The Washington Project for the Arts -- which has been roaming downtown Washington for the past 13 years -- is on the move again.
That active, peripatetic artists organization -- which long has been attracted to abandoned, grungy buildings -- has already had three homes. On March 14, it will occupy its fourth, the vacant Fireman's Building at Seventh Street and Indiana Avenue NW. That move won't be its last. There is still one more to come.
The WPA once subsisted on a shoestring. (When Alice Denney opened it in in 1975, the rent she had to pay for 1226 G St. NW. was $1 a year.) It has grown a lot since then. By mid-July, if all goes well, the WPA, revived by an infusion of $1.8 million, will have a new 11,000-square-foot home in the Jenifer Building at 400 Seventh St. NW, which it partly owns. And where it can stay until at least 2006.
That might seem an unreachable amount for an institution run by artists. But nearly two-thirds of it already has been raised.
The D.C. government and the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp. have already granted $400,000 to the Jenifer Building's developers; an additional $400,000 has been pledged by the WPA's 38-member board (half of whom are artists); the National Endowment for the Arts has come up with a challenge grant of $200,000 (to be matched three for one); the Philip L. Graham Fund has provided another challenge grant of $50,000; and the Oliver Carr Co. has pledged $30,000 more.
Alternative artists' spaces have often helped renew downtowns, only to be booted out once rents begin to rise. "The WPA," says sculptor Alan Stone, chairman of its board, "is going to buck that trend." Instead of moving elsewhere, the WPA intends to maintain its presence downtown in the middle of the action, between the National Museum of American Art and the museums on the Mall.
To do so it must raise an additional $650,000. And a fund-raising campaign is about to begin. Its honorary chairman is Katharine Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Co. Its cochairmen are Max N. Berry, the lawyer and arts patron who used to head the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp., and Ronald Townsend, president and general manager of Gannett's WUSA-TV, Channel 9.
The deadline is June 30. If the fund drive proves successful, the $1.8 million will be invested thus: WPA will pay $400,000 for a 10 percent equity interest in the appreciated value of the Jenifer Building; as part of its lease, WPA will lend $400,000 to the developers, a sum that will earn 8 percent interest over the next nine years; $200,000 will be spent renovating the WPA's space; and the remaining $800,000 will go into an endowment whose interest will offset the WPA's rent of $9.70 per square foot (about a third of downtown commercial rates).
(The lease -- for part of the first floor and all of the second -- will run nine years. It then can be renewed for another nine on the same terms. If not, the WPA can walk away with a reasonable nest egg, its $400,000 loan, with interest, plus a tenth of the appreciated value of the building. If renewed, the deal is that the WPA must forgo either the loan or the appreciation.)
For the past 18 months, the WPA has occupied the old Kresge Building at Seventh and E streets NW. But since that building -- like much of downtown Seventh Street -- is being gutted for renovation, the WPA next month must move its offices and bookstore. The Fireman's Building, which it will occupy in the interval, is being provided free by the Oliver Carr Co.
The leaving won't be quiet: A "Burn Down the House Party" will be held at the old Kresge store on Saturday, March 12. It's expected to be noisy and to run until 2 a.m.