CulturalDC, a prominent D.C. arts incubator, has sold its downtown office space and will search for new headquarters. CulturalDC will continue to operate Source, its theater space on 14th Street NW, and other programs around the District, but it will be shuttering Flashpoint, the longtime art gallery that shares its home at 916 G St. NW.
The organization put the second floor of its Gallery Place base up for sale last fall, according to interim executive director Tanya Hilton. Groups such as Fringe Festival, Washington Improv Theater, and Step Afrika! got their start in that second-floor incubator space. “Twelve years ago, it was a thriving haven for artists and nonprofits that had a need for administrative space,” Hilton says, but in recent years the space has since gone under-used.
While CulturalDC only intended to sell its second floor, Joe Reger, principal for JCR Companies, approached CulturalDC with an offer for both: the offices as well as the storefront gallery Flashpoint and the black box Mead Theatre Lab.
“We weren’t really expecting that,” Hilton says, who would not disclose the final sale figure. “The great news is that it gives CulturalDC the opportunity to really expand and move forward and have a bigger impact on the arts community, not only in the short term but in the long term.”
The sale is slated to close at the end of July. Flashpoint and CulturalDC will remain in Gallery Place for 12–18 months, Hilton says, while a strategic relocation task force assembled by the organization plans its next move. She mentions the forthcoming development for the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Wharf in Southwest as potential candidates but says those decisions are far off. CulturalDC aims to move into its next place by late 2018.
The decision to leave Gallery Place comes just three years after CulturalDC purchased 916 G Street NW, its home since 2003, for $1.75 million. Juanita Hardy, who led the organization from January 2013 to September of last year, bought the space when the organization’s 10-year lease came up.
The organization’s departure is the latest in an exodus of art spaces from D.C.’s downtown and commercial corridors. The Goethe-Institut left its perch at 7th and I Streets NW in December, although it opened a new space at 19th and K Streets NW. The independent music venues and galleries that colonized downtown when it was virtually depleted of business or residential activity are long gone.
“It leaves Penn Quarter with one less art space,” says Jon Gann, a filmmaker who lives in the Mather Studios building above Flashpoint. Gann owns one of 12 units sold as live–work studios at below-market rates through a lottery negotiated by CulturalDC and developer PN Hoffman. “For a neighborhood that 10 years ago was full of art spaces, we basically have none left.”
CulturalDC, which was previously known as the Cultural Development Corporation, brokered several crucial arts venues around D.C., including the Atlas Performing Arts Center, GALA Hispanic Theatre, and the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Its impact is keenly felt downtown, where it helped push for façade improvements in a fast-rising Chinatown, but it has also helped to program newer spaces like the Arts Walk at the Monroe Street Market in Brookland.
For artists and viewers, the group’s most significant work was Flashpoint, a gallery that has hosted solo and group artist shows from D.C. and beyond for 13 years. It has been a stand-out among D.C. galleries, not merely for showing new and untested artists but for assembling shows through an application and committee process. Many artists in D.C. can name Flashpoint as among their first gallery shows.
Support for artists remains vital to CulturalDC’s mission, Hilton says, even if that does not happen in a physical place for a while. CulturalDC is hosting “Vision D.C.,” an all-day conference, at Arena Stage on Monday, October 17—just after the Creative Time summit—to bring together artists, planners, technologists, and policy makers to discuss the future of art in the District (and other cities). She mentions that the conference will culminate in “Art Tank”—think “Shark Tank,” but for art—a program that will award projects approved on the spot by a panel of leaders and developers.
“We view our impact not in bricks and mortar,” Hilton says, “but in what we do to help all communities, virtually and in collaborative ways across the city.”