Local Artist Spotlight: banished?/ARTillery – Hand-Crafting, Wood-Working, Knowledge-Sharing

Brookland has always been home to the arts. However, with the arrival of venues and studios like Brookland Artspace Lofts and the Arts Walk, the greater Brookland area is poised to become a bonafide arts district in DC. We decided to a create an ongoing series – “Local Artist Spotlight” – highlighting local artists and their work. We hope you enjoy this first installment.

ARTillery at Monroe Street MarketThe banished? ARTillery studio is a mixed-use space for banished? productions. banished? productions conduct theatrical, culinary, historic and other programs across the city. The ARTillery “home base”, located at Studio 27 of  the Monroe Street Market Arts Walk has multiple uses, including a fully-equipped wood/technical workshop, a shop for selling the arts and crafts created within its walls, a classroom and a work/design studio for collaborators.

The ARTillery Academy offers classes open to artists, creatives and art enthusiasts in DC and beyond. They also run a Tool Library that seeks to promote artisanal skills like hand-crafting, wood-working, and knowledge-sharing through its tool-loaning program. Membership is required to borrow tools and  is open to artists and community members.

I became a member of the Tool Library program at the ARTillery in December of 2013. I had the pleasure of joining Niell DuVal, the Technical Director of Banished?Productions for a few sessions of building stage props for banished? productions. Niell has a lot of patience and showed me how to use a number of tools that I have not used before. He then let me work on my own and gave me the time I needed to complete the given task. This is for sure a very rewarding activity, knowing that what I help built will be used in a performance production.

I like to built things on my own, but due to limited space I can not have all the tools that I would like to have at home. The tool library gives me the opportunity to borrow what I need for a project, and I have a whole week to use them before I have to return them to the ARTillery.

So it is a win win win …… I offer some man power to the projects of the ARTillery, Niell teaches me how to use new tools and I can practice by building production sets for banished?, and I can borrow tools that do not have to buy and store.

Did I mention that Niell is a super nice guy? I am so excited that the ARTillery decided to settle in the Arts Walk! For our first “Local Artist Spotlight”, we asked him to tell us a little bit more about the ARTillery. Here are his responses to our questions:

1) Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
I’ve been a builder of props for 14 years, mostly for theater and some TV. I work with wood, metal, plastic, foam, but often a combination of many materials. About 8 years ago I co-founded banished? productions with Artistic Director Carmen C. Wong. Banished? is an “avant-pop” performance company that creates hybrid work by collaging multiple disciplines. To give you an idea, we create gastro-performances, alternative art audiowalks, performative installations or performance collages. I’m the Technical Director so I’m responsible for all of the building, rigging and some of the design.
2) Who else is part of the ARTillery team?
We are beginning to build out the ARTillery team, which consists of me, Genna Davidson (our program coordinator) and Kristina Lykke (our administrative coordinator), and our volunteers.
Genna Davidson
Genna Davidson
Kristina Lykke
Kristina Lykke
Niell DuVal
Niell DuVal
Carmen C. Wong
Carmen C. Wong
This team is only a small part of banished?, which comprises some talented artists that our Artistic Director Carmen is amazing at reaching out to: creative folks in DC and beyond who enjoy working and thinking outside the box. We now have a core creative team that heads up our productions and that works alongside our artistic collaborators: designers, choreographers, musicians, sound engineers, videographers, even chefs and a company philosopher. We also have an amazing and tireless board that keeps us on the straight and narrow and is so incredibly supportive. See them all here.
3) Who had the idea for the ARTillery and when?
We had been building our shows out of my back yard and living room, so we had been looking for our own studio for a few years. As banished? began to grow, Carmen and I started thinking longer-term. The dream grew into a modestly small but dynamic multi-use space where we could collaborate with other artists, have a tool library and a space where we could host classes, conduct meetings and have space to do table work for the conceptual phase of project planning. We eventually would like to build out a gastro-lab in a few years’ time so Carmen is able to test out ideas for evolving one of our better-known projects: Tactile Dinner.
4) What was the motivation to pick the Arts Walk as the location for the ARTillery?
Cultural DC alerted us on the development of the Arts Walk. We went to a few meetings, took a couple of hardhat tours, and we immediately felt an affinity for the space that is currently our studio. The size, space, use and feel seemed like a really good fit in terms of our needs.
Meanwhile we approached the architect/designer Hiroshi Jacobs, who teaches at Catholic University and who we had met through Cultural DC, about designing the space. It helps that we are also in a creative community and near the wonderful Dance Place, a venue that inspired Carmen when she first moved to DC (she lived minutes away from here). Hiroshi’s design for the ARTillery really captured our aesthetic and met the functions of the space and that settled it for us: it had to be here.
5) What is the concept of the ARTillery?
The banished? ARTillery is a flexible, mixed-use space for banished? productions’ avant-pop hybrid art practice. Because we like to do work that is outside of traditional theatre spaces, any space can be our stage, but what this means is that we need an inspiring and efficient place to develop, test and build our ideas for our productions and projects. We also wanted to do this in a way that allows us to include our artists and audiences in various parts of the process.
Our vision for achieving this is through: 1. Arming artists with teaching skills and fostering knowledge-sharing in all parties  2. Challenging the boundaries and enlarging the roles/receptivity of audiences   3. Activating the understanding of hybridized art via hands-on creation of mini-projects  4. Decoding the creation process and encourage applicability in other fields and mediums
6) Explain the Membership program and the use of the tool library? 
The idea behind the ARTillery Tool Library is to give local area residents a very affordable way to have access to a wide range of tools. In DC, many people don’t have the space or budget to keep things like table saws and air compressors. Members can come in and bounce ideas off me (or other members) about their own project. They can check out up to 7 tools for a week. If a member is unsure of what tools are needed, we’ll offer guidance.

Membership is open to everyone ($100/year with 9 hours recommended volunteer work) and we even have an artist discount ($50/year with 18 hours required volunteer work) Registration is really easy though the website. There you can also browse our extensive tool inventory.

7) What are some upcoming projects that volunteers can help build?
We’ve only built phase one of the ARTillery, so we still have a lot of construction to do. Up next are lots of shelves, workbenches and also a special piece for sitting on that also stores our tables. There should be plenty of work of varying skill levels to do this spring and summer. Everything in the ARTillery, including the structure itself, was built by volunteers (I’m so proud of them!). Also, since we depend largely on tool donations (hint, hint!), we usually have tools to repair, parts to replace, chisels to sharpen, etc.
8) What is it that motivates you to invest your own free time in this project?
I really enjoy instructing people one-on-one how to use tools and build things. If it’s something they’re passionate about, like their own art project, it’s even more rewarding. I’ve had some terrific mentors over the years and now I have the privilege to share what I’ve learned with others. It’s awesome.  

 The Arts Walk is located at 716 Monroe Street NE.

One thought on “Local Artist Spotlight: banished?/ARTillery – Hand-Crafting, Wood-Working, Knowledge-Sharing”

  1. Thanks for this informative article–bloggers do such brilliant work building community. I will definitely become a member! Perhaps some of us could donate some of our extra tools if they would be useful.

    I wonder if you know what other artist-oriented resources exist in the greater Brookland area or the Northeast area–I know of the newly opened clay studio in Langdon, Art Enables in the little Woodridge downtown area (a local treasure), and I believe that there are some glass studios in nearby Hyattsville and Mt. Rainier. There are dance classes offered at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mt. Rainier as well as Dance Place in Brookland. Scrap DC is a Brookland-based artists’ resource. I wonder if there are any venues offering evening classes in drawing, painting? There are so many buildings around that would be perfect spaces for art studios and classes in this area.

    Thanks again for being such a resource for us!

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