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Discover DIY Art Spaces in DC

Rachel PulleyBy Rachel Pulley on Mar 19, 2013 | Add a Comment Add a Comment (97)

Discover DIY Art Spaces in DC

Image Courtesy of Camper Contemporary's flickr stream

Do-It-Yourself culture is an exciting phenomenon in a world where it’s easy to feel like everything is already done for you.  In a society where our cars can parallel park themselves, it’s refreshing to hear about people who are trying to do things on their own.  DIY culture refers to a wide range of pursuits, from grassroots political organizations to independent art, music, and film productions, and has been taking root in DC for decades.  In particular, Do-It-Yourself art spaces are a clever response to high rents, unreliable landlords, and inadequate space.  These fresh, restorative organizations fill the need for artist workshops and gallery spaces with thrifty reinventions of the typical art space.  DIY art spaces pop up in living rooms, basements, shared spaces, and even, as in one particularly unique case, in vehicles.  This is an exploration of some DC DIY galleries and workshops that combine the vitality of an off-the-grid art show with the accessibility and publicity of a gallery or music venue.  They are the best of both worlds for artists and art lovers alike.


Margaret Boozer, the founder and director of Red Dirt Studio, saw the need for art spaces for recent art school graduates and decided to fill it.  Red Dirt Studio is a collective work environment that serves as a collaborative assembly of people with diverse artistic backgrounds who can provide helpful feedback on each other’s work.  Of the four resident artists and ten student artists currently in residence at Red Dirt, some are digital artists, some are sculptors, and some are performers, but they are all curious, talented individuals who bring something to offer the group.  Red Dirt Studios is a DIY space that provides artists with an instant network and fosters a culture of mutual respect and neighborliness.  This bold business plan that depends on students paying tuition to gain access to this valuable environment is an example of the potential that the DIY format (or lack of a format) provides. 


Hole in the Sky is a creative space for DIY art, music, and live events in Washington DC located at 2110 5th St NE.  In their own words, the space “is ours and yours and everybody’s to make their own.  Use it, love it, live by it.”

The space is currently promoting an “evening of art appreciation and creative cross-pollination” on March 30.  Here is the Facebook event.  This is your chance to check out a DIY space and to view the work of various local artists.


Porch Projects, run by Mariah Anne Johnson, is located in a former sleeping porch off the back of a 1917 row house in Capitol Hill.  Johnson invites artists into this “domestic gallery” to make new work, experiment, and collaborate.  Porch Projects is a DIY art space that provides an artist-run, artist focused environment where artists can try new things without pressure.


Harvard Alley Workshop is a DIY art space with a different contribution to the DC arts scene- it’s a performance space.  A weekly acting workshop that facilitates spontaneity, imagination, and interaction, the Harvard Alley Workshop is a place to see actors explore the space around them in new and inventive ways.  Described as a “multidisciplinary approach to play,” Harvard Alley Workshop doesn’t take itself too seriously and in the process of having a good time, puts on an inspiring show.

They group performs on Monday evenings, 8-10pm in Columbia Heights.


Aptly named, Camper Contemporary is a mobile gallery curated by Calder Brannock that resides inside an altered 1967 Yellowstone camper.  This radically unique take on a DIY gallery poses a solution to many problems a normal gallery faces in the modern art market, like rent and a fixed geographic location.  The mobile gallery model allows the curator to display work in a physical space, but prevents the artwork from being tethered to one location.  Because he put his gallery on wheels, Brannock can take his show to any collector, art fair, or venue he pleases.


Paperhaus is the name of both a band and a pop-up music venue.  The band’s members (Alex Tebeleff, Eduardo Rivera, John Di Lascio, and Brandon Moses) have transformed their Truxton Circle row house into a recording studio in which they host local and touring bands from throughout the country. There’s never a cover, it’s always BYOB, and any donations people want to shell out go directly to the bands.  It’s the ultimate DIY venue since it’s a genuine home that performers and audiences are invited into.


410 GoodBuddy is an exhibition space in building shared with Wiebenson & Dorman Architects PC.  The creative partnership between the architects and the gallery for shared space makes this DIY art space particularly unique. 

410 GoodBuddy is located at 410 Florida Avenue, NW.


Delicious Spectacle, located on the first floor of a row house in Columbia Heights, is a curatorial experiment and project space founded by Victoria Greising, Megan Mueller, Dan Perkins, Camden Place, and Sam Scharf.  The goals of the organization include hosting, promoting, and discussing novel work by emerging visual artists from DC and elsewhere and cultivating a community through public artistic experience.  Like Margaret Boozer, the creators of this DIY space promote and facilitate the sharing of art in an unconventional space.

A show titled No Longer Presidents but Prophets curated by Lauren Rice and Brian Barr opened March 15 at Delicious Spectacle.  The exhibition brings together 8 artists who explore critical aesthetics politically with their rebellious use of craft and material, or engage with socio-political content aesthetically.


The Empty House Studio’s mission is “to provide a place for artists and craftsmen in the Northern Virginia area to meet, collaborate, critique, discuss, and grow.”  The idea is the brainchild of a grad student, Sarah Coffin, house sitting for her cousin while her cousin is abroad.  She decided to use the empty space for art events and simultaneously work on preparing the house for the return of her cousin’s family.  Home improvements and art creation happen in chorus in this DIY art space.  The studio promotes events like a career roundtable this weekend and frequent studio days for artists in the area.


This is just a small sampling of the DIY art spaces taking root in the DC area.  Others include Pleasant Plains Workshop and doris-mae, among others.  Explore the DIY art scene and see local and not so local art in a new light.



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