Arts Desk

Need an Art Studio? New Spaces Are Coming to Brookland and the Former Warehouse Loft

Monroe Street Market in Brookland. Image courtesy CulturalDC

If you doubt that D.C. is experiencing something of an art-studio crisis, consider this: According to owner Marty Youmans, the waiting list at 52 O Street Studios, one of the city's largest buildings of work space, is currently up to 130 names.

All that demand will get a little bit of relief soon, in a few different places. A new mixed-used development in Brookland will include 27 artist studios. The building on New York Avenue NE that used to house the Warehouse Loft dance club will soon include more studio space for visual artists—courtesy the man behind one of the more beloved DIY spots of recent years, Gold Leaf Studios. And 52 O Street, Youmans says, is planning to make a small dent in that waiting list.

One by one, here we go.

Monroe Street Market

Several years ago, developers Abdo and Bozzuto contracted the nonprofit Cultural Development Corporation—now CulturalDC—to help conceive and manage an arts component of a $200 million mixed-used development they had planned for the Brookland neighborhood, across Michigan Avenue NE from Catholic University. Finally, this week, the partnership revealed some details about what Monroe Street Market will offer for D.C. artists once the development opens next summer.

The key specs: twenty-seven artist studios ranging from 300 to 625 square feet, all with garage doors that open onto an "arts walk" running through the development. At 17 to 25 feet, the ceilings are high, an important consideration for many artists.

"We’d like to see a really diverse collection of artists across career levels and disciplines," says Leila Fitzpatrick, CulturalDC's director of advisory services. Because the studios open out onto a public space, allowing for the studios to also serve a retail function, "it’s an ideal opportunity for artists with an entrepreneurial spirit,” Fitzpatrick says.

Staffers from CulturalDC wouldn't reveal how much the two-year leases for the studios will run. "They will be competitive with artist studios in the city as well as neighborhood realty currently,” Fitzpatrick says. Want one? You'll have to submit a proposal to CulturalDC between Nov. 26 and Feb. 1—and then pass muster with a selection panel. Although the panelists are still TBA and the criteria are still being formulated, CulturalDC's Director of Visual Arts and Communications, Karyn Miller, says the panel will be looking for "artists who want to have a real presence there, in terms of being part of a real community of artists. Part of that is what kind of business hours they want to have, if they want to have a retail component.” (The studios are open to musicians and sound artists as well as visual artists and performers, though there will be late-night quiet hours.)

The development has some additional public arts components: a seasonal outdoor arts market, an outdoor stage, and the Edgewood Arts Building, a 3,000-square-foot multiuse space. Fitzpatrick says CulturalDC is seeking neighborhood input regarding the stage's and the Edgewood Arts Building's uses; she says she imagines programming at the latter will include uses like readings, rehearsals, and workshops.

This isn't, you'll remember, the first time Brookland has been pitched as a new destination for artists and arts lovers: One aim of the live-work spaces for artists that opened next to Dance Place last year on 8th Street NE was to establish the neighborhood as an arts district.

Can you build an arts district, or does one simply happen? If you take the latter view, then you're probably looking to make art someplace scrappier than a shimmery new development. Someplace like...

411 New York Ave. NE

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

October was the last month this building was home to the Warehouse Loft, an occasionally fabled dance club whose demise I wrote about a few weeks ago. The building has rented its second floor to an artist co-op for years. Now, owner Gail Harris says, artists will take over the Warehouse Loft's two large spaces on the third floor. Some have already moved into the side known as the "Warehouse." And Harris has tapped a familiar name in D.C. DIY circles to coordinate the side known as the "Loft."

From 1998 to early 2012, sculptor Mike Abrams subleased Gold Leaf Studios in Mount Vernon Square to scores of artists. After he found out last summer that the warehouse would become a residential building, Abrams told me he planned to look for another space in which he could gather a community of artists. With the Warehouse Loft's exit, he's now found it. In addition to several spaces on the third floor, Abrams will also oversee three large work spaces and two small ones on the building's first floor. (Those first-floor spaces once belonged to the studio/gallery Art Enables.)

"I am planning to try to attract working artists and people who are producing product," Abrams writes, "and also placing some flex space on both floors for arts events and class/workshop use." He says prices will range from $650 to $1,200 a month, depending on the space.

This won't necessarily mean the return of Gold Leaf's late-night art parties and concerts—not with the landlord's consent, anyway. Harris doesn't want to have another licensed music venue in her building, like the Warehouse Loft. “I don’t think anyone’s going to work to get a liquor license again," she says. "It’s too complicated.”

52 O Street Studios

An empty studio at 52 O. Image courtesy Eames Armstrong

Earlier this year, owner Marty Youmans abandoned an idea to build a youth hostel in his building of studios and live-work spaces, a plan that would've displaced some of the artists there. "My tenants were skittish, and it was enough for me to abandon the plans," he told Arts Desk at the time.

Still, some changes are coming to 52 O. With the tenant of a particularly large space in the building leaving, Youmans plans to update how new tenants are selected. He'll carve up the vacant space into a few smaller ones, he says. And he's tasked 52 O artist Eames Armstrong with concocting something akin to a jury process to screen interested parties going forward.

