Arts & Entertainment

Northern Virginia Art Beat




There are ways to make an arts district.

One is to have a seriously run down area with cheap rents because artists as a group are perpetually in that “just getting by” segment of the population. The area in question also needs to have spacious lofts suitable for studio use.

As unlikely as it all seems, this is usually the way things happen. Soho in New York was known for developing along this format. Crummy part of town where nobody wants to live. Artists settle the urban wilderness, and make it a cool hip and trendy place to be. Suddenly, people with more money, and less nerve, want to be there. The artists slowly get priced out of their own development, leaving them to find another crummy part of town to settle. And the cycle starts all over again.

Needless to say, this scenario leaves a lot to be desired on all levels. If you do the math, you can see that nobody gets what they’re after for very long. The other way to do it is to actually plan an arts district. It almost never happens that way.

A drive up Rhode Island Avenue (also known as Maryland Route 1, and Baltimore Ave. depending on where you are at the moment) through the Mount Rainier, Brentwood and Hyattsville areas (just north of the D.C. border) plainly shows that urban revitalization has taken root, and good things are happening in the area. Labeled as the “Gateway Arts District in Prince George’s County,” there’s no doubt that the arts community is a vital part of this plan.


Shelter for the Arts

Gateway Arts District Open Studios, etc. in Mount Rainier-Brentwood-Hyattsville Maryland from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. this Saturday, Dec. 13. (Times vary with location.) For more information and a downloadable map of the entire arts district, as well as a complete list of venues and times, visit www.gateway-cdcpg.org.

With over a hundred lofts within the arts district specifically set aside for artists housing, in at least three live/work unit complexes, we can safely say that this area has, or will have, the highest density of professional artists in the greater D.C. Metro area. Keeping in mind that the area reportedly had a substantial artist population base before any of this came about, it’s not too difficult to see this area is on track to becoming a serious hot spot for the arts inside the Beltway. What was obviously a run down area, won’t be for long… assuming we manage to avoid a full blown economic depression in the meantime.

One artist housing complex was developed by an unusual non-profit development group, Art Space, Inc. (www.artspace.org). They have similar artist housing developments all over the country.

Much has been made of trying to develop the arts here in Falls Church, but little if any thought seems to have been applied to the notion of actually creating studio space for artists to work in, much less actually housing them here. It’s a vital part of the equation, and is the difference between an ersatz arts district and a self-sustaining vibrant arts friendly community.

Prince George’s County has been quietly at work on this for some 15 years, and it’s all starting to gel in a big way. At the moment, housing and studio space in the Gateway Arts District is up and running, with more galleries and museum space in the works. A new non-profit (they all are) community art gallery will be opening before Spring, and possibly before New Year’s Day.

It’s just jaw-dropping to see this happening in what is traditionally a sleepy southern town based on federal bureaucracy as its sole major industry. Well, the census bureau says we have the fourth largest artist population in the country behind New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Seems like more than just numbers when you see this sort of thing going on.

H+F Fine Arts Gallery (3311 Rhode Island Ave., Mt. Rainier, Md.) is showing a pair of artists who use circles/spheres, and line to express egalitarian notions about humanity.

Alan Binstock, a NASA architect, and long time resident of the area, manipulates 3/4-inch plate glass to form his sculptures of captured colored orbs. The basic thinking behind Binstock’s work is that we, and everything around us, is made up of particles originating from the Big Bang. And thus we are all more alike and connected than we typically give credit for being.

Similar, but slightly different thinking drives Joan Belmar to make his complex multimedia sculptures. Based of the notion that how we perceive people varies with our perspective and relationship to them, Belmar makes mylar ribbons, standing them on edge so they nearly disappear as we look directly at the work. As our view point becomes more and more oblique the work becomes more and more two dimensional. Each piece is different, but they all change in significant ways as your view point changes. It’s complex and entertaining work.

Three old white warehouse buildings make up the artist studios complex on Otis Street, and Wells Ave. Inside you’ll find the Washington Glass School and Studio where area art star Tim Tate works his own brand of magic. Appearing on the art scene after an “Artomatic” showing several years ago, Tate now shows his work nationally, and recently had a show in London. We’ve reviewed Tate’s work here several times.

Without doing a strict head count, I’d say the entire ceramics group making up the fabulous 10th floor exhibit at this year’s “Artomatic” have their studio spaces within this three building complex. Seemingly every studio has several kilns off in the corner.

Of special note, Margaret Boozer’s Red Dirt Studio is among that group. Margaret recently showed some excellent and innovative clay earth work at McLean Project for the Arts, and the Arlington Arts Center, both of which were reviewed here. Boozer was a busy girl this week, opening her latest show at Project4 (903 U St. NW, Washington D.C.; www.project4gallery.com) from 6 – 8:30 p.m. this Thursday.

Also in the Otis Street complex is painter Janis Goodman, a full professor at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, as well as an arts reviewer for WETA’s “Around Town” program. Goodman has also shown extensively on both a national and international level. Another busy lady, Goodman is also in a five-person show that opened this month at Reyes + Davis (923 F Street NW, Washington, D.C., Suite 302; www.reyesdavis.com).

The Northern Virginia Art Beat is compiled by Kevin Mellema. See www.fcnp.com for photos and more. To e-mail submissions, send them to [email protected]

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