A Toolkit for Trans Individuals, Institutions, & Coworkers

The American Alliance of Museums’ (AAM) LGBTQ Alliance and the Task Force for Transgender Inclusion offered us a sneak peak of their latest endeavor, a toolkit on gender transition and transgender inclusion in the museum workplace. We are super excited to learn of such a resource that is so in-depth; offering insight for institution-wide practices, coworkers, and transitioning individuals. We hope this guide is widely used, and integrated into workplace policies and best practices. Learn more:

Gender Transition and Transgender Inclusion in the Museum Workplace: A Toolkit for Trans Individuals, Institutions, and Coworkers is available March 11th. This expansive set of guides approaches trans inclusion from various perspectives in an approachable and easy-to-understand format, including separate guides specifically aimed at transitioning professionals, institutions, and coworkers.

Created by transgender museum professionals and close allies, the Toolkit seeks to improve trans inclusion in the museum field through the trans community’s own voice. Whether you are somebody preparing to transition, an institution who values inclusion, or a museum professional who just wants to see the field become a more welcoming space, download the Toolkit today!

About the AAM LGBTQ Alliance:

The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Alliance (LGBTQ Alliance) of the American Alliance of Museums provides a forum for communication and dialogue and is committed to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and inquiry with particular respect to sexual orientation and gender identity within museums.

The LGBTQ Alliance facilitates transgender, queer, gay, lesbian, and bisexual visibility by promoting and enhancing awareness, understanding, and acceptance regarding museum-related LGBTQ issues. Its focus includes both internal needs and opportunities including staff, leadership, and organizational structure, and external, stakeholder-related work ranging from visitor amenities and messaging to programs and collections. The network serves as a visible and accessible safe space for museum professionals who identify as LGBTQ or allies. We welcome AAM members of all sexual orientations and gender identities and encourage involvement across the organization in promoting museums that include LGBTQ voices at every level.

About AAM:

The American Alliance of Museums’ mission is to champion museums and nurture excellence in partnership with our members and allies. From art museums to science centers, arboretums to zoos, members of the diverse museum community share something in common—strong support, standards of excellence, knowledge sharing, and professional networks provided by the American Alliance of Museums.

Since 1906 the Alliance has been a leader in developing best practices and advocating for museums, as well as providing a host of opportunities to museum staff and volunteers. More than 35,000 individual museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate partners benefit from the work of the Alliance.

Preservation, Care, Librarianship: Keeping Local Memory Alive

What is the value of care in librarianship? How are libraries defining and supporting their communities? In collaboration with the District of Columbia Public Library at the NOMA Fab Lab Pop-Up, we explored the ways libraries are integral to the community and cultural ecosystems, and the current challenges with maintaining accessibility to their local communities.

“Preservation, Care, Librarianship: Keeping Local Memory Alive” featured a discussion among cultural practitioners doing the work of “radical librarianship,” workshops, and a local artist. Watch the discussion and see highlights from the event below.

The event also featured DIRT DMV, Smithsonian Hirshhorn‘s ArtLab and the Handgames Project. See highlights below!

Live beat-making with the Handgames Project.

Performances by the Hirshhorn’s ARTLAB+ Teens.

Dirt DMV’s live archiving station—visitors items were documented and archived on site.

Panel discussion with (L to R) Alison Beshai, Desireé Venn Frederic, Maryann James-Daley, Nicole Ivy and artist Dulcina Abreu.

a body of work: artist talks + tours (Transformer)

In our latest project, we’re exploring “Citation & Memory,” through art, community and dialogue. In our second installment, we hosted tours through Transformer‘s exhibition, “E15: A Body to Follow.” Highlighting the practices of citation and memory in the exhibit, the tours offered a fresh perspective on textile and fiber arts. Often secluded to the realm of craft and feminine arts, these tours highlighted four fiber works and their relevance within this exhibit as well as within contemporary art and the Washington, DC arts community. 

E15: A Body to Follow focused on fiber and textile as medium, history, and a means of survival. Considering the concept of the ‘survival thread’, artists Aliana Grace Bailey, Rachel Schechtman, Dulcina Abreu, and Alanna Reeves explore issues surrounding the body, security, identity, and connection to nature and family. See below for highlights from the exhibition and the public program!

E15 artists (from left to right) Aliana Grace Bailey, Rachel Schechtman, Dulcina Abreu, and Alanna Reeves

Little Jamaican-American Girl, Alanna Reeves 

My body is deserving of all the loving I can give, Aliana Grace Bailey

Untitled, Rachel Schechtman

Is there Such a Thing as, FUTURE?, Dulcina Abreu

E15: A Body to Follow is part of Transformer’s annual Exercises For Emerging Artists, a peer critique & mentorship program created to support a selected group of DC based emerging artists each year who are at critical points or crossroads in their professional growth and creative development. Learn more here.

