You can’t follow DC news outlets and blogs without hearing about “DC’s Renaissance”. Clichés aside, the concentration of DC artists, art events, and art spaces have increased across the city – in neighborhoods like Anacostia, the Atlas Arts District, and right here in Brookland. Historically though, mainstream arts reporting has focused on the public museums downtown and the commercial galleries in Northwest DC. Enter East City Art, a blog founded by editor Phil Hutinet in January, 2010, which documents the myriad of artistic activities happening in the Northeast and Southeast quadrants of the city. We caught up with Eric Hope, a writer for East City Art, and he filled us in on the blog and this burgeoning art scene.
Tell me a little bit about East City Art. Why focus on Northeast and Southeast DC?
The profound demographic and economic changes sweeping our city haven’t spared the arts community, so you have two overlapping phenomenon occurring. First, artists in need of inexpensive studio space have quietly migrated east into neighborhoods like Trinidad, Anacostia and Brentwood. A rich network of individual and group studio spaces have developed, but mostly under the radar. More visibly, those same economic forces have impacted gallerists, and the second wave of activity has been the opening of commercial and non-profit gallery spaces on the east side of the city.
Groups like The Pink Line Project and Brightest Young Things have done amazing jobs in promoting social events, and developing a cultural cachet in these neighborhoods, but no single, on-line journal has specifically focused on critical news and reviews of the visual arts and activities in these neighborhoods. East City Art aims to fill that coverage gap, providing area residents with a more nuanced understanding of the artistic life across our great city.
I must mention the symbiotic relationship that exists between our eastern neighborhoods and the close-in Maryland suburbs of Mt. Rainer, Brentwood and Hyattsville. Collectively this “Gateway Arts District” houses a variety of group studios and exhibition spaces, and many artists and curators work and/or exhibit in eastern DC and vice-versa. We acknowledge this linkage with coverage of major events in the Gateway Arts District.
How does the arts scene on the east side of the city differ from the rest of the city?
I find there’s a feeling of exuberance, a cheerful optimism, on the east side of the city that isn’t present in Northwest. I think this is because the arts scene in Northwest is gallery-centered, whereas the eastern side has more of an “anything-goes” vibe driven by the artists. There’s a willingness to take chances and artists are organizing their own exhibitions, often mixing visual arts with music, poetry, fashion, etc., giving you a wonderful cross-pollination of creativity. The shows aren’t always elegant, or in a manner viable for a commercial gallery, but that’s the point I think. Also, as established gallerists move in, you have an interesting dynamic occurring with established, almost blue-chip artists showing work down the street from scrappy upstarts. It’s really feeling vibrant these days!
What do you see in the future for the arts scene on the east side of the city? What will be the catalysts for growth and change?
Changes in the arts scene are linked to the overarching economic and social changes occurring in our city. The arts community has been at the forefront, quietly driving those changes, reinvigorating the city and shaping its desirability as a place to live; where artists go, the rest of us will follow. I think we’ll continue to see the movement of artists and artist-driven events into two broadly defined areas centered on historic Anacostia just over the 11th street bridge and the Atlas Arts District, but with an emphasis on Trinidad and along Bladensburg road. Pop-up spaces and one-off events will continue to proliferate to feed our desire for new experiences.
The DC arts community is coming unto its own and soul-searching. For a long time we’ve had a bit of a complex – striving to be noticed by our big-city brethren to the north and far west. While the District has an increased prominence on the international stage, our artists are asking themselves, what makes the District unique? The exhibitions resulting from these debates are increasingly being organized and directed by the artists themselves outside of the traditional, commercial gallery model, and they’re taking place further and further to the east!
One of the biggest unrecognized catalysts is the District government. The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities has actively encouraged art events throughout the city, such as the 5×5 Project, and the Temporium (which was located in Brookland last year). We can expect the District to continue this trend with their next grant cycle.
Speaking of the Brookland area, how much of a game changer will the Arts Walk (at Monroe Street Market/Catholic U) be?
I am guardedly optimistic about the impact of the Arts Walk. Cultural DC (the organization prescreening studio applicants) is requiring artists to maintain a vigorous presence in their spaces to foster engagement with the community. Ideally this will translate into artists engaging the public in discussions about their art. It has a wonderful potential, and I imagine that Brooklanders will be walking over on the weekends. Whether or not this project specifically fosters that dialogue, remains to be seen and will probably have a lot to do with the initial group of artists themselves.
What I think might have an even greater impact for the neighborhood as a whole is the Edgewood Arts Building/Artsflex now being built across from it on Monroe Street. This building sounds like it will actually be more neighborhood-oriented in that it will host workshops and other activities, as well as give artists from all over the neighborhood a chance to engage one another to a greater degree that will happen on the Arts Walk.
What east side galleries would you recommend to our readers who want to get caught up on our local scene?
Wow! There are so many to choose from!
- In Anacostia, I recommend the Gallery at Vivid Solutions which focuses on photography and Honfleur Gallery which has featured some really interesting, socially-charged exhibitions of late.
- On Barracks Row, I recommend The Fridge – a creative space that often features edgy, graffiti-inspired art that comments on modern culture. The gallery also hosts multi-disciplinary events, mixing visual arts with music or spoken word performances.
- The Atlas Arts district along H Street, NE has seen a plethora of arts venues open in the last several years. Connorsmith is the most widely known and features artists seen in museums around the world. Upstairs from Connorsmith is Industry Gallery, which focuses on the nexus of cutting edge design and visual arts.
- My two favorite spots are small, under-the-radar, non-traditional art spaces: Porch Projects and the Evolve Urban Arts Project. The Evolve Urban Arts Project is housed in the public atrium of what was once an old school (now loft apartments) and features emerging artists from the District. They also throw a one of the most creative openings in town, with appetizers and a speciality cocktail designed around the art on the walls. Porch Projects is literally the back porch space of an unassuming rowhouse off 13th Street and is designed as blank canvas for artists to try out new ideas with their work and the artists I’ve encountered there welcome conversation about their work.