People are streaming in and out of Studio 7, a rough-hewn building at 1021 7th St. NW. Outside, it drizzles; inside, it buzzes like a cocktail party and smells like a backyard barbecue. Artists and art lovers, hamburgers in hand, congregate around paintings, photographs, and sculpture. At the center of this opening night is Molly Ruppert, a Maryland grandmother with a leading role in the District’s art scene. Ruppert organizes this event, ArtRomp, twice a year.

She started ArtRomp, Ruppert says, to diversify D.C.’s gallery scene. “We tried to get a lot of artists together who weren’t ‘gallery-connected,’” she recalls. “We were looking for artists who were doing the kind of edgy urban art that was indicative of how the culture was changing.”

Ruppert launched ArtRomp almost six years ago, after her son Paul visited a warehouse gallery in New Orleans and thought the idea would work in Washington. “In those days, art was hung in art galleries and museums,” says Ruppert. “It wasn’t very often that people had a building with artistic merit of its own and hung art there.”

Studio 7—formerly a hardware store—and two other buildings next door are the property of Ruppert’s husband, Carl Ruppert. “The Rupperts have had businesses on 7th Street for over a hundred years,” she says.

Eight years ago, Ruppert took a hard look at her family’s withering block and saw the possibility for more. In 1993, she and Paul opened a contemporary American restaurant, Rupperts, at 1017 7th St., across the street from what was then an impound lot (and what is now the skeleton of the new convention center). For months, she was the only cook in the kitchen. (She sold Rupperts to its chef a year later.) She eventually began renovation next door, ultimately turning the space into the Warehouse Theater, which also houses Studio 7.

For ArtRomp, Ruppert not only searches for new artists who have never shown before (this year, she included paintings by a 20-year-old artist who calls herself Noonineon) but also invites established artists to show their more experimental work. Over the years, approximately 140 artists have participated in ArtRomp. “It’s a place for taking risks,” says Ruppert. “You can get instant feedback if you [attend the opening], and most of our artists go.”

Ruppert tries to cultivate a laid-back atmosphere for ArtRomp. “I thought this would be a great way for people to become more at home in galleries,” she says of the warehouse setting. “If this was more of a scene than an art gallery, it would attract people. They wouldn’t have to have the complete vocabulary of art to discuss it.

“I thought it would encourage [people] to make art more a part of their lives.” —Margaret Foster

ArtRomp 11 is open to the public on select days and times over the next week. For more information, call (202) 257-5989 or visit www.warehousetheater.com.