Just 20 years ago, 14th Street NW was lined with small art galleries and studio spaces. As luxury condos and restaurants took over, artists dispersed to less expensive parts of the city, to the suburbs and to Baltimore.
“Fourteenth Street used to be the epicenter of a community of artists, a place for the cross-pollination of ideas,” says Mark Kelner, a D.C. artist who lived through the transition. “As D.C. has become too expensive for artists, the community has gotten a lot more fragmented.”
In a three-day event called Umbrella, D.C.’s scattered art community is coming back together this weekend. The artists are taking over a building complex just north of 14th and V streets NW that’s slated for demolition and filling it with pop-up art galleries, immersive installations, a black box theater and a beer garden.
“From the outside, [the space] looks like it’s all these different buildings, but they are all connected and it makes for a really interesting, weird maze,” says Peter Chang, co-founder of No Kings Collective, the arts group that’s organizing the event in cooperation with developer Madison Investments. “When we explored the space and saw all these nooks and crannies, we thought it would be fun to bring on all these different artists and curators and see what they could do.”
Umbrella is sort of a compact, curated version of the long-running D.C.-area arts festival known as Artomatic, Chang says. Admission is free, and the (portable) art on display will be for sale at relatively affordable prices — starting at about $250, he says. (A portion of the proceeds will benefit nonprofit Feed It Forward DC.)
D.C.-based artist and curator Maggie O’Neill nabbed the space with the highest visibility — a former classroom for the nonprofit Martha’s Table that has a big storefront window. She’s using it to present a show called “Tag Up” — so called because it started with seven female artists selected by O’Neill, who then tagged seven other female artists to join the show. Each artist will display one piece, resulting in a gallery featuring paintings, digital art and sculpture.
“We’re also painting the floor with text that looks like the ‘Star Wars’ introduction, that tells the story of a group of female artists who come together to save the universe,” O’Neill says.
In a nearby classroom, Monochrome Collective curator Nina O’Neil is showcasing local artist Reggie Black, who uses Japanese brushstroke techniques to paint messages of hope and inspiration. Black is covering the floors and walls of his room with layers and layers of his trademark calligraphy, and he’ll also be showcasing 10 original paintings.
“On the back wall, we are going to be reproducing one of his text-based pieces that says, ‘The future belongs to the brave’ in enormous floor-to-ceiling scale,” O’Neil says.
Down the hall, visitors to Umbrella will find a former gymnasium bathed in eerie light — an installation by Pierre Edwards, also known as District Dodger. Edwards is lighting the room with yellow incandescent light and ultraviolet light, and projecting abstract computer animations onto the walls. On Friday evening, DJ Jerome Baker III will add a hip-hop soundtrack to the installation.
“It’s a celebration of spring, of the longer days and brighter light,” Edwards says of his piece.
Kelner is taking his Umbrella gallery into decidedly darker territory. His room-sized installation, “Solaris — Shelter for the Next Cold War,” immerses visitors into an uncanny near-future where Russian and American symbols have mated, birthing advertisements for “Stalinbucks” coffee and a mutant version of KFC’s Colonel Sanders who wears a Soviet-style military uniform. In the middle of the room, visitors can step into a free-standing bunker, filled with objects important to an unnamed person who lives in this world, including a miniature Hirshhorn created from a beer keg and a replica Stanley Cup made from aluminum foil.
If this sounds like a crazy-diverse array of art under one roof, that’s the point, Chang says.
“We were hoping that everyone would get together and inspire each other,” he says.
Artist/curator O’Neill thinks that’s definitely going to happen.
“The philosophy and the spirit of the entire exhibition is exactly what we need if the economy of the arts is going to continue to thrive in D.C.,” she says.
2114 14th St. NW; Fri., 5 p.m.-midnight, Sat., noon-midnight, Sun., noon-8 p.m., free; register online.