On Dec. 19, Mount Vernon Square gallery Civilian Art Projects held a holiday party for all its artists, friends, and supporters. It was the last event the art venture will host in the space; Civilian closes its doors tomorrow on New Year’s Eve.
Jayme McLellan, who founded Civilian eight years ago and has operated it at 1019 7th St. NW for four of them, says that shuttering the space is not a decision she regrets. The large upstairs gallery has served her more as an empty office than anything else, she says, so she plans to go spaceless and host events from her home or in tandem with other institutions. Besides, the owners of the property, Douglas Development, may soon evict Civilian and other tenants sharing the block at 7th and New York Avenue NW—-including The Passenger, Hogo, and Fort Fringe—-to make room for development.
McLellan helped to revive the D.C. art scene as its loci moved from Georgetown and Dupont Circle to 14th Street NW. In 2002, she cofounded Transformer with director Victoria Reis, who still runs the nonprofit art incubator in Logan Circle.
The Civilian founder’s decision to close shop may come as a surprise to her supporters, since the gallery has enjoyed some of its most popular programs in recent years. This time two years ago, McLellan co-curated “Hard Art D.C. 1979,” a show by Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post photographer Lucian Perkins documenting the D.C. hardcore scene in its infancy. That show, which was accompanied by a book and traveled after its run at Civilian (it goes next to the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in May) helped usher in a period of nostalgia in the D.C. art scene that included the 1980s hardcore and go-go revue at the Corcoran Gallery of Art earlier this year.
At the holiday party, hanging on the walls were works by more than a dozen artists who have supported Civilian or vice versa over the years, many of them locals, such as Ken Ashton, Nikki Painter, and Ryan Hill. Most of the artists in the gallery’s roster are based in D.C., and almost all of them have a connection to the city.
McLellan still has planned a busy 2014, with events that include a house salon of Amy Hughes Braden‘s work in February, a pop-up in New York in March, and a salon and exhibition of Jason Falchook‘s work in September. She also expects to funnel some of her energy into D.C. in a different way, with teaching gigs at Maryland Institute College of Art and St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Nevertheless, the loss of the gallery space is a setback for the local art scene.
Photo by Lely Constantinople courtesy Jayme McLellan