The D.C. art scene, a cultural sector that looked ready to ride the wave of boomtown change that came to the city in the early 2000s, instead seems wiped out by it. Now that the District’s years-long growth spurt is coming to an end, it’s worth looking at what the art scene gained from the influx of new residents and development capital—and what it lost.
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
When the Washington Project for the Arts opens its doors later this year (rendering above), it will give the D.C. art scene an unlikely perch in the heart of one of the city’s busiest corridors. With 1,500 square feet of storefront office and gallery space at 8th and V streets NW (plus a long-term lease), WPA could emerge as D.C.’s creative anchor.
SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION CAMPUS MASTER PLAN
The Smithsonian would seem to be an unlikely wellspring of cutting-edge architecture, but its leaders showed admirable foresight by commissioning the progressive Danish firm Bjarke Ingels Group to redesign and renovate a wide swatch of National Mall adjacent to the Castle. Now we just need to wait a couple of decades for the work to wrap up.
MONROE STREET ARTS WALK
At a glance, the Monroe Street Market looks like another example of art-washing. That’s when developers give below-market rates to studios in order to draw creative types to new developments, then boot the artists when retail comes around. But by partnering with CulturalDC, the Brookland development may have built a truly sustainable arts-anchored development.
When the fine-art gallery Connersmith left its massive Trinidad white-cube space, it registered as a major loss for the city’s arts culture. But the news that the art dealers sold to the Capital Fringe Festival meant that the space would be preserved for weird and woolly arts and performance.
(E)MERGE ART FAIR
With a few years under its belt, the (e)merge art fair is beginning to look like an annual tradition for D.C., one that brings artists, exhibitors, and performance to Southwest each fall.
JURY’S STILL OUT
ARTS AND INDUSTRIES BUILDING
Until Congress gets its act together and passes a working budget, one of the finest buildings on the National Mall will remain closed. The hope is that a budget will one day allocate the funds to turn it into a museum celebrating the culture, arts, and history of Latino Americans—but with a deadlocked government, it’s only a dream.
11TH STREET BRIDGE PARK
OLIN and OMA, two of the best design firms in the world, collaborated on the vision for a bridge park spanning the Anacostia River (above). There are lots of hurdles left to building the new bridge, not the least of which is raising funds toward the total $45 million projected cost.
Of the projects that aim to turn old D.C. infrastructure into new cultural and civic amenities (think New York’s High Line), Dupont Underground is the most secure—its planners recently signed a five-year lease with the city. But turning an underground trolley station into an arts hub is going to take $35 to $60 million, a tall order.
1515 14TH ST. NW
While Adamson Gallery and Hemphill Fine Arts still call the 14th Street NW building home, G Fine Art and Curator’s Office left the building in recent years. Most of the art galleries that were once an engine for revitalization near Logan Circle have moved on. Thankfully, there are still a handful hanging around, namely Hamiltonian and Transformer.
THEM’S THE BREAKS
INSTITUTE FOR CONTEMPORARY EXPRESSION
Last week, many art reporters and critics (myself included) questioned Mayor Muriel Bowser’s decision to spike a development deal to turn the deteriorating Franklin School into a center for contemporary art. The mayor’s taking heat for her capricious decision, but that might not be enough to rescue the ICE plans from deep freeze.
THE HIRSHHORN BUBBLE
While it was never entirely clear how much D.C. residents would’ve benefited from the seasonal lectures planned for the so-called Bubble—a temporary pavilion designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro to bubble up through the center of the concrete-donut Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden—it was plain what the city lost when the plans were abandoned: It would’ve been the funnest architectural intervention on the East Coast.
THE CORCORAN GALLERY OF ART
The only thing that’s worse than losing one of the oldest private museums in the nation (and one of the best museums in the city) is to know that it’s being cited as an example for why the Institute for Contemporary Expression cannot succeed in the Franklin School. It will be years before the city fully recovers from the loss of the Corcoran.
THE NATIONAL MALL
No, the Mall’s not going anywhere. But events that call the Mall home—from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to the National Council of Negro Women’s Black Family Reunion—are finding that they’re no longer welcome. And with Mall stakeholders increasingly siding with Mall conservation interests over Mall usage advocates, some big-tent event planners like the National Book Festival and the Solar Decathlon are moving on.
Top rendering courtesy JBG Companies, middle rendering courtesy of Olin/OMA