“So this room is going to be transformed into a synthesizer.”
Steve Korn is standing in the middle of what used to be a bedroom in a house in Takoma. He’s holding some pieces of metal and wood and looking at a blank wall, describing what will soon be one of the first projects of Rhizome D.C.—a new experimental arts space whose organizers are still putting the finishing touches on its new home a few blocks from the Takoma Metro station.
“Instead of being a synth that you play on the interface, the interface will be exploded to the room, but because it has a full programming language you can compose a piece, or multiple pieces, to be played by the room,” Korn says. There might even be a mic in the middle to capture feedback.
Korn is one of the volunteers who make up the founding board of Rhizome, a nonprofit that has been operating since early January out of an older, stand-alone house across the street from a CVS and a partially completed development right on the edge of the D.C.-Maryland border.
While Rhizome doesn’t officially open until early March, it’s started using the house for projects—even without floorboards in the kitchen and some other uncompleted renovation projects. The first floor, made up of two main rooms and the kitchen, is spacious enough for concerts, plays, and other similar events.
But Rhizome isn’t intended to be just a performance space—it’s also a classroom, computer lab, instrument workshop, community center, and, well, whatever anyone wants it to be. Case and point: soon, part of it will be a synthesizer. On its website, Rhizome offers future classes and programs ranging from the art of fermented foods to psycho-geographical walks to building with wild clay. As word spreads, the founders expect their offerings to grow in ways they hope will be unanticipated and unique. Most importantly, though, the space will imitate the art—and vice versa. “The metaphor is the rhizome, and so the space itself, in keeping with that, is a body without organs,” he explains.
“We don’t want these rooms to have fixed functions—if there’s going to be an immersive theater event, we’ll transform the space into that. If it’s going to be a soldering workshop, we’ll set up for that. But there’s not really intended to be functional separation.”
For Rhizome’s founders, the new space in Takoma is the perfect spot to unravel their ever expanding vision. “There’s a lot of people with really diverse backgrounds here,” Korn says. In addition to the main floor and the rooms upstairs, there’s also a spacious yard, which, once the weather gets better, could become home to sculptures, experimental film screenings, or well, you name it.
As a nonprofit, Rhizome’s initial funding comes from a combination of private donations and a grant from the city of Takoma Park. For some paid workshops and programs, they plan to work out a profit sharing system with teachers and artists, and are considering a system for potential memberships.
The first “show,” of music at least, takes place tonight and features an avant-garde/freeform lineup with “sounds and movement, tape loops, balloons”, and more.
According to Korn, once the space officially opens in March, they’ll begin offering a full programming schedule of classes and events. Whether those activities include a concert of local musicians, a workshop on communicating with plants through technology, or turning a room into an instrument, artists and teachers or anyone with ideas are encouraged to submit them through a form on the Rhizome website.
“If you’re in an environment that encourages you to take risks, to cross boundaries, and to try new modes of teaching, new modes of interacting, what happens?” Korn says. “That’s what we want to find out.”
Photo by Quinn Myers