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A conversation with Grazia Montalto and Antonella Manganelli

On the history of the Art4Us Cooperative:

In 2018, the seed of the cooperative was planted with a group exhibit of four artists at the Gallery B in Downtown Bethesda. Since then, this tradition of a group show has continued and is now in its third year. Some of the original artists moved to Europe while other artists have joined the group. Last year the group of artists consisted of Katty Biglari and Grazia Montalto with the addition of Antonella Manganelli and Nana Bagdavazde in the show titled “Way We See.” A synergy emerged from these group shows and when COVID-19 forced everyone into lockdown last spring, Grazia had the idea to expand the group and create a virtual cooperative of artists across borders and oceans. She sent an invitation to some artists she knew and very quickly got a tremendous response from them seeking virtual displays of their work in the beautiful setting she had created online.

Did you know?

Even though the Art4UsCooperative is less than one year old, it currently has over 25 members from 3 different continents! The diversity of artists, media, styles and approaches aligns with the original vision of creating an art cooperative under the banner of diversity, unity and peace. Grazia hopes to plan international pop up exhibitions in various locations where members have access to exhibition spaces. She is currently dreaming about having an exhibit in Naples in 2022. This dovetails into the selection of Procida, an island off the coast of Naples, as the Italian capital of culture in 2022 and would be a wonderful way to showcase and meet some of the Italian artists in the group. The way this talented and energetic artist accomplishes her goals, we would not be surprised if she pulls it off! We recommend you “google” this city and know you will immediately book your tickets to visit. It is a gem of a city that has been under the radar of the typical tourist!

The International Countercurrents Exhibition and Competition:

This first ever exhibition/competition was the brainchild of Antonella Manganelli and Grazia Montalto who both wanted to create some excitement in the lives of artists who might be getting weary with the isolation brought about by COVID-19. Through her work as a member of the board of directors at the League of Reston Artists, Antonella had organized and curated several successful group shows (and Grazia had participated in a couple of them). But now the limitations of meeting in person could actually open the invitation across the world and into multiple art forms! They sought entries from artistic disciplines such as sculpture, jewelry, painting and multimedia plus writing and poetry. The provocative title: “Countercurrents” was intentionally conceptual and open-ended so that artists could interpret it as they pleased. The entries were wonderfully varied and those that could be delivered to Bethesda are currently hanging in the Gallery B. Two prominent judges agreed to serve as the jury: Scip Barnhart for the fine art and Mike Maggio for the written entries. There has been a real buzz about this exhibit especially after the positive write-up in the Washington Post.

A few fun facts:

Grazia and Antonella met in the Washington, DC area in 2019 and found out that they both hail from the same part of Italy (the Posillipo neighborhood in Naples with its spectacular views) and that Antonella had been a childhood friend of Grazia’s sister-in-law. What a small world! How interesting that these two artists had to move all the way to the United States to find each other and to accomplish the mission to bring artists and art appreciators together across continents.

Antonella is an antiquarian bookseller specializing in rare illustrated art books of masters of the 20th century. Since 2000 she and her husband have owned and run the antiquarian library “Marninart.”

Grazia has been a graphic designer and art director for over 25 years. Her illustrations “Citiescapes” bring together many of her life interests: travel, architecture, photography and art. Her work can be seen online at . A large mural of her work can be found in Camp Springs Maryland at the Via Roma Restaurant.

-Parinaz Ziai Bahadori

February 2021

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