D.C.’s Artist Exchange Asks Local Creatives to Pool Resources
Last fall, dancer Emily Eakland found herself in need of new professional photographs for her résumé. Rather than pay for a photoshoot, she recruited two friends—a photographer and a stylist who needed samples for their own portfolios—to work on the project. "The three of us got together to take the photos of me, and we all used them for our own individual purposes," Eakland says.
Months later, Eakland recounted the story of the partnership to her friend and fellow artist George Koch, the director of Artomatic, who thought it sounded familiar. "It's like when someone is in art school and they're working on a project. There may be other people that they'd be able to share materials or skills with," he says. "It’s a bartering system."
That conversation became the inspiration for Eakland and Koch's new project, D.C. Artist Exchange, which harnesses connections among local artists to improve access to space and resources. "It's something that both of us have been thinking about for quite a while," Eakland says. “So even though it came together fairly quickly after [the initial conversation], these are issues we've always been working on."
The idea, Eakland says, is to foster an art school-like community among D.C. creative types—minus the cost of tuition. Each of the several remaining D.C. Artist Exchange events features a panel on artist space, a lunch prepared by a local chef, and a "swap meet" at which participants can organize collaborations like Eakland's photoshoot.
Carla Perlo, founder of Brookland dance studio Dance Place, spoke at DCax's kickoff panel in Brookland on July 20. As Perlo sees it, the District sorely needs a new neighborhood hub for creativity. She thinks Brookland will be that hub. "There used to be a smaller nucleus of artists in Adams Morgan, before that neighborhood got too expensive and everyone dispersed," she says. "What’s happening in Brookland is very reminiscent of that time."
Perlo may be right. Artists are already living and working in Brookland, and more are likely to come with the opening of the Monroe Street Market development, which includes 27 art studios. The Exchange itself operates out of the neighborhood: All of the forthcoming panels are being held at the 8th street NE offices of the Menkiti Group real estate agency.
The Brookland panel also served the D.C. Artist Exchange's second purpose: to forge connections between local artists.
"I hear people constantly say that no one outside of D.C. knows that there’s an arts community here," says Gail Vollrath, co-founder of Catalyst Art Projects, which plans to move into one of the Monroe Street studios this fall. "But at the panel you could see these partnerships forming... and that there's definitely a strong arts community."
At the kickoff event, Vollrath and her partner were able to find attendees to come to their own event the following Saturday. Vollrath also took down the name of the exchange's photographer Alan Kayanan—"In case we ever need him," she says.
Eakland's not too worried about Vollrath poaching her photographer. Actually, that's the type of resource-sharing she wants to foment. "That's exactly what we want to have happen," she says. "The whole point is being able to bring the community together and creating more connections. ...We're calling it a creative Craigslist."
This month, D.C. artists will have a few more opportunities to take advantage of this creative Craigslist. The next panel, on Aug. 17, takes on the topic of studio incubators. Panelists include ArtSpace Director Rachel Dickerson Brunswick, ReSourceArts Director Emily Arden Eakland, artist Emily Arden Eakland, and Hamiltonian Gallery's Angie Goerner, among others. A swap meet follows after lunch. The remaining panels take place Aug. 24 and Sept. 7.
Koch sees DCax's mission extending beyond the next two months, though. "The end game in all this is a real sustainable effort, making connections that we can use again and again," he says.