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Gaining a foothold in the professional art world, especially one as small and close-knit as the District’s, could daunt any aspiring young artist. Most MFA students probably don’t score a gallery show immediately upon graduation. That’s why for a few of the Washington area’s more distinguished up-and-comers, an invitation to display work at Conner Contemporary’s “Academy 2011” could seem like something of a godsend. Seeking to ease the burden on promising talent from schools throughout the region, curator and gallery co-director Jamie Smith has culled work by 19 talents from colleges in the D.C. area. For the exhibition’s 11th year, (e)merge art fair—-which arose from the Academy series and is planned at the Capitol Skyline Hotel in September—-will host a panel discussion with a few big-name collectors, artists, and gallery directors, including Transformer director Victoria Reis, artist Alberto Gaitan, and Virginia-based sculptor Melissa Ichiuji. Sponsoring the chat are Pink Line Project and Marvin. So basically, anyone a well-informed D.C. artist would want to impress will gather at the Florida Avenue space to have a few drinks and talk about collecting new work. The panel discussion begins at 5 p.m. on Saturday, and “Academy 2011” is on view 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays to Saturdays to August 22 at Conner Contemporary, 1358 Florida Ave. NE. Free. connercontemporary.com.