Cultural DC Announces New Artist Studio Community at Monroe Street Market in Brookland

By Eric Hope on November 26, 2012

[Editor’s note:  This is the first of several articles covering the new Monroe Street Market arts community]

Following national trends, so-called “smart growth” developments, featuring a mix of housing and retail amenities adjacent to public transit, are sprouting up near Metro stations throughout the DC metro area.  The Monroe Street Market development, adjacent to the Brookland metro station and Catholic University, is unique in its commitment to integrate the arts into the community. The new project will feature 27 artist studios lining a public promenade as well as 3,000 square foot “flex-space” community building for art events.  The developers of the Market, Bozzuto and Abdo Development, have tapped local arts incubator CulturalDC to populate the artist studios and develop programming for the adjacent arts building.  CulturalDC recently held its first open house to introduce the development to local artists and explain the initial artist selection process.

Design rendering of finished “Brookland Works” buildings. (click to enlarge)

Brookland’s Wohlfarth Gallery hosted the open house, which was attended by approximately 25 artists.  Mike Henehan, Vice President at Bozzuto, started the session with a quick overview of the entire development, which consists of six parcels of land being developed in two phases designed to mimic a college main street experience. Phase one includes construction blocks A and B (dubbed the Cornerstone and Portland Flats respectively) which feature ground-level retail services with several floors of apartments directly built on top.  Collectively, these two buildings will feature house approximately 410 units of housing and 42,000 square feet of retail space and are projected to open by winter of 2014.  When pressed for details of retailers, Cunningham stated that Bozzuto was, “deep in negotiations with a number of businesses,” and more definitive information would be forthcoming in early 2013.  So far the only public retail announcement has been a partnership between Catholic and retailer Barnes and Noble, who will take over operations of the University’s bookstore (and installing a Starbucks café).

Mike Henehan from Bozzuto Development discusses the architectural drawings.

With this quick overview, Henehan turned our attention to blocks C and D containing the arts components.  Block C, named “Brookland Works”, will host the artists’ studios, while block D (which apparently has no pithy title) will feature the community space for arts events.  Brookland Works features two buildings laid out to create a pedestrian-only “arts walk” leading into the Brookland metro station entrance.  This block features 6,000 square feet of retail (approximately 3 retail pads along Monroe street according to the architectural plans presented at the meeting) on ground level, with the rest of the space going to 27 art studios; 152 apartments rise above.   The arts walk is at its widest point along Monroe, and narrows as it runs north before opening into a plaza with performance space by the Michigan Avenue bridge.  In addition, the developers will relocate and the expand the Metropolitan Branch bicycle trail so that it runs directly behind the east building and the metro tracks.

At this juncture, Leila Fitzpatrick and Karyn Miller from CulturalDC stepped in to discuss details of the studios and new arts community.  The 27 units will vary in size from 300 to approximately 630 square feet.  There are a variety of layouts but they will all feature concrete floors and expansive ceiling heights, ranging from 17 to 25 feet.  All units have utility sinks and some with have individual restrooms (other units will share facilities).  One unique feature will be glass garage doors that roll up allowing direct access from the studio to the arts walk (there will also be traditional front doors for usual entry).  Several units located in the east building will even feature small patios overlooking the bike trail.  The development will feature an artists’ lounge area (where mailboxes will be located) as well as two trashrooms.  Finally, most studios will have natural lighting on either their west or east sides.  Beginning rent (perhaps the $64,000 question in the room) is set at $365 monthly plus utilities and will average approximately $10.50 a square foot on a yearly basis.  A small wave of appreciative murmurs erupted at that announcement (“that’s very good” quipped an audience member seated near me).

Architectural diagram of artist studios. (click to enlarge)

One audience member asked for clarification about the studios; would these be work space or retail space?  Fitzpatrick, who is Director of Advisory Services, explained that these will be workspaces, and that the overarching goal is to develop a, “multidisciplinary arts community as well as destination for arts lovers.”  Additional questions from the audience prompted Fitzpatrick to further define the mission of the arts community.  These studios are not considered “retail spaces” (though artists are welcome to conduct business onsite).  She reiterated the notion that this will be a community-building (ad)venture featuring artists working in a variety of disciplines that will engage arts lovers from both the neighborhood and around the city.   While not intended to be in a fishbowl on display, artists will be expected to engage on some level with the community.  Fitzpatrick further noted that while they are not setting minimum hours, they are looking for people who want to maintain at least some daytime presence so that the area remains active.

Karyn Miller, CulturalDC’s Director of Visual Arts and Communications, next described the application process and timeline.  Miller started her presentation noting that CulturalDC is committed to being as transparent as possible, so artists were encouraged to contact her for assistance at any time during the application process.  An application will be available on CulturalDC’s website at the beginning of December and will be due in their office by February 1, 2013.  Basic eligibility requirements include: being at least 18 years of age; the ability to demonstrate a regular, artistic process; and demonstration of ability to cover three months’ rent.  Additionally, artists will need to demonstrate their willingness to be active participants in the Monroe Street Market community.  When I asked if applicants need a lengthy exhibition history to apply, Miller noted that they are looking for artists at a variety of career levels, from just starting out to midcareer.

Staff will review the applications and the pool of eligible applicants will be reviewed by a panel of artists and arts professionals to ensure that a diverse mix of disciplines will be featured.  CulturalDC will present their list of selectees to Bozzuto and notify artists of their status in March and April.  Bozzuto is the property management company for the buildings, which means that selected artists will actually be signing lease agreements with Bozzuto (not CulturalDC) and Bozzuto would be the future contact point for normal, day-to-day operations.  At this point it is expected that artists would be able to occupy the studios in July of 2013.

At this point the floor was opened for questions, of which there were plenty.  Several audience members had questions about construction components, most notably ventilation.  It was noted that sculptors, printmakers and painters would need upgraded HVAC systems able to vent dangerous chemical fumes out of the work space.  Here Henehan noted that several units (but not all) would feature upgraded ventilation systems.  In a back and forth dialogue, three artists reiterated their concerns about ventilation, prompting Henehan to state that the developers are aware of this need and have planned for it.   While I got the sense that most attendees’ concerns were addressed, this issue will certainly come up again during hard hat tours of the site.  Other construction-related questions concerned lighting, electrical capacity and space customization.   Henehan noted that base lighting is provided with additional junction boxes installed for future electrical adaptations.  When asked about upgrading spaces (for example, if an artist wanted to install a halfwall or add a spraybooth), Henehan stated that there might be some opportunities for that, but the particulars would be discussed at the contract negotiation process.

Current state of Brookland Works buildings. Note the brick is just starting to be installed. (click to enlarge)

The open house closed with an invitation to a hard hat tour of the site on December 1st.  I talked to several artists after the event to gauge the enthusiasm for the project.  One artist I talked to (who remains anonymous due to a dispute with her current landlord) thought the price was very reasonable, telling me it was approximately 20% lower than her current space which was not metro accessible and lacks some of the Market’s new amenities.  She is seriously considering applying if she is able to secure one of the units with upgraded ventilation.  Artist Lisa Farrell noted that this was an, “opportunity to have a state of the art space,” and she too was looking forward to seeing the complete application details.  Darius Epps, an actor who lives in the Artspace live/work lofts down the street was excited to see an even greater arts presence forming in Brookland.  All-in-all it seemed the artists present were excited about the project, and I anticipate as word spreads, attendance at future information sessions will continue to grow!

For more information about studio rental opportunities at Monroe Street Market, please visit CulturalDC’s website here.