By Malcolm Fleschner

"Seek your creative vision. Be drawn to the visual arts for it can expand your imagination. Creative thinking inspires ideas. Ideas inspire change. Art matters."
-Barbara Januszkiewicz

These are the adjectives Barbara Januskiewicz uses to describe artists working in the Washington DC metropolitan area: fascinating, creative prolific. You won't hear her say local. "I don't like that term," says the award-winning Washington DC painter and television producer. "'Local artist' generally means 'amateur,' and here in the DC area we have a lot of fine artists. If you're an artist working in New York, you have more prestige, and you may be considered international, because you are in New York. I prefer 'area artist.'"

Barbara is one of DC's talented contributors as an artist and a film maker/TV producer. She is in private and public collections. "My work grows as I experiment with methods, material and techniques. I enjoy expressing myself, I find freedom placing paint on paper."

Since leaving the corporate world four years ago, Barbara has become well acquainted with the DC art scene. While excited and inspired by the wealth of talent she has uncovered among fellow artists, Barbara expresses an equal amount of frustration at area media outlets, which she feels neglect area visual artwork that, with a little more coverage, might flourish. "In the DC area we have two major papers," she says, "and the art critics cover the museums, but the galleries and alternative art places don't get the exposure they should. It's different in Chicago and Los Angeles. There the area openings are covered.

Because of the lack of coverage the public remains ignorant of local art happenings. Those who are already tuned in to the scene know about gallery openings. The R Street galleries open their doors the first Friday of every month. She feels, "To the mainstream public the visual arts are inaccessible, they are intimidated. Critics can contribute to this by using difficult language, people are turned off."

In an effort to break down the barriers between art and the public Barbara created Creative Vision: Visiting The Artmakers, an award-winning community access television show which focuses on individual artists and the creative process.

"We don't like to admit it, but people watch television," she says. "As an artist I wanted to look into ways to use the power of television to promote visual artists, and combine that with people's natural curiosity about art and their desire to understand the creative process. How a painter or sculptor produces an artwork, I came up with the idea for Creative Vision."

Cable access television proved to be a perfect fit for what Barbara hoped to accomplish. "On public access you can feature the cultural diversity of the artists who work and live in the area and bring them to the attention of the community," she says. "Through a multimedia format that fosters community involvement and educates by showing artists creating art."

Each half-hour Creative Vision program showcases two Washington area artists in 15-minute documentary segments. The camera enters the studio, and artists are asked to explain what inspires them, why they chose a certain medium: questions designed to break down the barrier between artist and viewer. Now in its third year, Creative Vision has brought the work of 15 area artists to the small screen. "Each Creative Vision is an artwork," she explains. "This is a great way to be exposed to artists and their thinking. With TV the artist can take you on a guided tour."

With no advertising, promotion or the sale of commercial products or services, community access television relies heavily on volunteers, who are often amateurs who learn to use a station's television equipment and facilities. Creative Vision can now be seen by nearly 1 million Washington area cable subscribers. She hopes to expand that number further by offering copies of the show to public schools for use in their fine art classes.

Januszkiewicz hopes that by understanding the artistic creative process, viewers ­ both adult and children - will become open to creativity. "Sometimes when we see art in a gallery or a museum we're in awe ­ 'How was that done? I could never come up with an idea like that.' But watching Creative Vision might inspire someone who's always thought about taking a watercolor class to say, 'Hey, I could do this too.' I want the Washington community to buy area art. We need to support and nourish our own visual artists."

Barbara began producing Creative Vision at Channel 33, the Arlington community access cable station, in 1997. With just three programs under her belt she won the station's Producer of the Year. Since then, she has distributed the program to other area access cable stations in DC, Fairfax, Alexandria, Montgomery County and Baltimore. She hopes to blanket the beltway area. Asked if she feels the program has succeeded in bringing the artist closer to the community, Barbara responds with stories of two artists who have been profiled on Creative Vision. "We covered Hilda Thorpe, who is an established DC artist with a wonderful studio in Alexandria," Barbara recalls. "One day, after her program ran, she went into a coffee shop, the same one she's gone to for the past 20 years. The person behind the counter said to her, 'Hey, I saw your show on cable last night. I had no idea that you were an established artist. I really enjoyed your work.' She was recognized again. She told me, 'All these years in the art world and knowing so many people in the art community and then just one local television show, I'm more recognized and accepted by the general public.'"

"Then there's Margaret Huddy, an artist and teacher with a studio at the Torpedo Factory. She has told me that people have come into her studio because they saw her on Creative Vision. Not only have they bought art, but a number have decided to sign up for her classes.

Not satisfied with the success of Creative Vision, Barbara is continuing to widen the scope of her media outreach campaign into the DC area with a new program titled 15 Minutes of Fame. She hand-picked the artists for Creative Vision, but for 15 Minutes, Creative Vision Television, her production company, has issued an open call to all visual artists in Maryland, DC and Virginia. Selections for inclusion will be made by committee. "I'm excited about this project," she says, "because it will help us reach out to new artists and create a showcase for stories I don't know about already." The show's title reflects Andy Warhol's famous dictum about celebrity in the 20th century as well as the length of the pieces. According to Barbara, 15 minutes is the ideal time span for both the subject and the viewer. This way we'll have two stories in one half-hour show, and we'll be able to hold the audience's attention ."

Despite the significant energy she's poured into television production the past few years, Barbara is still committed to being a working artist. Besides providing a creative outlet, painting helps Barbara maintain credibility and empathy for the artists she covers. "I paint every day, but it's a struggle to be an artist. It's the hardest full time job I've ever had. At least when I had a nine to five job, I left my office and went home. Art you can't just turn it off.

"Then there's the problem of marketing. To be a successful artist who sells artwork you have to follow up on everything. You've got to have your slides out there, you need a good framer, you have to have a good photographer - it's a package deal. It's like an independent contractor, it's difficult, especially for artists who aren't trained in business or marketing."

As a testament to her growing popularity as an artist Barbara was recently tapped to provide the artwork for the cover of the 250th anniversary edition of the official visitor's guide to Alexandria. "I was really pleased to be chosen by the city of Alexandria, it's a great story of self-promotion as well as community involvement," she says. "As an artist you're frequently asked to give art work for non-profit or charity auctions. And sometimes, to be recognized, you really have to give back to the community. This year it's come back around with the visitor's guide. I've received a lot of exposure from that. " I've taken that exposure and tried to relate it back to Creative Vision. It has helped raise my profile as an artist in the community, and the success I've seen has come back to promote Creative Vision and the other programs."