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Walk down the 1700 block of Connecticut Avenue, just north of Dupont Circle, and you’ll spot the latest progeny of the marriage of art and commerce, District-style. There, a handful of empty storefronts owned by commercial real estate developer Starwood Urban Investments have been filled with local art—a quilt fashioned out of neckties, a drawing of Boy George—hand-picked by promoter Annie Adjchavanich.
Like a roving art dealer overseeing streetside galleries, Adjchavanich exhibits and sells local art in Starwood’s windows, and she and the artists split the take. Since the spring, she’s hung a handful of local artists—all of whom have sold work in the process. This weekend, she’ll hold a three-day event called Artistic License, where artists will be issued laminated mock-licenses. Much of the event’s cost will be defrayed by Starwood.
Wait a second here. Aren’t developers supposed to be the artist’s enemy?
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Adjchavanich doesn’t think so. She sees her collaboration with Starwood as an example of public art in a nontraditional venue, and she’s all for it. As for the potential conflict of interest between artists and developers, “I had thought about that for a second,” she says, but maintains, “I have no problem with it.” She and her artists are benefiting from greater visibility and increased sales, she figures, so everyone’s happy.
Washington is no stranger to this kind of union: Last year’s Art-O-Matic happened in Douglas Jemal’s vacant Manhattan Laundry building; right now, the Washington Arts Museum (WAM) is holding its inaugural show in the empty Jemal-owned Woodies building downtown. WAM co-founder Renee Butler says, “the more art anywhere, the better.” She applauds the Starwood partnership.
Local artist Steve Lewis doesn’t see it that way. “When you promote an event,” says the painter, a founder of the Signal 66 gallery in Bladgen Alley, “there’s a political responsibility associated with what you’re doing.” Lewis, who adds that he’s not speaking for the gallery, believes Adjchavanich is endorsing a company that plants high-rent chain stores on city streets, thereby altering neighborhood rent structures in ways that particularly hurt low-income artists. “What artists don’t realize is that she’s being used,” he says, and that “artists are being used.”
Are artists pimping property for developers? Starwood
President Robert Wennett says no. He characterizes his partnership with Adjchavanich as providing “a welcome relief to
Local figurative artist Manon Cleary, who teaches art at the University of the District of Columbia, figures Starwood’s spots fronting Connecticut Avenue in cash-rich Dupont Circle should be easy to rent. Having art out front hardly seems necessary. “It’s hard to think of any greed factor there,” says Cleary. “They don’t need Annie.” —Jessica Dawson