The Prince George’s County, Md., Gateway Arts District is described on its Web site as “an arts-based economic development initiative” through which “[n]ew artists are attracted to live and work in the area, and their customers and students follow.” And just like that, the presently blighted U.S. 1/Rhode Island Avenue corridor will be transformed into “a focal point for arts activities of all kinds, as well as for socializing, entertainment, dining, and shopping.”

Or so the theory holds.

“Artists are the first wave of commercial revitalization,” Gateway Community Development Corp. Executive Director Nick Francis (who did not return calls for comment) told The Gazette back in March.

Conceived under former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, financed through county, state, and federal funds, and spearheaded by the Gateway CDC, the initiative intends to lure artists with new construction, including a proposed African-American museum and cultural-heritage center in North Brentwood, as well as three new housing complexes.

The first building to open will be a sleek, 44-unit, $11.7 million residential and commercial facility called the Mount Rainier Artist Lofts, located at the corner of 34th Street and Rhode Island Avenue. Slated to open in early 2005, the complex will offer “affordable housing for artists and their families,” with rents ranging from $600 to $800 a month.

All sorts of artistic types have been encouraged to apply: anyone who practices “painting, drawing, sculpture, book art, and print-making” or is involved with “imaginative works of aesthetic literature, costume design, photography, music composition, and architecture.” Also welcome are “singers, musicians, dancers, actors, and performance artists.” Heck, even the makers of “functional art” such as “jewelry, rugs, decorative screens and grates, furniture, pottery, toys, and quilts.”

In fact, your specific artistry doesn’t matter all that much—just as long as you’re a starving artist.

But not too starving. The minimum annual income required to rent a studio apartment is $12,960. For a one-bedroom, $13,992. And for a spacious two-bedroomer? $16,824. Maximum income levels are based on capacity: A single applicant can’t make more than $24,360; a couple, no more than $27,840. With three persons, the max is $31,320. And with four, it’s $34,800. Oh, and a family of five squeezing into one of those 800- to 1,400-square-foot units must earn less than $37,600.

Managers of the revamped Mather Building in the District’s East End were a lot less restrictive on income and much more concerned with the actual artwork when selecting creative-class buyers for 12 low-priced condos in 2002. A single buyer could make anywhere from $28,200 to $63,750, and a couple could rake in as much as $72,850.

Required submissions, meanwhile, included a “resume of artistic accomplishments”; “two letters of reference from people who have presented the artist’s work”; supporting materials such as slides, recordings, or writings; and a “narrative statement of no more than 300 words on role this home will play in the applicant’s ability to grow or prosper as an artist.”

“You had to prove that if you were, say, a visual artist, that you had a history of exhibiting, and that it wasn’t just bogus stuff,” says Stuart Gosswein, co-founder of the Downtown Artists Coalition and proud owner of one of those condos. “It was something that the arts community would put a stamp of approval on.”

The Mount Rainier building, by contrast, asks applicants to provide just four simple pieces of art-related information: (1) “Write an Artist Statement, briefly describing your art form, how long you have been creating, your inspiration and your goals.” (2) “Why are you interested in living and participating in this artist live/work community?” (3) “What equipment and materials do you use in your artwork?” and (4) “Describe your process.” And you’ll have to interview with the “artist selection committee.”

That’s it. But if that proves too daunting, no worries: You’ve still got a shot at your very own live/work space. According to the application, “If there are no qualified artist applicants on the waiting list, applications of qualified non-artist applicants will be processed.”

And nonartists, as everyone knows, are the second wave of commercial revitalization.


Organizers of Artomatic’s “Funky Furniture” project had high hopes for Kayti Didriksen’s Man of Leisure, King George.

After all, the celebrated painting—one of some 40 works barred from display at the City Museum of Washington in October due to their controversial themes (Show & Tell, 10/10)—“was seen around the globe in over 500 articles through the Associated Press,” according to an Artomatic press release.

