Pop-Up Queens: Hen House DC Bring Art To The People
December 7, 2019 @ 12:00am
“Wow, there’s definitely a need for what’s happening here. People want to support women in the arts.” I’m sitting with the three powerhouse talents behind Hen House DC amid the retro lime green-teal-pink walls of their most recent pop-up exhibit “Tiny Show 2” as they open up about the realization that they are filling a void in our city’s arts scene. Friends, collaborators and co-founders of Hen House, Kathrine Campagna, Beth Hansen and Tiffany Evans have been overwhelmed by support from the DC community since launching their all-female arts collective this summer. Not only have they created a welcoming creative outlet for local artists, they’ve also made art accessible, engaging and perhaps most importantly, fun.
Gone are the days of blank, sterile walls at exclusive galleries. We’re entering a new era for DC arts, one where event spaces like No Kings Collective’s Good Fast Cheap DC in Brentwood can be reconfigured as the colorful dream designs of three badass ladies and filled to the brim with 5-inch-by-5-inch works from 145 artists. I picked the collective brain of this triumvirate focused on creating forward momentum for female-driven, community-focused arts and creative experiences that are meant to connect and not alienate. Read on to learn more about what Hen House is up to, how you can be considered as an artist in their next show and why I now have girl crushes on all three of them.
On Tap: How did you three meet and connect?
Kathrine: Beth and I went to Corcoran College of Art and Design together, so I’ve known Beth since I was 18.
Beth: We’ve known each other for a very long time.
Kathrine: Yeah, gross [all laugh]. I met Tiffany through my friend and just working with No Kings.
Tiffany: We really bonded at [Art] Basel a couple of years ago. That’s when we really started talking and hanging out.
Kathrine: Both of our friendships have all been really art-centered, which has been pretty awesome.
OT: What was the impetus to start Hen House?
Beth: A couple years back, a couple of us that all had gone to school together basically made an agreement to start proposing shows. Kate hit upon this really cool show idea, “Responsive Light,” and there ended up being four rounds of it.
Kathrine: You could make whatever you wanted. It just had to involve light.
Tiffany: I think it was actually kismet because at the last “Responsive Light” show, I approached Kate and she was like, “Oh, Beth actually just offered the same thing. She wants to help as well.” And I’m like, “Let’s all do this together.” And then she had this idea for Hen House. She was like, “I want to do something with all women. This is perfect.”
Kathrine: I had been sitting on this idea for a while. I really wanted to do it. I wanted to pull people in from all backgrounds of art. I really wanted to make sure it stays diverse, but definitely women-focused.
Beth: We found out really quickly that we all bring our strengths to the table, but we all know enough about what the other ones do that we can come in and help. We can lean on each other’s strengths, but we can also bolster them as well. It feels like everyone is definitely collaborating equally.
Kathrine: Yeah, everyone’s being heard. Communication is definitely our biggest strength.
OT: I read that there was a big draw for local female artists through the “Responsive Light” shows. Why do you think that was?
Kathrine: A lot of women reached out to me who had a lot of talent and had never even shown before. They just didn’t know how to even go about it. They were underrepresented. They didn’t know what tools they had. That definitely put fuel to the fire to get something done.
Beth: I think it helps [that] we’re doing open calls on Instagram. “Hey, we’re looking for you. Send us your stuff. You don’t even have to consider yourself a full-time artist. But if you’re working on this, let’s see what you have.” [We] try as much as possible to fit people’s strengths into each show. We now have this huge collection of artists that have reached out to us, and it’s really incredible to get to meet all of them at these different shows and put those faces to the photographs we’ve seen of their work.
Tiffany: You’d be surprised how many of them – there’s 145 artists in the show – had never shown their work before. And they were like, “How could I? I didn’t know that was really a thing.” It’s been really, really special to see them come and bring their families and they’re like, “This is my first art show and I’ve actually sold a lot of pieces.”
OT: How do you think DC’s art and overall creative scene has changed since launching your professional careers?
Kathrine: Something that I definitely learned just from working with No Kings the last few years is you don’t need a gallery to sell your work. I think the art scene is becoming a little bit more accessible for everybody. It’s all DIY. It’s going to be hard, but that’s the direction I think people are starting to go. It’s not just for the rich anymore. Art should be for everybody. It should be accessible.
OT: How important is it to you to expand your reach beyond just artists to incorporating other women into your shows?
