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