Dupont Underground has played host to myriad events over the years, including punk rock concerts, fundraising soirees, photography exhibitions, scavenger hunts, fashion, art and comedy shows and countless other creative gatherings that I’m probably no longer hip enough to remember — if I ever was.
For the past two years, the future of the subterranean cultural hub (once a long-abandoned streetcar station) has hung in the balance. But as of this spring, the Dupont Underground nonprofit organization extended its lease agreement with the city for another eight years.
While Dupont Underground continued to provide powerful arts programming during the pandemic, the re-opening of the city has spurred more opportunities for the public to engage with the space and the creative communities drawn to it.
This weekend, Dupont’s Basement, an arts market that “relishes in the fancily strange and unique,” will pop up in the underground. Inspired by the unexpected treasures found in old aunts’ attics and grandparents’ basements, the event is a mix of artisan showcase and Parisian flea market (Pierre L’Enfant would be proud about the repurposing of the space).
While pop-up art markets are not new to D.C., many of the vendors exhibiting an eclectic mix of goods and wares in Dupont’s Basement are.
For those who love a good vintage fix, Future of What will offer quilts, mirrors, glass, ceramics, clothing and vinyl. Kelly Queener and her partner David Vicini began collecting and buying for their Future of What concept during the 2020 lockdown and started selling this spring.
“Our style is eclectic, leaning towards mid-century modern, funky/psychedelic ’60s/’70s and even a little gaudy ’80s/’90s” Queener says. “We upcycle and refinish furniture, but also carry a variety of home decor.”
Also around the start of the pandemic, Varsha Suresh, who works in conservation, took her sketching hobby to the next level and launched Pencil Roots: now a successful art venture inspired by wildlife and the environment. Suresh makes and sells prints, cards, stickers, and other products using sustainable and recyclable materials.
“I absolutely love anything that’s from the natural world and I have this deep desire to protect it,” Suresh says. “And I thought since I sketch, perhaps I could start illustrating wildlife and sharing on social media with short messages in a way that would capture [people’s] attention, but also learn about species needing protection.”
Vendor Oriana Peñaranda’s endeavor was likewise born during the past year. Peñaranda founded her online independent bookstore Xolo Books in response to the social and racial unrest sweeping the country during the pandemic and in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“I had a very strong kind shift in priorities and it just became very clear the traditional path I was on was not was not for me,” Peñaranda recalls.
Once she landed on the idea of a bookstore, she decided it should have a special focus.
“And so this is where I kind of knew I wanted Xolo books to be a bookstore dedicated to BIPOC authors and voices because one, as a Latina, whenever I can find bits and pieces of really good representation of my experiences, [that] means the world to me. So I really wanted to make sure my store could do that for all. I also want to show publishing companies there is a market, there is a demand, there is a need for books by BIPOC authors.”
While Queener, Surash and Peñaranda are relatively new to the pop-up art market scene, other vendors making an appearance have been working the “hustle” for much longer. Taneisha H. says she left corporate America in 2015 to work in the restaurant industry so that she could save up to start her company, Black Vinegar Collection (BVC).
BVC is a rotating line of hand-printed and made products including items like yoga mats, candles, tote bags, hip-hop inspired lapel pins and more.
“Right now I have this thong, which people think is so funny,” Taneisha H. says. “It says, ‘it’s your pussy you can do what you want.’ I was inspired by Larry June, he’s a rap artist out of California. It’s classic and it’s about women empowerment and that’s what I want to show with my company. And not only women’s empowerment, but I want to show how multifaceted hip hop is. It’s really inspiring if you get past what mainstream shows sometimes… it’s such a beautiful art form.”
Black Vinegar Collection releases new products every month or two. Those for sale at Dupont Basement — including the aforementioned thong — will be hot-ticket items and only available until August.
Dupont’s Basement at Dupont Underground will be open Sunday, July 11 from 12-5 p.m. Tickets are free. Register ahead here.
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