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It’s long been known that Union Arts, the collective art space and nonprofit in the warehouse at 411 New York Ave. NE, had an expiration date. The building has been on the market since 2012, when a group of artists moved in to form Union Arts in the wake of Gold Leaf Studios’ demise. But when news broke recently that the building had been sold to a developer with plans to turn it into a “boutique hotel,” D.C.’s creative community didn’t just mourn—they got angry.
In response to the news, Union Arts put out a call to action to all “friends, patrons, and residents” on Facebook. “Regrettably, our building was sold to development groups who plan to evict all of us—the resident artists and organizations—by September 1,” the Facebook event reads. “The Union Arts building at 411 New York Ave NE is the last collective art space of its kind in Washington, D.C. It has been home to more than 100 artists and numerous organizations for many decades working as a catalyst of creativity for many communities throughout the city.”
Last Monday, the developers who bought the building, D.B. Lee Development and Construction and Brook Rose Development, held a meeting for all the tenants of 411 New York Ave. NE to let them know when they had to be out and their plans for the building. Among those plans? To keep supporting local arts and culture through a partnership with CulturalDC—a nonprofit working to “increase the impact of D.C.’s creative community.” In a release, CulturalDC says it was approached by the development team to come up with a plan to keep local artists’ interests in mind with the construction of the hotel. The currently proposed project includes artists studios, gallery and exhibition space, a community classroom, and “a sculpture garden.”
Luke Stewart, who manages Union Arts, says that CulturalDC gave a presentation to the building’s tenants about its plans, which he was told will include “seven artists studios that will house up to 20 artists.” (CulturalDC spokesperson John Richards says it will have “eight artists’ studios that can house up [to] 20+ artists”). Stewart says the building currently houses studios and practice spaces for “between 70 and 100 artists”—far more than what CulturalDC’s current plan can accommodate.
Stewart is also worried that CulturalDC’s plan for cultivating local arts isn’t what’s currently happening at Union Arts. CulturalDC says it will “solicit proposals from artists of all disciplines for studio spaces, exhibitions, and programming opportunities, and will engage panels of experts and advisory groups to identify appropriate models and programming for artistic inclusion that will reach a broad range of audiences.”
Among other functions, Union Arts serves as a practice space for local musicians—something that’s hard to come by in D.C. these days—as well as a cherished DIY venue for hosting concerts. Stewart fears this aspect of Union Arts will be lost in CulturalDC’s current plan. “The [studio spaces] not going to be for musicians, they’re mainly going to attract craft people,” Stewart says, “they’re completely tearing out the vibe.”
On Monday, the D.C. Zoning Commission will hold a hearing on the future of 411 New York Ave. NE. Union Arts is asking all of its supporters to come out en masse to voice their frustrations on the project and the need for space for community artists in the District.
Rendering by BBGM via CulturalDC