We hear a lot about building new housing, retail, and offices, but space for artists to work is also a valuable part of neighborhoods. It’s not just for the artists themselves. When artists have work spaces in our communities, it can make art more accessible to the regular person.
Many artists open up their studios to the general public, either regularly or during special events, and May is a big time for these “open studios.” The next few weekends are great times to look at art, meet artists, and see the kinds of spaces artists use for their creative work, with events in Dupont/Logan/U Street, Trinidad, and Mount Rainier/Hyattsville, plus regular opportunities in Brookland and Alexandria.
Open studios are also a chance to better understand art in a non-judgmental environment. Talking to local artists about their work is a great way to make art more approachable.
For many of us, art evokes images of revered masterpieces, mostly by long-dead people, chosen by unseen professional curators and placed in marble-lined grand and imposing halls of museums.
There’s nothing wrong with that, for the purpose it serves — great works from the past should be on display in places that befit their significance. But there’s a lot more to art. And visual art is not just paintings, but photography, sculpture, glasswork, quilts, furniture, and much more.
Some people make art as a hobby; a significant group of people, for their living. But the visual arts can often seem intimidating to those not steeped in that world.
I went to the open studios for the Mid City Artists, in the Dupont, Logan, and U Street area, last year, and found everyone to be very friendly and not at all haughty. They are proud of what they have created. And yes, they are potentially interested in selling something, though I never encountered any pressure.
In fact, according to Sondra Arkin, a founder of Mid City Artists (and a neighbor), many of the artists who participate feel it as a much a way to spread the word about the fact that living people make art in living spaces than purely as a commercial effort (though, still, they would be happy for some sales, too).
Some established artists in the neighborhood ... don’t find the activity of open studios fits with their practice. It is more difficult than one could imagine to disrupt your work for what amounts to a weekend party. [But] for the artist, it is a great opportunity to test the waters on new work, demonstrate techniques, and explain their passion to create visual art. It is worth the work, and ... makes the city more like the small town we envisioned.
Here are some ways to interact with art and artists this month:
Mid City Artists’ open studios is May 17th and 18th, with 13 artists along and near 14th Street. Most studios are open from about 12-5. There are guided tours by experts at select times each afternoon, but it’s also fun to just wander around and pop in, including to see the studio spaces for the artists in residential buildings.
Gateway Arts District, around Rhode Island Avenue in Mount Rainier and Hyattsville just over the DC line, is having open studios this Saturday, May 10, also from 12-5.
Art in the Alley in Trinidad showcases artists’ work in an alley off Florida Avenue, between Montello and Trinidad Avenues (near 12th Street NE). That’s also this Saturday, May 10, from 6-10 pm.
Other artist spaces with seasonal open studios include 52 O Street (whose website hasn’t been updated with 2014 open studios information) (update: but which is having its open studios this weekend as well), and the Jackson Art Center in Georgetown (which had its open studios in late April).
Plus, many art spaces have open studios on a regular basis, or all the time.
Arts Walk at Monroe Street Market is a promenade in a new building by the Brookland Metro lined with artist studios. The artists each have their own open hours, and the studios coordinate to all be open on the third Thursday of each month.
The Torpedo Factory, at the waterfront end of King Street in Alexandria, is a sort of permanent open studio, where participating artists have work space in a building where anyone can stop by when they are there.
And the occasional Artomatic event brings together local artists to all show off their work, at least when its organizers can find a temporarily vacant office building and a willing landlord.