Maybe artists thought the idea of car dangles like fuzzy dice was too silly. Maybe everyone left town for vacation. Maybe it was just too darn hot to get the creative juices flowing. Whatever the reason, one morning last week Mary Briggs found herself looking at fewer than 20 entries for the third annual Arlington Arts Al Fresco competition.

Briggs, director of the Lee Arts Center, a community arts cooperative, and curator of the exhibit, confessed disappointment. Last year, when the theme was light-switch plates, she said, "we got 90 entries from 60 very odd artists."

But once Briggs started to examine this year's entries, she found herself cooing over a pair of jumbo fuzzy dice and admiring a horseshoe fashioned out of beef jerky. "This thing is really nice," Briggs said enthusiastically after picking up a slice of yellow spark-plug wire festooned with buttons, gaskets and other random charms. "As such things go," dryly added Trudy Van Dyke, director of the Ellipse Arts Center.

After the initial run-through of entries, Briggs, Van Dyke and a few colleagues sat down for the important business of the day: naming a movie award after each item and writing mini-reviews. David Weingaertner's heavy dangles of knives, spoons and forks took the "Brakefast at Tiffany's" award. Other items, such as an abstract design submitted by Nilo Santiago, proved more challenging for the experts to pigeonhole but eventually they decided on "Bye Bye Birdie."

The silver lining of the small turnout, Briggs said, is that everyone who entered will win a handmade prize created by Arlington artists--either a car sun screen painted by Alfredo Ratinoff or a quirky pin by Jan McQueary.

Pamela Chewning treasures her Elvis snow globe, her prize from the Al Fresco contest's inaugural year. Chewning and her roommate Shaz Malik won the competitive kitsch award for their refrigerator magnet featuring the Blessed Virgin of Guacamole and Father Fungi. After skipping a year of the contest, Chewning and Malik this year dropped off a silver box with their masterpiece, "Luck of the Drive: Trucker's Ju-Ju Dice." Good-luck symbols, including a fortune cookie, cover one die, while the other has more practical items such as a fold-out map. It's a combination of a "lucky something that would promote good fortune on the road, but in case your juju didn't work you'd have emergency equipment devices," Chewning said.

Most of the trinkets on the dice came from a kitsch altar at their Washington house; other things, like the faux fur, were found at Wal-Mart. Neither woman is a serious artist, but they took the Al Fresco assignment seriously, creating a cardboard mock-up while at the beach (it was raining, said Chewning, not wanting to seem too hard-core). This juju is not for sale, unlike many other car dangles in the show.

Prices for the works range from $10 for a fabulous wire fly (a definite driving hazard if used as intended) to $150 for "AA-OO-GAH," the spark plug creation.

The county gets a 20 percent commission, but making money isn't the show's main focus. "The whole concept behind this was to not take things too seriously and have fun this summer," said Briggs, letting slip that she is leaning toward car sun screens as next year's theme.

The car dangles will be on exhibit Saturday and Sunday at Lubber Run Amphitheatre, North Second and North Columbus streets. From Aug. 13 to Sept. 10, the show moves to the Lee Arts Center Mini Gallery, 5722 Lee Hwy. For information, call 703-228-5256.

Swap Shop

About a year ago, freelance graphic designer and artist Brenda Mitchell started TradeArt, a bimonthly publication that offers artists a chance to showcase and barter their work. It works like this: Artists send Mitchell a poem, story, photograph or painting and pay $28 for an annual membership. Then Mitchell reproduces the work, with contact information, and distributes the magazine to galleries, arts centers and her growing mailing list of artists. For the onetime fee, artists can submit materials as often as they like. "It's an opportunity for artists to get work out there and let people judge for themselves," Mitchell said.

The most recent issue includes photography by Alexander Downs, an essay on digital archiving by David Valentine and a sketch by Mitchell. On the last page are a series of barter ads. One person seeks to trade film/video services for weekend rides to eastern and southern Maryland and Virginia. Another person offers a painting in exchange for help installing a wheelchair elevator in a pickup truck. Artists swapping skills for goods is what TradeArt is about, Mitchell said, though she hasn't heard of any actual transactions yet.

Mitchell designs TradeArt from her Upper Marlboro home using donated software. She shares the $1,500 cost of each issue with her small board of directors and borrows a friend's car to do the distribution. She recently applied for nonprofit status and plans to start approaching advertisers soon.

Right now she's more worried about accessibility than publication cost. "The hardest part is trying to get artists to find it, figure out what it is and respond to it," Mitchell said.

Send submissions to TradeArt, P.O. Box 1112, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20773-1112. For information, call 301-627-6894 or visit the Web site www.tradeart.org.

CAPTION: Silverware inspired "Fast Food I, II, III" by David Weingaertner, winner of the "Brakefast at Tiffany's" award.

CAPTION: Lee Arts Center curator Mary Briggs with "Luck of the Drive: Trucker's Ju-Ju Dice." Above, "Guinevere, Galahad, Watch the Birdie," an abstract design by Nilo Santiago.