Arts Desk

Dupont Underground Volunteers Need $30 Million (and Insurance Benefits)

For Washingtonians craving a cutting-edge cultural arts and design space, some advice: Hang tight. Have faith. Go party.

The Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground, a nonprofit group of artists, designers, architects, and business types, is hosting a fundraiser tonight in Eastern Market for the rehabilitation of Dupont Underground, the 75,000 square foot area underneath one of D.C.'s most bustling neighborhoods.

The group needs $30 million to launch the project, says ACDC managing director Braulio Agnese. “Any money is good,” he says, with a laugh.

It is clear, however, that tonight's Underground-Aboveground soiree isn’t about making millions. The group needs basics, like insurance, he says. The ACDU is reaching the point at which volunteers need to become full-timers.

The story of Dupont Underground begins at the end of World War II: The space was developed in the late 1940s as a trolley station. It was part of a series of transportation projects meant to alleviate traffic in the city. The trolley station operated through the 1950s, closed in the early '60s, and reopened as a fallout shelter until 1975.

The space sat dormant through the mid '90s as the District tried to figure out what to do with it. People bandied about ideas like turning the space into a subterranean playground or a shopping center. Someone even suggested refashioning it into a columbarium—a storage facility for cremated remains. Most proposals were ignored until the mid '90s, when a food court was opened, and then promptly closed again, but not before the debacle plunged the underground space into years of litigation.

It was about that time architect Julian Hunt hopped the pond from Barcelona, Spain, to Washington. Hunt quickly became enamored of the space, Agnese says, and got inspired to transform it into a dedicated, world-class arts complex that could be the nexus of the city’s entire creative scene. Two-and-a-half years ago, Agnese says, the ACDU submitted a comprehensive proposal to the city and was awarded the exclusive rights for the space.

Now, the same small group of dedicated volunteers that pushed, organized, and evangelized a vision of an underground creative mecca is ready to go legit.

There are still some tickets left for the fundraiser tonight, priced from $20 to $150, plus an additional $10 for tickets bought at the door. ($150 tickets are not available at the event, however.) The ACDU says they are are expecting around 400 people. Local musicians Alex Minoff, Margot MacDonald, and Justin Jones are performing, and music videos shot in Dupont Underground will be shown.

When Dupont Underground gets rolling, it aspires to be agile compared to institutions like the Smithsonian. The group hopes to partner with auteurs, galleries, collectors, and firms across the country and, ultimately, the world. Tonight could be a pretty good start.

Photo by Lydia DePillis

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