Washington Art-O-Matic 2002

OCT. 31-NOV. 30

The block parties disguised as cultural events that close off the streets of downtown D.C. every other weekend often turn out to be a bust. And even when they don't, if you're not dropping 20 bucks for a spoonful of exotic cuisine at one of these giant fetes, then you're trying to connect a left hook with the jaw of a tourist in a sweat-soaked fanny pack in an attempt to commandeer a spot of lawn just to see some band or performer you've never even heard of. Art-O-Matic, which was started in 1999 by a group of local artists, is a relative newcomer to Washington's festival scene, but, unlike similar events, its performances and exhibitions are entirely free--and held indoors, to shield attendees from the elements. Even after a one-year hiatus, the basics of the monthlong arts show haven't changed--it's still held in an abandoned commercial space (this time, at the former Waterside Mall in Southwest) and showcases the best of the city's theater, film, poetry, music, dance, and visual arts. At other festivals, organizers bring in talent from everywhere but our hometown; Art-O-Matic is filled with notable "Only in D.C." performances. This year's lineup includes shows sponsored by local indie labels Teenbeat and Ubervox, an entire night dedicated to go-go, and the lyrical stylings of Lockheed Martin rocket scientist/cabaret singer Michelle Jones (pictured). Although tourist season is over, the possibility of fisticuffs over a front-row seat remains. But at least if it comes to blows, you'll be fighting to see a band you love--and bashing in the face of a fellow Washingtonian. The festival runs to Sunday, Nov. 30; see City List for details. (Sarah Godfrey)

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