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One yellow banner pleaded: “Save Historic Cultural F Street/Keep Artists in the Arts District.” The other banner, 25 feet across and 5 feet high, simply said, “Don’t Tear It Down,” in bright red ink. These none-too-subtle messages were tacked onto a row of threatened historic storefronts on the 900 block of F Street NW—for less than 24 hours. They were the handiwork of the Downtown Artists Coalition, defenders of studio spaces taunted by the wrecking ball for well over a year now.
The artists unfurled the banners the night of Wednesday, May 17; by Thursday afternoon, they’d vanished. Seems the buildings’ property management company, Donohoe, which oversees the sites for the Archdiocese of Washington, had gotten wind of the artists’ antics. Soon, reps from Donohoe reps arrived wielding ladders, ready to remove the offending draperies. But before that happened, F Street artist Michael Berman interceded, offering to take them down himself.
This little scene played out just hours before the opening of a show billed as “Salon des Ejectes: The Last Showing of the F Street Artists,” at the nearby 505 Gallery. This show included all but one of the 17 artists occupying the three threatened studio buildings, who, at the opening, took their latest brush with the church as a badge of courage.
“We’ve had this planned for a while,” said F Street artist Jason Gubbiotti, referring to the banner project. The coalition’s message was printed on tarps supplied by Gubbiotti’s dad; the artist filed his request for them at Easter.
But the property managers didn’t find the new decor becoming. A Donohoe spokesperson put it simply: “[The artists] are not allowed to put a sign up….They have to have a permit.”
The latest, according to Downtown Artists Coalition co-founders Stuart Gosswein and Berman, is that the fate of the disputed properties remains in limbo. The Downtown Arts Coalition, along with local preservationist groups, filed a lawsuit back in February contesting demolition permits issued to the church by the District’s Corporation Counsel. No hearing date has been set, nor have eviction notices been issued. Two meetings between the coalition, preservationists, the developer, and their lawyers were held this month; Andrew Altman, director of D.C.’s Office of Planning, observed. In these get-togethers, the church’s developer offered plans for a shorter office tower—nine floors instead of the proposed 11. Sounds like the same difference. “We’re in the process of rejecting that proposal,” Gosswein says.
Gosswein hopes the structures will be renovated. “Our message is that these buildings deserve TLC,” he says.
F Street artist Nancy Van Meter offered another alternative. “That ugly prison-looking building across the street, DC Live?” she says, referring to a structure opposite her studio. “[The developers] could take that building.” —Jessica Dawson
“Salon des Ejectes: The Last Showing Of the F Street Artists” is on view until May 31 at 505 Gallery, 505 7th St. NW.