Think There’s No Room for Emerging Artists in D.C.? You’re Wrong.
Dear dude I argued with at Black Cat a couple of weeks ago,
From what I recall, I ended our conversation after you told me to go fuck myself. But right before that, we were arguing about whether or not D.C. is a supportive place for emerging artists.
You claimed to have investigated every gallery, and you declared all of them unfriendly and pretentious. When I asked if you could name any of those galleries, you said I was pretentious. You said you are an artist yourself, living and working in D.C.—"a very well-known artist," your friend interjected, working primarily in painting and street art. You said the "gallery scene" isn't "accessible," with no interest in or support for young artists; that it's a cold community to artists like yourself. Maybe you're just pitifully uninformed.
Here's why: There's no shortage of support for young artists in the D.C. area. It feels like every gallery or organization is either all about emerging artists or has a dedicated program for them. Need proof? I brought some.
Transformer, an organization founded with the explicit intent to provide support for "emergent expression," is in the 10th year of its Exercises for Emerging Artists series, a three-month critique and mentorship program culminating in an exhibition. Two years ago I began as an intern at Transformer, during E8; this year, I'm coordinating E10. I got to draw all over Transformer's P Street storefront window earlier this year in "Expansions," an exhibition for the organization's FlatFile program—which has gained me a tremendous amount of exposure. Every year, Transformer also gives a solo show to a D.C.-based artist—Forest Allread most recently.
A year and a half ago, I met the staff at Hillyer Art Space. The nascent Soapbox Performance Art Series had just lost its organizer, so I proposed to continue programming it, and I still do today. Hillyer was willing to take a risk with me, a young curator, which gave me a shot at programming performance. Without that, I wouldn't have been able to curate Supernova, a major performance art festival which took place just a month or so ago.
Then there's the Hamiltonian Fellowship, a unique "post-doc" program for emerging artists that provides professional-development support and prominent exhibitions at Hamiltonian Gallery. D.C. Arts Center has an artist collective called Sparkplug that provides peer support in a two-year-long program. ("External Memory," a Sparkplug group exhibition, is on view through July 14.) Red Dirt Studio, led by Margaret Boozer in Mt. Rainier, Md., calls itself a "graduate school with no grades" for both emerging artists and more established artists-in-residence.
Civilian Art Projects' Jayme McLellan began Transformer's exercises program and continues to show and support emerging artists; Dan Gray's spring solo show "Seeking Provision" came less than a year after he graduated from Corcoran. Connersmith is getting ready to open its annual MFA/BFA show, "Academy," this weekend. Wilmer Wilson IV's first exhibition at Connersmith last year took place just before he completed his undergraduate degree at Howard University, and he's showing again this fall. The Fridge puts up loads of street art—among other types—with a major emphasis on new artists. Its retail space, Mini Fridge, sells original work, prints, and crafts from locals. The Washington Project for the Arts has open calls all the time.
Oh, then there's CulturalDC, which puts out an annual open call for exhibitions at its Flashpoint Gallery—and it runs the Source Festival, a wellspring of performances from less-established performers. Every summer, theater artists flock to Capital Fringe, a major local theater festival driven almost entirely by emerging talents.
Among many projects she's facilitated for me, Philippa Hughes of Pink Line Project invited me to do a "residency" at her house last year, for which I invited dozens of other artists to come make drawings at her home. And significantly, Philippa let me repost my Tumblr posts to her blog, Pink Noise, which instantly grew the size of my audience, encouraging me to write more.
The list of artist-run and DIY spaces is growing, too: Pleasant Plains Workshop, Delicious Spectacle, Outer Space, and more. On July 20, 87Florida hosts "Ladyparts," a show that I'm helping Alexandra Delafkaran organize. She's a San Francisco Art Institute student just here for the summer. When you were talking to her before me at Black Cat, she could have told you about how in just a month of attending openings, going to talks, and meeting people, she pulled together what is going to be a rad show.
This might sound like a lot of love for my employers and collaborators and ass-kissing for organizations I may work with in the future, sure. But I've gotten somewhere in this town. Why haven't you?
Photo by Darrow Montgomery