Gregory Thielker, Highway, installation view, copyright the artist, courtesy CulturalDC
Gregory Thielker, Highway, installation view, copyright the artist, courtesy CulturalDC

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Flashpoint in 2013 during Gregory Thielkers “Highway” exhibitions “Highway” exhibition

Here’s the first big surprise move on the D.C. art scene in 2014: George Mason University is teaming up with Flashpoint, the gallery run by CulturalDC. In a move announced earlier this month, George Mason University’s School of Art and arts management program will work with CulturalDC staff and Flashpoint artists to program exhibits, or possibly something else entirely.

“We’re going to be in the trenches, helping to provide logistical and tactical support for what the gallery has established,” says Peter Winant, director of George Mason University’s School of Art.

For Phase 1 of the arrangement, graduate art students will work as fellows with Flashpoint staff. Many of those students will come from the arts management program, which is headed by interim program director Claire Huschle, formerly the executive director of the Arlington Arts Center. Students pursuing a Master’s of Fine Arts degree will also be eligible to participate as Flashpoint fellows, too.

The partnership is not a financial arrangement, says Juanita Hardy, executive director of CulturalDC. Right now, it’s an open-ended exchange of ideas and resources, one that both parties say is bound to evolve over time. The fellowships are not directly tied to any coursework at Mason.

“In future years, we will look for opportunities for George Mason and CulturalDC to do some joint programs. I don’t know, we’re making it up,” Hardy says. “That could manifest as an exhibition, that could manifest as an educational series.”

For the near future, Flashpoint’s program won’t change too much. It will remain under the direction of Jenny McConnell Frederick, director of artistic programs, who recently added visual-arts programming to her performing-arts duties. Flashpoint’s appointed advisory panel will still select the gallery’s lineup for the 2014–15 season, though in the future Mason students will shadow the panel’s work.

The announcement follows a general transformation in Mason’s arts program, one consistent with the university’s move to expand beyond its status as a commuter school. The school opened its 88,900-square-foot Art and Design Building in 2009. The next year, Mason opened the even larger Hylton Performing Arts Center. Artist Mia Feuer took a job at Mason as a faculty professor in 2012, the same year that the museum partnered up with Provisions Library, which moved from Dupont Circle to the Art and Design Building and became the Provisions Research Center for Art and Social Change. Mason art professor Helen Frederick is up for election to join the board of directors of the College Art Association.

“For us, one of the strategic plans—-not just in the School of Art but across the university—-is breaking down the walls and creating more significant community partnerships,” Winant says.

CulturalDC bought its 6,400-square-foot Flashpoint gallery space at 916 G St. NW back in June for $1.75 million, so the gallery probably isn’t moving to Fairfax anytime soon. Nor is George Mason’s art department moving downtown.

“We don’t see that our presence within this partnership is to disrupt or take over what has been a significant cultural presence to D.C. artists. It will give our students and even some of our faculty the opportunity to work with Flashpoint in terms of determining what programming might be possible,” Winant says. “Quite honestly, I think this is a unique situation.”

This post has been updated.