"What I'm putting together isn't a traditional jury in a strict sense, but more of a system for current occupants to be more involved in the selection process of new artists for the building," Armstrong writes. "It will involve the more active people in the building, particularly the live/work tenants." Here's what she says the new system will accomplish:

There's been an exciting surge of energy in the building this year. We just had a great open studios—the first time there have been two in a year in something like 10 years, and we're getting ready to do a holiday market on Dec. 15. The mazelike layout of our building isn't really conducive to developing relationship among tenants, and introducing something like a jury system is one part of a larger effort to make the studios closer-knit and more of a community. I started an email newsletter of what's up with 52 O artists, and [I] manage the Facebook page.

...

The new system won't be very different from how Marty has been filling spaces. For new occupants, we still want to ensure that there is a range of artists in the building, and that the type of work suits the particularities of a space. Our turnover rate is so much lower than the very high demand for space, we want to make sure our coveted studios are going to the best artists, keeping our building as rad as possible. Going forward, there will be an application to fill out that will include questions about the artist's studio practice, ask for images of work and an artist statement—pretty standard. Intentionally, the format will be kind of loose, and result more in conversation than imposed rules or procedure. A small change, but I think it's an important step towards strengthening a community within the studios.

Although he briefly flirted with bringing in a hostel, Youmens says he recognizes the importance of 52 O Street in a city with high demand for studio space. "It’s huge, man,” he says.

Youmans says his studios typically go for about $1.50 per square foot each month. “O is affordable, and it’s going to remain affordable,” he says.

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  • myshkin

    Unfortunately the studio spaces mentioned above range from barely affordable to unaffordable to artists struggling with tight budgets in a weak economy.

    The article does not address the actual state of affairs, i.e., artists forced to sub-let miniscule and pricey studio space or profit minded landlords, claiming to be favorably disposed to the arts, often using artists as the avant garde in a gentrification process, while constantly and steeply escalating rents until the rent roll has been pumped sufficiently to sell it out from under the artists to a developer.

    This is not a substitute for actual affordable studio space, one reason Washington's creative arts have rarely attained the critical mass required for a vibrant arts scene.

    Non-profit, artist's co-operatives are likely the only chance that good, affordable studio space will ever become available. The DC arts council and organizations should be working on promoting this approach to the problem. It's a well known story but not mentioned here; market forces in the essential area of real estate for the studio arts tend to exploit artists not help them find affordable, stable studio space.

    It is essential to understand that typically, working artists require a minimum if 3-500 sq, ft of studio space and often a good deal more. One dollar a sq. ft. per month is the ceiling on affordability for most artists. That kind of deal is not what's being talked about by any of the spaces above as far as I know.

  • mike abrams

    sq ft cost as denoted above as 1.50 sq ft a month uses that month figure because it looks lower on paper and in fact it is used to keep people from sticker shock. most people don't like the idea of paying 18 dollars a ft for space but that is what 1.50 a month costs translate to when using the correct formula for finding the true rate.
    sq ft cost is figured at a yearly rate . for example a 300 sq ft space for 18 dollars a sq ft is 18 multiplied by 300 equals $5400 that is than divided by 12 ...the number of months in a year and you get 450.00 a month as the rent . a fair and affordable rate for a room that is 15ft 20 ft. quite sharable and affordable when split between two artists.

    As far as industrial spaces go in raw unfinished state you are currently looking at 13-for rough and farther away locations to 24 a sq ft. for places with heat and ac and good lighting and good size rooms, decent location goes above 24 a sq ft parking adds more cost on the building. these costs are the studio landlords cost before even opening the studio doors for artists to work so if you add on build out costs for materials and labor,studio insurance and property tax and management cost to run the studios and pay for studios when they are empty or between tenants than you have an increase in sq ft costs that bring the number closer to $27.00 a sq ft from the original $18 a sq ft lease given to the studio landlord . So now that 300 sq ft space goes for $675 month plus utilities. Still Affordable and sharable

    Studios near a metro or close to the city are rarer to find . part of the reason for high sq ft costs is the direct result of pass through of property taxes levied to the building owners and given to studio landlords. the Building Owners property tax and insurance costs are usually split costs that are written into the lease from the owner to the landlord of the studios and when the city levies property or water use reclamation or neighborhood community triangle association or..... you name it or whatever tax it goes from the owners hand as a split cost half to the studio landlord half to the owner. So any tax the city levies becomes the studio tax as well, this tax can add 5 thousand to 20 thousand a year extra in costs that than have to be charged to the artists in the buildings as a portion of the rent.artists rarely get a tax bill because most would refuse the lease with that obligation . so in the long run the landlord and the owners take the hit and try to make it up in rent ,so why not an exemption or credit for studio creation to apply to property taxes for building owners which would allow the owners to charge less per sq ft and will make studios more affordable It may encourage more owners to host studios in all or part their buildings. creating mixed use buildings . if we want to help the cost of studio space in Dc this would be a helpful way to promote more buildings for the Arts.

    Mike Abrams

    UNION ARTS DC 411 ny ave. washington dc

    Spaces Available Abrams_studios @ verizon.net

  • http://NotionsCapital.com Mike Licht

    Good to see property managers moving away from the unworkable "artist live-work space" model and realizing that our city's artists need art production space. An artist without a studio is a "former arrtist."

    That said, restrictions on performing arts activity is unfortunate for most of DC's artists -- musicians, dancers and actors -- and indicate lack of planning in construction design. And are these property owners receiving tax or zoning breaks in return for providing studio space? If so, look for this arts use to evaporate by the end of the decade.

  • http://jacksonartcenter.com emzki

    There is a space available at the Jackson Art Center on R Street in Georgetown. But don't say I sent you. However the $ is much more reasonable than any other artist studios in the city.

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