STABLE Arts Shakes Up the D.C. Arts Scene
March 23, 2023 @ 12:00pm
D.C.’s largest art studio, STABLE Arts, hosts great local artists, giving them space to create and showcase at special events for the public.
Like a great work of art, the name of D.C.’s largest art studio, STABLE Arts, has layers. There’s the literal: Its building is a former stable. Then there’s its collective meaning — a group of people sharing space and resources: a stable of boxers, of writers. When used to describe a structure or a person, it means “not easily shaken or dislodged.” In the often-irregular lives of artists, some stability can make a big difference.
The studio, a demure brick building in Eckington, opened in late 2019 to provide local artists with affordable studio space. After several early shakeups, including the Covid-19 shutdown, personnel changes and community-led allegations of inequity, the organization hired Maleke Glee as its inaugural director in January 2021. They charged the Howard University and Goucher College alum with stabilizing the young organization and championing the past, present and future of art in the District, starting with its resident artists.
“A studio is quite valuable because it gives an artist freedom to make without restriction,” Glee says. “A lot of our artists were previously working in their living rooms or basements. They were cautious of the materials they could explore. There’s a real value in having a designated space where you can get the walls dirty, the floors dirty.”
Beyond permission to make a mess, STABLE provides artists with professional benefits such as networking, sales and presenting opportunities. Studios can further function as an office to meet with curators, collectors, journalists and others who can provide exposure and career advancement opportunities.
“Sometimes I just go there to eat lunch,” Leigh Davis, a STABLE artist, confesses. “It’s a practical space, but it’s also symbolic, a lifeline to my work. I’m in a completely different mental space in my studio.”
Davis’ works combine sculpture, photography and storytelling.
“Having a studio has meant a sense of autonomy and freedom,” Davis says. “I have all sorts of responsibilities, a family at home and teaching. The studio is really — like Virginia Woolf says — a room of my own.”
Beyond the individual benefits, community is central to STABLE’s ethos.
“STABLE was also created to address the more intangible need for space to commune with and get feedback from your peers,” Glee says.
STABLE’s current roster is composed of 19 artists representing a wide variety of identities, processes and mediums — a readymade arrangement for productive cross-pollinations and critiques.
“We’re starting to create that social fabric,” Davis says.
Spontaneous meetings still possess a kind of “first date energy,” Davis says before imitating one.
“‘Oh, you’re an artist too? What’s your work like? I’ve never been to your studio,’” she says, laughing. “It’s very beautiful and supportive.”
Glee is eager to share the best of STABLE with more people.
“I’m hoping STABLE can serve the full arts ecosystem,” he says. “That means serving people nerding out about art, like myself; people writing essays; and those dreaming up exhibitions. We want to be a space for art to exist outside of the art objects. I’m thinking of the salon culture of the early 20th century, when we had artists asking about the philosophical intentions of art making.”
Davis adds that in the face of the capitalistic arts market, artists require a space to share ideas freely. Both Davis and Glee believe those conversations must go beyond the traditional coterie of art goers.
“D.C. is a smart city,” Glee says. “I want to challenge STABLE to reach and speak to the wider public, people who engage with art every day but may not frequent museums or galleries. How does art speak to our day-to-day experiences? We are still mid-pandemic and there are so many other challenges. I would like STABLE to be a space where art is an entry point to those conversations.”
To start that process, STABLE will host a block party on May 6. Members of the public will be able to visit artists in their studios, enjoy live musical performances, peruse a vendors market, participate in free art making workshops and learn more about the company’s programs, which include short- and long-term residences as well as collaborations with Black Artists of DC and the Irish arts organization Solas Nua.
By investing in local contemporary artists, Glee foresees D.C. becoming an international arts epicenter, one built on an ongoing, constructive dialogue between patrons and producers.
“Once we broaden our audiences, it may also broaden the kind of work artists are producing,” he says. “They will have different factors of considerations and spheres of influences.”
That change is already happening for Davis, who moved to D.C. in 2018. She recently began working with Necothia “NikkiB” Bowens-Robinson on a project memorializing the experiences of residents in Northeast’s Rosedale neighborhood during the pandemic. The process has shown her a more layered view of the District — particularly its history as a majority Black city — as well as the importance of deeply listening to a community.
“The reason I make art is to be in conversation,” Davis says. “I can only make work about things I’m living. Being in D.C. has been life-altering.”
STABLE Arts: 336 Randolph Pl. NE, DC; stablearts.org // @stablearts
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