History tells us that while creative inspiration may be rife, funding for said inspiration is often the first to evaporate in depressed economies like the one we now face. Creative communities are responsible for both cultural and economic stimulation in D.C. According to 2018 data released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the D.C. arts industries contributes at least $10.2 billion in value to the city’s economy and employ 52,096 arts workers – and those substantial numbers are just what we have on record.
Despite these contributions, there are limited resources available to working artists, many of whom also rely on additional jobs in the service industry to stay afloat. Today this presents a real conundrum. Even with some restrictions on business operations lifting, we’re still a long way off from being able to comfortably host exhibition openings, gallery shows and festivals that would normally attract visitors with dollars to spend in local communities, and provide visual artists with much-needed exposure to sell works and sustain a living.
The bright side? As always, D.C.’s creatives are rallying together, for each other and for others in need around their city. Even from home, artists and adjacent creative industry workers are finding ways to promote and provide outlets for public engagement in the arts, and there are plenty of opportunities to support them.
Attend Events & Art Talks
We all need a break from the endless Zoom calls that now seem to dominate daily life, but there is valuable screen time. Many galleries and museums around the world have opened up their white walled rooms to the World Wide Web, creating stunning, realistic virtual tours of halls filled with masterpieces.
Here in D.C., large institutions and small showrooms alike are doing the same, or offering other new ways to explore visual art and meet creators. And some of the most innovative programs have managed to convene unique partnerships that may not have existed had circumstances been “normal.”
“Not (yet) futura free,” for example, is curated by Nathalie von Veh, presented by STABLE, and in partnership with the Maryland Institute College of Art’s MFA Curatorial Practice Program. The digital, online project is brought to life by boutique D.C. graphic design firm Composite Co. The exhibit is a compilation of 10 multidisciplinary projects aimed at documenting and processing what the curators call, “This moment of collective transformation [that] exists as an in-between space to connect us while we are apart.”
In addition to an interactive website where you can view images and read artist notes and accompanying prose centered around language and healing from a dozen artists, the project includes a robust series of virtual live programming. Events through June 15 include artist talks, screenings, workshops and performances, all free or by donation.
In another truly collaborative approach, International Arts & Artists at Hillyer (IA&A) has fully embraced the idea of artists working together from afar. Creative energy can cross channels and that is made readily apparent via IA&A’s Cross Connect initiative.
“Now, more than ever, we are seeing the power and importance of an international online creative community,” the site page reads. As such, Hillyer has paired up duos of artists, curators and other creatives from D.C. with their creative counterparts around the world.
In a series of real-time videos, these individuals share their thoughts and processes with each other and all of us.
In a recent episode, Halcyon Arts Lab resident artist Nicole Salimbene met Magdolene Dykstra from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada via Zoom for the very first time, and discussed on camera their artistic practice, social engagement and the sublime.
Start Your Collection
Marta Staudinger’s grandmother didn’t come from money – she started her art collection during the Great Depression, saving spare change and dollars at a time to put toward purchasing art and decor for her home. Staudinger herself, founder of D.C.’s Latela Curatorial, told that story when she launched her latest initiative (named for her grandmother), the GLB Memorial Fund for the Arts, which provides financial support to women-identifying artists and curators who reside in the DMV. In addition to offering funding for artists, Staudinger and her 10 program partners especially seek to engage collectors.
“We’re trying to utilize [my grandmother’s example] and break the mystique on what collecting is,” she says. “For example, if you have a job where you’re working from home, you have a privilege that a lot of creators do not have right now – artists are entertainers and people love watching what they do. Squirrel a little money away to put toward an artist [whose work] you love. Reach out and say, ‘Hi, I’ve loved you and watched your Instagram.’ Maybe you can’t afford it right away, but you can save up.”
If you are ready to invest in a piece or two, there are plenty of opportunities to snatch up some work from local artists, and these days, Instagram indeed seems the place to do it. STABLE’s Pay It Forward Fund (PIFF) is a virtual auction featuring artwork from STABLE artists. Money raised through the auction is put toward a grand fund to assist STABLE artists. Each week through July 2 a new STABLE artist and their story will be introduced on Instagram, with a piece of art that can be bid on (starting at $100) via the comments section.
And speaking of auctions, street art is hot right now. Anonymous street artist known by the moniker Absurdly Well (you might be familiar with their “WEAR A MASK” wheat pasted posters) partnered with the Washington Informer Bridge and PR firm InTheRough to feature 20 visual artists in a “Bid to Fight COVID” live Instagram broadcast auction on May 29, with a portion of proceeds donated to Martha’s Table. If you missed it, it’s still worth checking the site for unsold items, T-shirts and posters available through June 12.
Finally, you can start investing – and spread some much-needed love – for just $20. D.C. artist Amy Wike has teamed up with 24 other local artists who’ve each created original “hug-inspired” artworks to give the world with “A Hug or Something Like It.” The $20 Hug Packets include five miniature, postcard-sized reproductions of the works that can be just as easily hung on the wall as mailed to friends. Proceeds are split evenly among the participating artists.
Join a Session or Take a Class
The DC Art Model Collective (D.C. AMC) has kicked into full gear, offering a schedule of virtual sessions with professional figure models multiple times a week. While providing a service for artists, the collective works to support models by creating industry standards for the virtual sessions, offers “how-tos” and guidance on setting up virtual studios, and advice on fees for private sessions and image rights.
Jalene Januze, a longtime model and one of the D.C. AMC organizers, says, “For us, it was within a week or so that we basically lost all of our modeling jobs. My calendar was suddenly blank. We had a lot of artists reaching out saying, ‘We know you’ve lost your jobs, how can we help?’ They asked if we wanted a GoFundMe and we said we’d like to to work!”
Understanding that finances are tight for most, the models have kept virtual sessions (which are clothed) affordable at $5 per hour to drop in and try to accommodate hardships. Some artists have even reached out to offer to sponsor other artists in need to attend.
“The more we do, the more we get responses like this and it has been so good for our mental health. It feels really good to know both sides are helping each other,” says Januze, who also notes that the process has been an eye-opener in terms of making sessions accessible for other reasons like mobility issues.
In addition to models, many working artists in D.C. are employed by local art centers, universities and school programs, all of which have been closed since March. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW) continues to host classes and more for the community via their #artathome campaign.
CHAW artists are being featured weekly via takeovers of the organization’s Instagram handle. Every Monday, Ms. Mariana leads a new kids’ art activity via Facebook Live and some of the regular weekly instruction classes are still taking place online. Ellen Cornett finished out her spring session of a life drawing class virtually.
“Teaching an online life drawing class posed challenges,” says Cornett, who shares detailed and personal critiques with her students via email. “Laptop and tablet monitors are too small to comfortably view the whole figure, and so I decided to focus this session on drawing feet, hands and the head. I have noticed that most life drawing students find these parts of the figure daunting, and I thought more intensive study of them might pay off when we are able to meet again in the classroom with a live model.”
She will be offering an eight-week portrait class through CHAW beginning in June.
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