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These days, the walls of the former Capital Children’s Museum are hung with many striking images. Painter Maggie O’Neill’s vivid scenes of Venice and Perugia, Italy, for instance. Or the works of photographer Eduardo Rodriguez, who’s into rigid, semi-erect, and flaccid phalluses labeled with such double entendres as “SWALLOW MY PRIDE” and “THERE’S A SUCKER BORN EVERY MINUTE.”
And that’s just one room of the current Artomatic—“the penis room,” as O’Neill puts it.
Elsewhere in the five-story, 110,000-square-foot exhibition, crammed with thousands of works by some 600 area artsy types, you’ll also notice several colorful pie-chart posters, not so cleverly titled Cost of Artomatic 2004.
Yes, organizers are quick to extol Artomatic’s free admission and all-volunteer staff: “[V]olunteers execute every task, from hauling trash and building exhibit structures to maintaining the website,” states that very Web site.
But that doesn’t mean Artomatic doesn’t cost anything. Not by a long shot. “It’s a volunteer thing, but it does take some funds to put it on,” notes organizer and exhibitor Sondra Arkin.
An estimated $121,197, in fact, according to the pie chart.
Use of the sprawling, abandoned Children’s Museum building—doomed to be turned into high-end condos once the exhibition is over—has been donated by the generous gentrifiers at Abdo Development. But they aren’t paying for heating or electricity.
And you’ve just gotta have juice if you’re going let D.C. artist Djakarta screen Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton’s infamous interracial sex scene from Monster’s Ball on a continuous loop. On three TVs. For hours and hours and hours.
And somebody’s gotta keep the old museum nice and tidy. Combined budget for “Utilities/Housekeeping,” according to the chart? $26,500.
You also need paid security guards to make sure that no one, say, hauls off sculptor Robert T. Cole’s stainless-steel-and-bronze mustachioed motorcyclist, Father Time, located at the 3rd Street NE entrance. Estimated security costs: $24,675.
Oh, and then there are legal and financial expenses ($21,364). Food and beverages ($13,700). Printing ($11,472). Communications ($10,247). Equipment rentals ($4,500). Insurance and fees ($4,400). And, um, “materials” ($4,338).
Who’s gonna pay for it all? Artomatic’s “Income to Date,” according to the chart posted on Nov. 7, is a mere $36,000. That’s the money that the exhibiting artists raised themselves by ponying up the $60 participation fee. As for the remaining $85,197, well, organizers are actively asking for donations.
At the door, volunteers ask visitors for a handout. They also hawk little black Artomatic buttons for $2 apiece and “Investment Grade Limited Edition Commemorative” Artomatic T-shirts for $15.
And at Artomatic’s third-floor Overlook Bar, volunteers offer a bevy of beverages for a “suggested donation”: $4 for a plastic cup of wine, $3 for a can of beer, $2 for soda, and $1 for bottled water.
So far, the group’s fundraising efforts have managed to bring in a few dollars. Bar receipts from Artomatic’s opening weekend totaled about $8,500, volunteer Financial Director Chuck Baxter reports. And at-the-door donations have grossed the event nearly $5,000 so far.
But starting out with a bang is one thing. Keeping the bucks comin’ is another: Baxter notes that donations have dropped off sharply following opening night. During Artomatic’s heavily attended kickoff party on Friday, Nov. 12, organizers drummed up about $4,000 at the door, he says. The next day? Less than $1,000.
Sales and donations have boosted Artomatic’s “Income to Date” closer to $50,000. But it will take more than twice that much just to cover the event’s expenses. “If we fall short,” Arkin says, “we’re fucked.”
Baxter says that organizers are banking on a $15,000 grant coming soon from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities—which DCCAH grants manager Lionell Thomas says is already on its way. Yet even with those funds, Artomatic will still be short a hefty $56,197.
In other words, volunteers are going to have to start seriously moving that merchandise and slinging those suds.
Consider that $56,197 figure: That’s roughly 3,746 T-shirts. Or, if you prefer a more subdued Artomatic statement, 28,099 buttons. At the bar, that would translate to 14,049 cups of wine. Or 18,732 cans of Miller High Life Light.
Possibly warm cans, too: Ice, it turns out, is more expensive than organizers anticipated. Event planners budgeted only $700 to keep drinks cold throughout the three-week-long event. Yet less than a week in, Baxter notes, $400 worth has already melted away.
RETAIL STRIP TEASE
Stanton Park resident Richard Layman and his activist neighbors have long envisioned a day when riot-rattled H Street NE will blossom into a vibrant arts-and-entertainment district lined with new theaters and nightclubs.
But a burlesque joint? Well, that’s not exactly the kind of entertainment everyone had in mind. “People are worried that they’re getting a titty bar,” says the former chair of the H Street Main Street promotion and marketing committee.
Neighborhood e-mail groups have been abuzz with alarmist chatter since Nov. 1, when Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A Chair Joseph Fengler alerted residents to a recent application filed with the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration: “License No. 71772, The Show Bar LLC, T/A Show Bar, Retailer’s Class ‘C’ Nightclub, 1210 H Street, NE.”
According to the application, the proposed 99-seat nightclub would offer “American cuisine with burlesque dancing, show performers, live and recorded music appealing to adults.”
On the basis of that description, some assumed the place would be nothing more than a seedy strip club. “I don’t think the name T/A leaves a whole lot of doubt about the intentions of the owners,” e-mailed neighborhood resident Jock Friedly.
Actually, “T/A” is bureaucratic shorthand for “trading as.” And D.C. watering-hole honcho Joe Englert, who’s listed as one of four managing partners on the Show Bar application, says residents shouldn’t get their panties all in a twist.
The bar’s dancers certainly won’t.
“Any dancing of any kind would be making fun of the old burlesque—but no nudity or anything like that,” says Englert, owner of the Capitol Lounge, the Lucky Bar, the Big Hunt, and others. “Not that I’m morally opposed to nudity,” he adds.
Ah, but the District government is. In fact, D.C. alcohol regulations have banned all new nightclubs from hosting “nude performances” since 1993. And it holds licensees to a strict definition of what “nude” actually means.
According to D.C. code, a nude performance would be any “dancing or other entertainment by a person whose genitals, pubic region, or buttocks are less than completely and opaquely covered and, in the case of a female, whose breasts are less than completely and opaquely covered below a point immediately above the top of the areola.”
In other words: No G-strings. Nor even any tasseled pasties.
Pretty tame by even the quaint standards of classic burlesque. “If you’re sticking to the ’50s burlesque tradition, pasties and a G-string were the limit,” notes Baltimore-based burlesque historian Kara Mae, editor of Star & Garter magazine.
Adhering to D.C. law, Mae notes, self-proclaimed “International Burlesque Sensation” Miss Dirty Martini wouldn’t be allowed to perform her most popular number: the bawdy Balloon Dance. “Covered in balloons, she pops ’em one by one with a cigarette while dancing on point,” Mae explains. “And eventually gets down to just pasties and a G-string.”
There are a few modern-day burlesque revivalists who probably could comply with D.C.’s strict regs, Mae notes. Sisters Angie, Tara, and Helen Pontani, for instance, who’ve performed numerous times on NBC’s Late Night With Conan O’Brien. “They don’t really get naked at all,” says Mae. “They don’t get down to anything less than a sequined bra.”
“It can be done,” Mae concludes. “But I would say that most of the popular dancers definitely get more risqué than that.”—Chris Shott
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