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Call me a luddite, call me a cheapskate, but I will always pick the locally organized grassroots event, no matter how rough around the edges, over the swank and sophisticated. Ditto with food: Bring me simple and authentic, and save your ritzy joints for someone else.
So it’s no surprise that I’m a big fan of this weekend’s experimental endeavor, Kitchen of Innovation. Organized by local art aficionados Kate Mattingly and Ellen Chenoweth, the event is an explicitly simple, participatory approach to art and arts funding, with an emphasis on closing the divide between art-maker and consumer.
Sounds lofty, but the process is straightforward. Attendees pay between $15 and $20 for a meal—wraps by Sweetgreen, drinks from Marvin, cupcakes courtesy of Frosting—and peruse project proposals from a handful of local artists. At the end of the evening, diners vote on the project they think most deserves funding, and that artist walks away with the evening’s proceeds.
Mattingly and Chenoweth had heard presentations from folks who’ve organized these events in their own towns—namely Baltimore (STEW) and Brooklyn (FEAST)—and decided D.C.’s artists could use something like that. “We were inspired by these incredibly creative people here who weren’t getting attention,” explained Mattingly. “This is a small town, so we wondered how we could nurture them.”
As a result, the eight artists chosen to present their upcoming plans are ones you might’ve heard of, but who aren’t yet the center of serious buzz—dancers, musicians, puppeteers, and performance artists like Holly Bass, Kristina Bilonick, Kelly Bond, HawaH, Simone Jacobson, Tzveta Kassabova, Pointless Theatre Co., and Ilana Silverstein. Each one was asked to describe their project, how they would use funding, and why the project is critical to the community. The answers will be on hand at the event, as will the artists, so it’s a chance to chat in person and get a better sense of all the elements that go into those shows we dispassionately watch from distant seats and criticize later.
Part of Mattingly and Chenoweth’s point is to change that whole dynamic. “The most essential thing is that people get involved,” explained Mattingly. “After this, they’ll view a gallery show or performance differently.”
The coolest thing, though, is that KOI isn’t designed to be a one-off event. The artist who gets the funding will be back at the next dinner in 12 weeks to show their work—but as an entertainer this time, not a fund-seeker. It’s all about cultivating creativity, a process that Mattingly likens to growing a garden. “It’s not just one meal; it’s long term sustainability.”
Kitchen of Innovation is Saturday, October 23, at 8 p.m., at St. Stephens Church in Columbia Heights, 1525 Newton St., NW. To attend, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Postcard design by Yana Sakellion