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NewsApr 27, 2022

From coaching generals to selling art

Alumna Cynthia Scott, Air Force veteran and gallery owner, promotes contemporary art in historic setting

Video: Maryland Public Television coverage of Cynthia Scott's Gaslight Gallery and the inaugural exhibition timed for last Veterans' Day, featuring fellow Lesley MFA alumna Leigh Cortez.

Few artists or art gallery owners have acted as Pentagon spokesperson or worked with the astronaut who helped launch a Cold War-era, satellite-based missile defense shield. Cynthia Scott ’19, a United States Air Force veteran, communications professional and entrepreneur, used the GI Bill benefits she earned for an MFA in Visual Arts from our College of Art and Design.

She got so much out of our program that she decided to launch her own art space, Gaslight Gallery, last fall in Frederick, Maryland.

Michael O'Connor (left), the mayor of Frederick, Maryland, is pictured with Cynthia Scott during the ribbon-cutting event at Gaslight Gallery. Leigh Cortez's artwork is in the background.
Michael O'Connor (left), the mayor of Frederick, Maryland, is pictured with Cynthia Scott during the ribbon-cutting event at Gaslight Gallery. Leigh Cortez's artwork is in the background.

“The intense residencies at Lesley created relationships that have endured,” Scott says. Among them are Leigh Cortez ’18, whose anti-war exhibit, Dreams During the Long Peace,” opened at the gallery in time for Veterans’ Day, and Wen-Hao Tien ’19, a Cambridge artist whose first solo show in Maryland, “It Speaks for Itself?” runs May 6 to June 1.

The inclusion of artists from a variety of backgrounds reflects Scott’s goal of presenting a “diversity of ideas,” something she experienced and embraced throughout her youth and adulthood. As a self-proclaimed “military brat” (her father was a career Air Force pilot), she moved multiple times and spent much of her adolescence in Panama, attending all-girls Catholic schools and learning both the Spanish language and local culture.

“I was the minority. My sister and I were the only gringas in school.” she says, adding that her background made her invaluable once she was commissioned as an officer in the Air Force in 1979, following her graduation from Emerson College.

“I know a lot of different kinds of people,” she says. “I’m a Third Culture kid. Anybody who’s lived abroad has a sense of that.” In addition, she says the military itself is “very much a cross-section of America.”

‘Martial artist’

Scott enjoyed a 22-year Air Force career, both on active duty and, after 9/11, as a reservist deployed to the Pentagon. Scott’s background prompted the Air Force to send her to Argentina, Chile, and she returned to Panama in the 1980s, during the ouster of military strongman Manuel Noriega. She arranged media events for Air Force Lt.Gen. (Ret.) James Abrahamson, who headed up the Strategic Defense Initiative (popularly known as “Star Wars”).

“By the way, General Abe loved modern art and ducked into MoMA when he got a free moment in NYC,” says Scott.

self portrait collage
"The Fool," a digital collage self-portrait by Cynthia Scott.

Scott directed communication strategy for a follow-on to President Bill Clinton’s “Summit of the Americas” initiating the Defense Ministerial of the Americas, now an established western hemisphere defense conference. After 9/11, she served as Pentagon spokesperson for all Spanish language media and conducted media training for many other U.S. general officers.

But another passion from her youth was tugging at her.

“I was always into drawing and painting,” says Scott, who is primarily a watercolorist. “I use art as a method of communicating.” Yet her art also served another purpose: it provided an additional bond with her father, who retired became a wood-turner after he retired from the Air Force. The two of them opened a seasonal gallery in a cottage on Cape Cod prior to Scott’s stint at the Pentagon. With a laugh, Scott says her father became a “wood-turning guru” and she “sold a lot of mermaid paintings.”

However, a few years ago, Scott wanted to stretch her artistic gifts, so she enrolled at Lesley. “I met Leigh Cortez at Lesley, along with many other talented and inspiring conceptual artists in our program,” she told the Frederick News-Post in a November interview. Scott adds that Lesley faculty Deb Todd Wheeler and Ben Sloat “were super encouraging” during her time at Lesley and today.

The Gaslight Gallery space was built in 1810. Says Scott,  “I like the contrast of the antique formal space and contemporary art. Frederick MD has become a burgeoning art scene and I’m thrilled to be an integral part of it!”