) kind of foggy. … The play of the light and dark is what inspired me.”
Although he doesn’t consider himself “an art collector,” Mayor Cheney says his family does “have quite a bit of art in our home. We like to buy local, so we source our art here in Frisco.”That is music to Bejtovic’s ears. He says the VAGF’s goal this year is to continue raising awareness about local artists and their work. “We put on these show and make sure that everybody knows about them to get people to come see art, to buy art, appreciate art and then slowly infiltrate the rest of the community. … Art is a positive force in our world, and we’re here to let everyone know about it.”