For SWATCHROOM co-founders Maggie O’Neill and Warren Weixler, disco is a conduit for joy. The creative duo sees the genre as medium for connection and delight — for audiences and artists alike.
This concept is the driving force behind Disco DC, their new interdisciplinary arts space at Union Market. Launching in mid-September, Disco DC will host immersive arts exhibitions centered on disco, featuring local painters, designers and photographers. The “Disco to the Go-Go” exhibition, which O’Neill describes as an “over-the-top museum gift shop” will kick things off, complete with visual art, music and video.
Inspired by “Dance It Out,” the disco-themed dance space O’Neill launched during Covid, “Disco to the Go-Go” also offers guests the chance to book a private, curated experience. Driven by the concept of hyper-hospitality, guests can work directly with a curator to design a disco-themed experience which aligns with their taste and preferences.
“How do we bring joy?” O’Neill asks. “Let’s fill this room with disco balls.”
Read on for more on Disco DC, “Disco to the Go-Go,” and O’Neill and Weixler’s vision for an arts-forward D.C.
District Fray: Why disco?
Maggie O’Neill: To me, a disco ball is symbolic of joy, happiness, fun and movement. I think a dance floor is one of the happiest places on earth. Disco DC was born from the idea: “How do we bring joy to people?” I can’t think of anything better than disco balls.
Warren Weixler: Disco is always a celebration. It is joyful movement. I think we saw that now, more than ever, people really need to be uplifted with this energy.
What ultimately inspired Disco DC?
O’Neill: I believe disco and go-go music have this unbelievable, universal way of bringing people together. And music and dancing are the most diplomatic and fantastic things we could do during this challenging time. Disco isn’t just a genre — it can be this incredible metaphor for a place. As creatives and creative leaders, we wanted to create our own concept. We both believe the antidote to depression and anxiety is making, creating and building.
Tell me about “Dance It Out.” How has this original exhibit influenced Disco DC?
O’Neill: During Covid, we were in conversation with Union Market about creating something to bring the community together. We launched “Dance It Out” in late 2020 as a holiday activation to get people to smile. The disco dance space was booked for 3 months out-of-the-gate. I met many extraordinary people who expressed how much joy the space brought to them. People of every age, every demographic, saying, “This is the happiest I’ve been all year!” We knew this was something we wanted to build on.
Weixler: Disco DC repositions “Dance It Out,” but keeps its joyful vibe. We’re now offering more of an academic, exhibition approach — but it’s still a space for people to find joy.
What can attendees expect from “Disco to the Go-Go?”
O’Neill: Think over-the-top museum gift shop, but better. There will be photography, paintings, sound and video, all from local artists. Product designer and artist Chris Cardi and multidisciplinary artist Ashley Jaye Williams are just a couple of our featured vendors. The exhibit is about go-go music, but the space can also be used for performances and private events. It’s incredibly dynamic, with the underlying idea that all arts and culture disciplines overlap.
There’s also an individualized, curated experience as part of “Disco to the Go-Go,” right?
O’Neill: Yes! Guests can rent the space for a curated experience on Friday and Saturday evenings. It’s a choose-your-own adventure type of deal. Once booked, you’ll be contacted by a docent who will send you a questionnaire asking things like “What was your favorite ice cream as a child?” or “What song would you like to walk in to?” Your experience will be customized to you and your group. This is what we call hyper-hospitality.
How do you hope the exhibition will inspire guests?
Weixler: We want to celebrate the interconnection of people and of art. That’s what is really fun, clever and authentic. And we can do that, through exhibition, retail products and private events. This way, any demographic can experience “Disco to the Go-Go” in their own way. If we can teach people something, or open their eyes to something new, then we’ve done our jobs.
What’s next after “Disco to the Go-Go?”
O’Neill: Our next exhibit will feature local DJ, professor and author Adrian Loving with photos by Bill Bernstein, a famous disco photographer. We’re committed to supporting local artists and small businesses and want to continue using Disco DC [as a platform for that]. The space is meant to offer an environmental, interdisciplinary experience, so we’ll also curate future exhibitions that align with this vision.
What’s your long-term vision for the space?
O’Neill: I would love to see Disco DC live on as an interdisciplinary arts space. We don’t want the exhibition space to be linear; we want to pair different artists and art forms. It is neither a retail space, a nightclub, an exhibition or art gallery — in some ways, it’s all of those things. I’m also hoping Disco DC will be a creative incubator for artistic collaboration.
Weixler: Another part of the vision is a traveling exhibition. If an exhibition does its job and has curatorial weight, then it will move to other cities and continue to educate audiences. “Disco to the Go-Go” could travel to L.A., Miami, Chicago, New York. It could become this traveling educational platform which propels multidisciplinary reach.
Many of your collaborations, including Disco DC, are in the Union Market District. What’s your vision for this area as a whole?
O’Neill: D.C. doesn’t have a destination arts district like New York City’s SoHo or Meatpacking District. I hope Union Market is a driving force behind forming D.C.’s first design and arts district. Our vision is for a hyper-local area which allows small businesses to flourish. It’s super easy to sign leases with big box stores, but then we lose the authenticity and uniqueness of this physical sphere.
Weixler: The promotion of a collaborative, creative community must be paired with real estate. It’s hard to say, “This is a district,” but not promote everyone working together. This is how you fill the community with the right vendors and how you drive traffic. Our vision is for a district where vendors are collaborating toward a shared goal.
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