Editor’s Note- Saturday October 12, from 6pm to 9pm, see the Artswalk for yourself as Catalyst Projects opens their new gallery in Studio #13. Full details listed here.
Brookland’s burgeoning arts scene is getting even livelier as artists begin occupying the 27 studios along Monroe Street Market’s Artswalk. The Bozzuto Mangement Company is managing the day to day operations, and according to Mike Henehan, Vice President of Development, almost all studios are under lease. The Artswalk as a concept, with so much ground floor space given over to the arts, is unique among recent large-scale development within the District. Henehan credits Abdo Development and Catholic University (also partners in the Market) with deciding very early in the design stage to give the arts a prominent role, energizing the 8th street arts corridor in the process. Intriguingly, the initial roster of tenants features not only individual artists, but also visual and theatrical arts groups and fine craft entrepreneurs. Henehan notes, “it was very important to us [Bozzuto] to have a multifaceted group… We want to make an impact throughout the district as well as Edgewood.”
The developer’s goal of creating a diverse community is certainly taking shape. I wanted to get a sense of how the artists viewed their mini-neighborhood, so I dropped by recently to conduct some spontaneous interviews. The Artswalk features a pedestrian promenade that opens up to a large plaza facing the Brookland Metro station. Large garage doors that front the artist studios line the walk and can be rolled up, allowing the artists to easily interact with passersby. For a weekday afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of artisans working in their studios with their garage doors open, a fact that underscores the full-time nature of this arts colony
First up was Studio #9, home of painter Cheryl Edwards. She has an enviable position facing out into community courtyard and fountain, but her colorful paintings definitely draw the eyes inside. Edwards relocated from the EZ Storage studio project in Brentwood, MD and is thrilled to now be working in the District not far from where she lives. She is no stranger to the arts scene, having painted in the District for 30 years, so she’s seen the arts community morph over time; she notes this is one the first examples of the arts and business communities working together on a project of this size. Her excitement in Monroe Street Market is infectious: “they [Bozzuto] want us to be successful,” she tells me and she notes how quickly cohesion has been built up between the artists. The fact that she has already had several sales from the so far modest foot traffic bodes well for her and the artisans as a whole.
Studio #4 is the workspace of Kate Krezel and Avner Ofer, featuring photography and handmade leather goods in their joint gallery/workspace. The married couple lives just a few blocks from their studio and had been working out of their basement and makeshift home office until just a few short weeks ago. While they are well-known on the craft market circuit (you can find them at Eastern Market), having this new, dedicated studio gives them a new “home base” and the ability to have their own retail shop. Ofer’s work is a blend of travel and fine art photography (proving the two can mix!) and he travels the world several months each year taking new photos for his collection. While the space serves more of a gallery for him (prints aren’t produced onsite), it is definitely a workshop for Krezel, whose piles of raw material (sourced from a company that salvages leather) are on display adjacent to racks and tables of finished wallets, belts and “urban holsters” (think wild west meets fanny pack). They echo Edward’s comments on how the diverse group is coming together to promote the artswalk as a whole.
As if on cue, while I was chatting with Krezel and Ofer, Leda Black from Studio Eco Bricolage stopped by to say hello. I followed her back across the promenade to Studio #15 to see her space. Studio Eco Bricolage is the brainchild of three artists – Annalisa Leonessa, Leda Black and Marcelle Fozard – who each have their own practices (weaving, photography/typesetting and mixed-media respectively) but also collaborate on large-scale sculptural assemblages. The ladies met each other during a series of “yarn bombing” projects, and prior to this studio, were all working from their respective homes. The space is cozy, but they have been able to define three distinct workspaces for each artist to work on their individual projects. Their future plans for the studio include a project they’ve dubbed the Brookland Craft Café which will host workshops open to the community.
While the majority of the studios feature visual artists, Buzzoto has worked to include other arts-related entities. Studio #1 houses the offices of Only Make Believe, a nonprofit who provides interactive theatrical workshops for children’s hospitals and care centers. According to Regional Director Tamela Aldridge, Only Make Believe believes stimulating childrens’ creativity aids in the healing process. Founded in 1999 in New York City, the DC office opened in 2012 in a small office at 9th and U, but found the space cramped and ill suited for the costume workshops they run in advance of site visits. Aldridge tells me the staff was immediately drawn to Monroe Street Market because of the unique construction of the Artswalk. She and her administrative assistant Lauren Billich view the promenade as an extension of their office; when the garage door is rolled up, their volunteers who create costumes can literally spill outdoors. Billich notes that the Artswalk is going to, “artistically enrich this area,” and they are hoping that working in the midst of an artist community will inspire their volunteers.
Across the walkway from Only Make Believe in Studio #12 and the artist Maroulla (she uses one name professionally). Maroulla is (currently) the only sculptor on the Artswalk, and her serene figurative and abstract studies lend a certain museum-like feel to the Artswalk community. Originally from the Tuscany region of Italy, she recently relocated to the DC area where she has family. Her son commutes by bike to work (the Metropolitan Branch bike trail runs directly alongside the development) and mentioned to her he’d seen signs advertising this new artists’ community, so she gives kudos to him for finding her this space. Around the room are timeless sculptures in marble, stone and bronze, but what catches my eye is a work in progress made from a large block of wood. While most of her work uses stone, she does enjoy the unique qualities of wood. This particular sculpture will be her first made-from-scratch piece in her new space. Like several other artists, she plans to hold public workshops to teach the fundamentals of sculpture.
My final stop to the afternoon was Studio #17 where I found recent DC transplant Alejandro Pintado stretching a massive canvas onto a frame. Trained in Mexico and London, the artist works both on canvas and with sculptural installations that appropriate found historical imagery (often landscapes) to toy with our sense of nostalgia or perceptions of physical space. As it turns out, Pintado has an exhibition history including shows at major Mexican museums, and the 10 foot canvas he’s preparing today will in just a few months be in yet another museum show south of the border. In the midst of several unfinished works is what can best be described as an “idea wall” filled with computer printouts and found photographs of modernity that will inform current and future projects. For Pintado, walking into this community has been a double blessing, allowing him to not only interact with neighboring tenants but also to enter the larger arts community as well. Look for the artist to host open studio hours (around his work schedule) and perhaps present lectures as well!
The Artswalk at Monroe Street Market is located at 8th and Monroe Ave., NE, just outside the Brookland/CUA metro station.