Brookland Update

By Phil Hutinet on April 15, 2014

Editor’s note: originally published in the Spring Visual Arts Quarterly- available through May 30 at these locations.

In the winter edition of the East City Art Visual Arts Quarterly, I introduced readers to Brookland’s ascendancy as DC’s newest arts district telling the story of how a gallerist (Vinie Wohlfarth), a bellwether performing arts organization (Dance Place) and a residential developer (Jim Abdo) laid the groundwork to help transform a sleepy northeast neighborhood into what could become the next great center for the arts. 

The arts did not hibernate in DC and especially not in Brookland.  Since the winter edition, a number of developments in the greater Brookland community came to my attention.  Here is a round-up of what’s going on now and what’s to come this spring.

“Touch My Building: Dance Place”, Conceptual Proposal, © 2013- PhenomenArts, Inc. Christopher Janney, Artistic Director.
“Touch My Building: Dance Place”, Conceptual Proposal, © 2013- PhenomenArts, Inc. Christopher Janney, Artistic Director.

Dance Place
New Dance Place Theater Features Public Art 

After a series of permitting delays, the expansion of Dance Place’s theater and office space is well underway despite the grueling cold winter.  Using their existing space as a shell upon which to grow, the upgraded building will expand the office space, the theater and the lobby area. 

When the construction ends in May, a massive piece of public at will adorn the outside of Dance Place’s building.  But this is not just any kind of public art- the piece will engage the public through an interactive musical component.

Artist and composer Christopher Janney calls the piece Touch My Building: Dance Place.  Composed of colored glass, the bright and cheery interactive sound installation invites the public to approach the building, engage with the structure by touch and create “a sound-score of melodic and environmental sounds.”   According to Janney, a minimum of four sound-banks with 12 sound-samples will allow users to create a vast array of different sound combinations with each experience sounding different from the last.

Janney’s “Touch my Building” perfectly bridges Dance Place’s traditional role as a performing arts organization with the growing visual arts scene of Brookland like their next door neighbor, Brookland Art Lofts, and the Artswalk up 8th Street NE which houses Studio 21, Dance Place’s own gallery and exhibition space. 

Brand new wheels at DC Clay.  Photo by Phil Hutinet for East City Art.
Brand new wheels at DC Clay. Photo by Phil Hutinet for East City Art.

District Clay
New Ceramics Studio in Brookland-Langdon 

South of Rhode Island Avenue NE facing the train tracks that ferry passengers and freight between DC and the northeast corridor, a brick industrial building houses DC’s newest ceramics studio.  By looking at Google Maps’ street imaging, the space appears rather unimposing and modest in size. 

Visiting places in person surprise pleasantly where appearances often deceive!  District Clay ceramic studios takes up but one part of a massive 33,000 square foot building which once served as a train station, a post office and more recently as a paper warehouse.  The facility now houses District Clay, multiple artist studios, several small businesses including a local coffee roaster and a massive 6,000 square foot furniture showroom.  More on the rest of the building will be revealed in the summer edition when the entire space officially opens to the public.

District Clay’s owner Cass Johnson has “thrown” clay for the better part of two decades.  Ready to run his own operation, he spared no expense, purchasing all new equipment and installing both an electric and a gas kiln.   There are three distinct spaces- a light-filled classroom, a kiln/drying room and an area which Johnson has designated as a future faculty-student exhibition space.

Students can register anytime for a ten-week course cycle.  This model allows people with demanding schedules to customize their learning experience.  District Clay offers a wide variety of coursework suited to everyone’s skill level.

Christina Bilonik opening at the Brookland Annex of PPW.  Photos by Phil Hutinet for East City Art.
Kristina Bilonick at the Brookland Annex of PPW. Photos by Phil Hutinet for East City Art.

Pleasant Plains Workshop
PPW will open a new Annex in Brookland-Edgewood 

The flagship PPW, located on Georgia Avenue NW across from Howard University, has hosted a series of cutting-edge exhibitions in its micro-gallery and has a boutique selling handmade items by local artists, designers and crafters.   PPW Georgia Avenue also has residencies, workshops and a print studio.  Now this creative energy comes to Brookland.

I caught up with Kristina Bilonick on one of the coldest winter days to visit what will become the future Brookland annex of PPW.  Located in an old warehouse with a seemingly secret entrance that houses a series of artist studios, the roughly 1,500 square foot space boasts high ceilings, lots of light and has a distinctly industrial feel.  PPW Brookland will offer a series of courses in printing taught by residents.  PPW’s specialty, like Open Studio DC, is silkscreen printing, a very approachable technique for printing novices.

With the opening of District Clay and the Pleasant Plains Workshop Brookland annex, residents of East City will now have the opportunity to try their hand at ceramics and screen printing without having to travel very far.