Beth: If we’re trying to highlight female-owned businesses, we try to bring in other women and trans and non-binary creatives in there as well. We try to include as many people as possible.
OT: Is there anyone on your wish list across local food, drink, music, etc. for future collaborations?
Kathrine: One of our good friends from Corcoran is Laura Harris. She’s the drummer for Ex Hex, and it’d be awesome if they could play one of our shows. I think that’d be super fun.
OT: Tell me about “Tiny Show.” How did you guys decide to go little and how much time and energy does it take to work with so many artists and to collect so many tiny pieces of art?
Kathrine: We went to check out the space at Brookland Exchange [where the first “Tiny Show” was hosted] and it was their artist lounge. It’s a hallway.
Beth: Like a cheese wedge.
Kathrine: It’s an odd shape – it’s a cool space – we’re just looking at it like, “I don’t know what to do with this tiny, weird space. Maybe it’s too small for a show. Maybe we should just do a workshop.” And then I was just like, “No. More artists, smaller work.” It’s “Tiny Show” because everything’s tiny because this space is so small [laughs].
Beth: We wanted to be able to get as much work in there as possible, and the only way to do it was like, “We’ve just got to scale this way, way down. No big stuff. Five inches by five inches on the outside dimensions.”
Kathrine: Beth came up with this genius gridding system, so basically no matter how small or big anything is, it will pretty much fit in its space.
OT: What’s next for Hen House?
Tiffany: We’ve definitely talked about a music element. We want to encompass all of the arts in some sort of event where we all incorporate our work on the walls, but we have different performances. I think eventually we want to do something like a Hen House summer camp or days’ long event where it’s really interactive and we can have people coming and making and buying art.
OT: What about wish list spaces?
Kathrine: We can adjust to anything. We’re very adaptable. It’s time that I think is really our main focus for a new space. Can we be there for more than a day? We don’t want to deinstall the next day. We want to give the community and anybody else interested time to see it and keep it as diverse as possible with all the things we’re doing. We always really try to shoot and have a fundraiser attached to it.
OT: Are there any local initiatives or charities you feel passionately about?
Tiffany: We love DASH [local nonprofit District Alliance for Safe Housing]. Beth volunteers for DASH.
Beth: I do the art group with the kids who live there once a week.
Kathrine: We’ve donated to them a couple of times.
Tiffany: We want to work with all the charities, actually. We hope to change it up every time so we can spread the love a little bit.
OT: Do you ever want a permanent space, or do you think you want to remain ever-evolving and modular?
Kathrine: I think probably down the road it would be nice to have a place to call our own and make it what we want to.
Tiffany: Or even a monthlong space would be pretty cool, because we could also change it.
Kathrine: But even if we had a brick-and-mortar, I think we’d still be doing pop-ups. I think that’s how we got our start.
Beth: We want to bring the art to the people.
OT: I noticed high schoolers’ artwork as part of “Tiny Show 2.” How did they react to seeing their art up for sale?
Tiffany: I got to meet a few of the students, and they were literally almost moved to tears when they found out that someone had bought their artwork. Restauranteur Erik Bruner-Yang came in and bought up a bunch of artwork, including some of the students’ work, and was saying it’s going to be included in his new restaurant ABC Pony. And they were literally just over the moon. They could not contain their excitement. I think we’d definitely like to incorporate that in the future.
OT: I feel like at every show you’ve had, there have been families with kids and that’s really cool because that’s another part of the art world that’s not always accessible – not only the price point but whether or not people can bring their kids.
Kathrine: I think it’s nice that families come in because it is a little stuffy in a gallery setting because you know, I guess families aren’t posh and sexy [all laugh]. I like all those weird kids [laughs]. My best friend has two kids. They’ve all sneezed in my mouth. They’re great, man [all laugh]. If I had the opportunity as a kid to grow up in an environment like this where I was exposed to these things, how much cooler would we be?
OT: It’s also a way to include people that live in the neighborhood and surrounding community. It makes it more accessible in that way, which is important too.
Kathrine: We want to keep it as down to earth as possible.
Learn about what Hen House DC has coming up next at www.henhousedc.com or on Instagram @henhousedc.
If you’re an artistic human interested in being considered for one of their upcoming shows, send them a message on Instagram with three submissions of your work and you’ll be included in their pool of submissions for the next one.