In a chilly auditorium on Monday night, the women’s leadership nonprofit ArtTable hosted “State of the Art/DC: A Conversation,” the first of three programs at the National Museum for Women in the Arts. With 14 guests speaking for less than seven minutes each, PechaKucha-style, it wasn’t exactly a “conversation”—but it was a good place to learn about people’s ideas and hopes for the future of the District’s creative community.
Two of the most well-received presentations addressed how to benefit D.C. communities through architecture. Julian Hunt of Dupont Underground, an organization that seeks to revitalize the abandoned trolley station beneath Dupont Circle, suggested that a permanent space could be built for the Dupont farmers’ market, which currently uses a parking lot.
More powerful than Hunt’s idea to revitalize the formerly hip, but still high-income Dupont Circle was Irfana Jetha Noorani’s presentation about the 11th Street Bridge Park, which will be built on an old bridge over the Anacostia River. Last week, her organization released an “equitable development plan” to promote jobs and preserve affordable housing in the area so that the park doesn’t end up pushing out the people that it’s meant to serve.
Others tackled how to improve D.C.’s museums. Elizabeth Merritt of the Center for the Future of Museums advocated pushing parts of museums out of their downtown homes and closer to residential areas, or placing reproductions of art in streets and parks à la the Detroit Institute of Arts. In general, Merritt just wants to see more art around town. “I would feel better if our Metro cars actually got tagged,” she said, adding that she would appreciate curated performance art inside the cars, too.
Jack Rasmussen, director and curator of the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, came at the issue from a different angle by advocating for more political and local art in D.C. museums. “Our museums must also support the people who live and work in our community,” he said. “We don’t need to go anywhere else for talent. It is already here.”
Not surprisingly, the theme of “community” ran through almost every presentation, whether that meant providing resources for artistic communities, implementing projects that benefited residential communities, or providing affordable studios and housing for artists.
On poster boards outside the auditorium, attendees’ comments about what they wanted to see in the D.C. arts scene in five years often coincided with this theme: “Community art,” “An expansion of the idea of public art,” “Affordable artist live/work space,” etc. Some wrote about the need for diversity in the art scene, which wasn’t heavily discussed by the guest speakers—and one even wrote that there should be “an all male version of ArtTable.” (To write something like that at a women’s art museum, you have to have balls in a very literal sense.)
It was hard to come away from the event—whose speakers ranged from the “lowbrow” artist behind Art Whino to an assistant vice president at Sotheby’s—with any concrete idea of where the D.C. art scene is or might go. But as all good students of postmodernism can probably guess, that wasn’t really the point.
ArtTable’s next program in its D.C. series is February 22 at the National Museum for Women in the Arts (1250 New York Ave. NW).
Photo by Becky Little