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The Washington Project for the Arts is moving into a new permanent space adjacent to the 9:30 Club as part of the in-progress Atlantic Plumbing development. The artist organization’s new headquarters will include a gallery space and office.
The WPA is moving from its current temporary location in the Capitol Skyline Hotel in Southwest to 1,500 square feet of storefront space in the mixed-use residential and retail development. (Atlantic Plumbing is named for the warehouse it will replace.) The organization aims to open its space by fall 2015 to coincide with its 40th anniversary.
“We’ve been looking for space for five years. We’re constantly looking for space. Dozens and dozens of spaces,” says WPA executive director Lisa Gold. “This is huge for us.”
WPA will occupy two of seven storefront bays in a six-story building, one of two buildings that the JBG development, at 8th and V streets NW, will include. The new space will include a dedicated gallery space for curated shows, offices, a kitchen, and a flexible area for various uses, including meetings, exhibitions for member artists, and retail for artist books or editions.
The move means a significant boost for WPA funding and programming, according to Gold. She says that the permanent space will enable the organization to plan further ahead, especially in terms of fundraising. Over the last five years, the WPA has collaborated with a variety of organizations and spaces to put on shows; but funding organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts typically require a longer runway for the grants process than WPA has been able to meet.
In the broader sense, the move represents a return to a stronger footing than the organization has seen in decades. At its lowest point, in 1996, following bankruptcy, the board of the Corcoran Gallery of Art voted to oversee the WPA’s operations. The Washington Project of the Arts\Corcoran operated sans gallery space for some 11 years, until the WPA split off again in 2007.
Since then, it has had temporary offices in Dupont Circle and in the Capitol Skyline Hotel, which is owned by art collectors Don and Mera Rubell. While Gold says that she is not at liberty to discuss the lease that the WPA has with JGB, she says that the organization will have the space until at least 2022.
The organization is rebounding in other ways, too. While the organization boasts some 2,000 members on the books, a smaller number of those are active, Gold says. But this active contingent has grown from 600 to 800 members in recent years.
Gold says she hopes the WPA will provide an anchor for the Washington art community, which has seen gallery space dwindle in recent years. The impending absorption of the Corcoran Gallery of Art—one major Washington museum where D.C. artists could occasionally get a foothold—has come as a significant blow. “I think [the WPA space] will provide a much-needed gathering place for the arts community,” she says.
“There’s a built-in audience, right next to the 9:30 Club. We’re next to Hamiltonian,” she adds. “It will be a rising tide for all the arts organizations there.”
Image courtesy JBG Companies