Unlike “pop-ups” — the newish term to describe ephemeral art events, shops and restaurants that briefly appear in vacant retail space — art spaces such as Lamont Bishop and the Dunes are staying put: Leases are signed, permits are secured. At these spaces, only the exhibitions are gone after a week or two, as well-connected entrepreneurs make room for the next art show, poetry event or concert, frequently organized with other artistic tastemakers, from blogs to would-be curators.
“It’s kind of a business signal to what’s happening in the artistic world,” says Sheldon Scott of ESL Management, which runs one such space, Montserrat House. “If there is to be any real sustainable creative community in D.C., we’re going to have to break down those walls in between media. Performance artists have to talk to musicians have to talk to visual artists have to talk to the writers.”
“The gallery system is still the tippy-top ideal in some ways,” adds D.C. Arts and Humanities commissioner Philippa Hughes, noting that a handful of conventional galleries have also opened in the past year. But Hughes, whose own first art events in Washington were the definition of pop-up parties, says she sees these art spaces — only one of which calls itself a gallery — as evidence of the broadening scene: Thanks to technology and social media, she says, the gatekeepers are transforming considerably, to include those with little formal art training but plenty of ambition. “We don’t have to wait for a gallery to anoint us anymore,” she says.
Here are four of these eclectic new art spaces and what you’ll see in coming months.
Washington’s coolest house party
2016 Ninth St. NW. www.montserrathouse.com
There’s something undeniably homey about Montserrat House. Maybe it’s the easy-to-miss facade or the exposed brick; it could be that the venue across from the 9:30 Club sits in what was once two rowhouses; or maybe it’s because when you order a drink at the cash-only bar — say a vodka and Sprite — the bartender looks through the bottles before responding, “How about vodka and ginger ale?”
It all seems to make sense as the latest venture from ESL Management (the brainchild of Thievery Corporation’s Eric Hilton), responsible for the popular any-night-of-the-week neighborhood spots Blackbyrd Warehouse and Marvin, among a growing list of others.
“Sometimes spaces are created and it’s like, ‘We need to get as many people as we can in here as quickly as we can’ and, you know, ‘bottom line, bottom line, bottom line,’ ” says ESL Management’s Sheldon Scott. “It becomes like any place in the world, and you don’t want to go there. You want to go to a place where the experience is unique, the people are unique and the energy and the vibe that you get is unique.”