Organizers figured that the parody of Edouard Manet’s infamous 1863 nude Olympia, which depicts President George W. Bush buck naked, reclining on a chaise lounge, and attended to by a crown-carrying Vice President Dick Cheney, would generate some intense bidding at auction.

And generate some big bucks, too—both for the painter and for Artomatic, which would receive half of the proceeds.

“You’ve read about it. You’ve seen it on Jay Leno. This is your chance to have King George all your own,” announced glass-sculptor-turned-auctioneer Tim Tate as the piece went up for sale on Dec. 4. “This is the one that’s gonna make history.”

Or not. For all the hype, Didriksen’s Bush-in-the-buff attracted only one bidder. And not anyone at the actual live auction, either: An Internet buyer snagged the painting for the opening bid of $1,800.

And to judge by the rest of the sales—or lack thereof—he probably could’ve gotten it for a whole lot less. “At that point, I was trying hard not to cry,” says project co-chair Chad Alan. “People just weren’t buying.”

In fact, earlier in the evening, Alan’s own 7-foot-long church pew—labeled with an off-color Bob Hope joke from the ’80s about the Statue of Liberty contracting AIDS—received no bids at all.

Neither did Roger Cutler’s Bush Presidential Library. The Washington Monument– shaped bookshelf stocked with burnt texts drew no interest whatsoever, despite Tate’s best hyperbolic pitch: “Hidden in the books is a quarter-ounce,” he announced to the quiet room. “No seeds.” Still no takers.

That’s not to say Didriksen’s canvas was the only sale, however. Alan’s co-chair, Maggie O’Neill, did manage to find a buyer for her pink-painted Oval Office desk, symbolizing a future female U.S. president. Of course, the purchaser was her own mother, Patricia O’Neill, who forked over $400 for that piece, plus another $300 for a table lamp designed by Tariq Tucker.

And Dana Ellyn Kaufman also sold her decorative floor pillows, adorned with cartoonish pimps and prostitutes, to fellow painters O’Neill and Didriksen, who paid a combined $375.

All told, the auction netted only about $5,000 on 36 items, translating to just $2,500 for Artomatic—an amount Alan described as “unfortunately pathetic.” Though, he notes, it’s probably enough to cover the event’s own catering bills and supply costs.

“I’m sure Artomatic could’ve used a lot more money from us,” he says.

Price Club: Stretching your dollar at D.C.’s night spots

Venue: The Grand Hyatt Washington, 1000 H Street NW

Event: The Downtown Countdown, “DC’s largest, annual New Year’s Eve celebration,” Dec. 31

Cost: $225 per VIP ticket plus $9.95 Ticketmaster convenience charge and optional $3.50 e-mail delivery*

Skip the pretentious New Year’s Eve parties at Pearl ($30 to $95 per ticket) and Fur ($40 to $100)—those new nightclubs are sooo passé. Instead, head to the recently renovated Grand Hyatt Washington to “[s]ay goodbye to 2004 in style in DC’s biggest ballroom with it’s largest balloon drop.”

Organized by Bethesda-based party planners Lindy Promotions Inc. and hosted by your favorite local Clear Channel Communications DJs, Elliot in the Morning and John Ballard, the five-hour open-bar celebration, according to Lindy’s Web site, will feature such top-notch entertainment as karaoke and Virginia alt-country quintet Carbon Leaf performing a nicely revamped rendition of the classic “‘Auld Lang Zine.’”

Sure, you can get in with a regular old $129 ticket—if you prefer to stand. “[T]he regular party ticket areas offer very limited seating,” notes the Web site. “While there is some seating available in ‘breakout rooms’, there is not seating for every guest.”

“[I]n order to maximize the fun potential,” you need the VIP ticket, which gives you access to “a much higher percentage of seating per guest.”

* “Ticket prices will increase as the event gets closer,” according to the promoter’s Web site.

—Chris Shott

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