Artomatic seeks empty office buildings, but finds few


Artomatic artist David Barr's collage-like paintings have a pop aesthetic. The nonprofit organization invites local artists to showcase their work. (Michael O'Sullivan/The Washington Post)

Local arts group Artomatic has flourished since it debuted in 1999, but its popularity also narrowed the organization’s real estate options as it plans for 2012.

Artomatic, a nonprofit organization that invites local artists to showcase their work, attracted 20,000 visitors at its first major event. A decade later, in 2009, the nonprofit filled 275,000 square feet of a completely empty office building by Monument Realty at 55 M St. SE. Artists and musicians spread out on the raw, concrete floor plates. More than 76,000 people attended.

As the event grew, it became harder to find space. Only so many buildings are recently completed but not yet leased, or else recently emptied but not yet gutted. Since 2009, the organization has not held a large-scale art festival.

This year, with office development attempting a comeback, Artomatic is on the hunt again, looking for at least 125,000 square feet but ideally more than 200,000. “We’ve been on a mission to find whatever we can gather up, so we can hopefully have a major show in 2012,” said Patrick Oberman, an Artomatic board member.

In 2007, Artomatic went to Crystal City, where the Patent and Trademark Office had vacated a Vornado/Charles E. Smith building. The next year, Artomatic took over 250,000 square feet in Capitol Plaza 1, a speculative building in NoMa at First and M streets NE.


Christine Hahn’s site-specific video installation called "Boxes." (Michael O'Sullivan/The Washington Post)

Oberman said the organization has options this year, but they are not as attractive as when the recession hit. After the 2010 event, he said, the search got harder. “Things were sort of moving back towards development,” Oberman said.

This year’s search is down to about four buildings, two near Nationals Park: 1015 Half St. SE, an empty 414,000-square-foot building being purchased by Prudential Real Estate Investors; and the former offices of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, at 101 M St. SE.

Artomatic also is considering the People’s Building in Northeast, and another location in Crystal City.


Kristin Bohlander's chosen medium is sheep's wool, seen peeking out of a series of waxy green pods. (Michael O'Sullivan/The Washington Post)

Oberman said the hosts always get a boost in interest after the crowds depart. “One thing Artomatic does is bring 50,000 people,” he said.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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