DIALOGUE: A Visual Conversation

"Project DIALOGUE" has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my career. In a nutshell, it's the story of what happens when a group of professional artists and a group of artists living with mental health disorders come together to talk about art. It's a story of creativity and community, of risk-taking and breakthroughs, of finding common ground.  

Clockwise, from top left: works by Jeff Huntington, Mei Mei Chang, Wayson Jones, Jay Armstrong, Paul Spratlin, Dan Ellis, Jeremy Flick and Mack James.

Clockwise, from top left: works by Jeff Huntington, Mei Mei Chang, Wayson Jones, Jay Armstrong, Paul Spratlin, Dan Ellis, Jeremy Flick and Mack James.

DIALOGUE: A Visual Conversation is a collection of visual arts – paintings, photographs, digital images and more – resulting from an unusual collaboration between professional artists in the Washington area, and artists receiving mental health treatment from Cornerstone Montgomery. 

The art that emerged from the DIALOGUE will be exhibited at the Personal Visions Gallery at the Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum in Bethesda, Maryland.  The public is invited, without charge, to attend the opening reception on Sunday, November 6, from 2:00-4:00 p.m.  Guests can engage with the artists, and purchase works created from DIALOGUE.

The unusual collaboration took place this past summer. Ten professional artists engaged each week with a group of creative artists – men and women– who face every day the challenges of living with mental health disorders.  These artists met each Friday at Studio-In-Sight (SIS), a vocational program of Cornerstone Montgomery, the largest provider of mental health services in Montgomery County.  The SIS artists from Cornerstone Montgomery met separately for instruction and studio time, led by Cornerstone Montgomery’s Art Specialist (and artist) Tessa Barr, in addition to the Friday sessions with the professional artists. 

The professional artists collaborated with SIS artists in different ways.  Tessa Barr coached and consulted with each of the SIS artists as they created new work in preparation for the DIALOGUE exhibit.  Many of the professional artists visited the Studio-In-Sight facility and gave talks, sharing their work, process, and their techniques with SIS artists. 

As professional artist Jeff Huntington remarked, “The visit exceeded my expectations. This group was extremely warm, attentive and curious, knowledgeable and interactive, and I felt extremely comfortable and motivated by the end of our meeting.”  SIS artist Mack James was inspired to paint a portrait inspired by Huntington’s unique style of layered images.

In response to guest artist Christian Tribastone, whose exquisite drawings of urban scenes are created on large pieces of cardboard, SIS artist Robb Williams noted, "I learned to be more frugal and to try something new.  The idea of using cardboard instead of canvas made me think about not buying a coffee every day."

The collaboration had a transformational impact on the group of creative individuals who make up the SIS artists.

“They kept the studio buzzing with their thoughtful insights, clever ideas and great questions.  They made brilliant connections between the work of different artists,” exclaimed artist and co-curator Jacqui Crocetta.

“The experience will have lasting effects on all of the artists.  Some have found a sense of courage as they step into unfamiliar territories.  Others have begun to find their unique artistic voice and a sense of permission to create,” noted Tessa Barr.

Guest artist Wayson Jones described his studio visit as "a wonderful experience.  The artists were attentive, friendly, engaged and asked great questions."  The work he will display blends an abstract portrait-like figure with the impression of a dark sky filled with stars and clouds.

"I will be showing recent work investigating 'color systems' derived from the imitation and representation of blown-up prints of digital images," announced Jeremy Flick.  He further commented he tries to achieve paintings that "remain open...open to interpretation, open to the inclusion of other voices, and open to multiple layers of understanding...and how that process can be upended, loosened, through the dialogue and exchange with other artists."

“Watching a few of the artists sharing their work with SIS artists during studio visits gave me goose bumps – the artistic ‘dialogue’ between artists was absolutely phenomenal,” reflected artist and co-curator Sharon Burton.

“Hearing the stories behind the artists’ work helped me think conceptually about my own pieces, something I’ve never done before.  I learned to stop worrying over my skill level and work creatively first and foremost,” reflected SIS artist Jay Armstrong.

DIALOGUE successfully created exciting new works of art because all the participants were willing to step outside their comfort zone.  The SIS artists took risks in inviting strangers into their studio space.  The professional artists took risks in collaborating with a group of strangers who shared their enthusiasm for art, without any prior experiences to draw from.

For more information, and to RSVP for the reception, please contact Tessa Barr at
Tessa.barr@cornerstonemontgomery.org or 301-896-4265.
Studio-In-Sight, http://studioinsight.org/


John Adams

Mei Mei Chang

Sandra Davis

Jeremy Flick

Wayson Jones

Jeff Huntington

Christian Tribastone


Tessa Barr, Artist and Art Specialist for Studio In-Sight
and https://www.behance.net/Contessamagdalena

Sharon Burton, Artist and Dialogue Co-curator

Jacqui Crocetta, Artist and Dialogue Co-curator


DIALOGUE: A Visual Conversation will run from October 30, 2016-January 5, 2017 at Personal Visions Gallery (http://personalvisionsgallery.org) at the Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum, 10001 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, MD 20814. Museum hours are Monday-Thursday from 10:00 am–3:00 pm and Sunday 10:00 am–4:30 pm.  Street parking is available.