Don’t tell Veronica Jackson how D.C. art got cool. As a fourth-generation Washingtonian, Jackson has witnessed the emergence of white-cube and pop-up galleries, and she knows what things were like before. She she doesn’t think the scene has boomed by accident. Instead, key people worked hard to identify promising artists and make sure they had what they needed. “Artists need to know someone has got their back,” Jackson says. “They need to hear someone say, ‘I’ll take that chance with you.’”
Jackson, 48, is the principal of the Jackson Brady Design Group, which focuses on museum-exhibition design. She’s consulted on various Smithsonian Institution museum shows, particularly history exhibits. She designed the “Discovering the Civil War” exhibit for the National Archives, as well as the redesign and relaunch of the Sewall-Belmont House Museum. Her professional interest in spaces extends to D.C.’s art scene.
“For so long, the scene wasn’t such that it could hold amazing drive or incredible vision,” says Jackson, who sometimes speaks in art-scene platitudes (“art is communication”). For her part, Jackson supports the supporters. She’s lent her museum-design skills to the occasional gallery show; for example, she worked as a consultant for art dealer Lauren Gentile for her inaugural Contemporary Wing exhibit, “Next Generation,” which opened this month. Jackson says she admires D.C.’s women art dealers: Leigh Conner, Andrea Pollan, Jayme McLellan. “And I’d throw G Fine Art in there as well,” she says. “Annie [Gawlak]’s doing some cool stuff.”
Jackson is also a modest art collector. Her collection comprises work by fewer than 20 artists in all. But her support for artists whose work she admires goes deeper. Take artist Lisa Marie Thalhammer, for example. In 2008, Thalhammer received a grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities to execute a mural; after the venue fell through, Jackson offered up her own Bloomingdale home as a canvas for Thalhammer’s “Boxer Girl.” A controversy emerged when neighborhood NIMBYs complained that the mural was graffiti featuring secret gang code.
The neighbor who led the unsuccessful effort to have the mural painted over still doesn’t talk to her, Jackson says, but she isn’t terribly disappointed. “I have a role in this community to educate people,” she says.
Her support for Thalhammer goes beyond the material. She says, for example, that she thinks Thalhammer, a longtime D.C. artist, should take off—for her own artistic growth. She doesn’t think that exposing D.C. artists to other communities poses the same threat it once did—that artists would leave and never return. “I think she needs to leave for a minute and come back,” Jackson says. “If we keep it insular, we won’t grow, and there’s a protective bunch here.”
In the end, Jackson says the city’s art scene can do more than redeem D.C. “Art is something we take for granted,” she says. “We would as a people be in a much better place if art were more valued.”