Check us out in xoNecole!

Ravon and I are super excited to share an interview we did with Jamee A. Swift of xoNecole! We loved the questions she posed, and getting to share our mission with an even wider audience. Jamee wrote,

Although BGMB is only three years old, the organization has quickly become a go-to scholarly, professional, and community hub for the artistic curiosities, liberatory messages, progressive imaginations and praxis, and feminist entanglements of women of color artists across borders and boundaries.

Please go check out the final interview at the link above, or keep reading here for more content from our conversation.


Vote for Us in the BEACON Grant Program Community Voting Round!

With the launch of our project, Brown Art Ink, BGMB is excited to recognize and support women artists, culture workers, and communities of color throughout the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area, through programming, cultivating dialogue, and providing funding.
We recently applied for the BEACON Grant Program, an organization to support women-founders, and made it to the community voting round! Find the guidelines for voting below:
1) Visit bit.ly/beacongrantvote to register and access the voting platform. You will be prompted to confirm your email after submitting. Once confirmed, you may log-in and cast your vote.
2) Each registrant has four votes and can cast one vote per category and one per application.
The categories align with BEACON’s four pillars, you can find us in the category: Providing Resources and Support for Women Entrepreneurs.
*Votes will not re-set; meaning, you may not cast one vote per day. Rather, each registrant is allocated four votes for the full voting period. Please note that the system will prevent you from allocating all four of your votes to a singular application.
3) The voting portal is equipped with keyword search functions to make it easy to locate your project of interest. Search for us at “Brown Art Ink”!

Brown Girls On the Radio

Just when you thought we couldn’t get any more cross-platform, we found a new medium to dip our toes into! Last week, Ravon and I were featured on the Maryland Humanities Podcast, and aired on WYPR  Baltimore. You can check out our episode, in which we discuss our mission to advocate for inclusion in cultural institutions, by clicking here or by hitting play beneath the cut.


How I Got Over (Review)

How I Got over (January 13-February 24) by Adrienne Gaither is the latest exhibition showing at DC’s Transformer art space.

I didn’t plan to write a blog post, but I was inspired by the artist talk with artist Adrienne Gaither, for Transformers 15th annual DC Artist Solo Exhibition. The show is described as follows:

How I Got Over presents a new body of paintings and collage works recounting Gaither’s personal recovery from traumatic events in her life. Gaither expresses the impact of trauma and visualizes what it means to become “whole” again while addressing the parallels between recovery and painting as time based processes…

Adrienne presents a series of paintings, in bold and bright hues. I appreciate the way her work doesn’t hide and I am always so impressed (not in a condescending way) by Adrienne’s work for this reason. it’s power, boldness and confidence attract me. Since the first time I ever saw it in person, at the DC Arts Center in a curated show Public Displays of Privacy (2016) by curator Martina Dodd.

How I Got Over is intimate and powerful. The works, many created on large canvas, are layered and give a sense of complexity. It is even more intriguing in the way that Adrienne is able to communicate a story through abstract art. I’ve recently become more interested in finding and understanding a black aesthetic in abstract art. As a genre within the art world, it is one that is not associated with artists of color, and most certainly not women of color. Black artists are valued for their depictions of oppression and trauma typically in figurative works. And although, Adrienne’s work depicts a process working through certain traumas she’s experienced, she does so carefully through color and shapes. It is through the complexity of her art that the audience is moved through a flux of emotions, because that’s how emotions work, if we are fortunate—in flux, to create a tapestry of experience.

Women in the Arts recently showed of Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today (October 2017 -January 2018), which featured works of abstract art by 21 black women artists, born between 1891 and 1981. It was nothing I had seen before. I like many, was unaware of the ways in which black women have been and are inhabiting the abstract art world in such large numbers. Show’s like How I Got Over and Magnetic Fields are a reminder to afford folks of color space to just create. They deserve to be given space to express a range of emotions. A requirement of an artist, or persons of color, should not be for us to reenact our own trauma for the sake of your amusement. We are more than our trauma—we are joy, we are abundance—and it takes many shapes, forms and colors. Emotion is human, and to deny us that expression is a denial of our humanity. How I Got Over is a beautiful, layered, bold, and at times calculated, some times jagged but always tender show of humanity.

Mary Lovelace O’Neal, “Racism is Like Rain, Either it’s Raining or it’s Gathering Somewhere,” 1993; Acrylic on canvas, 86 x 138 in.; Mott-Warsh Collection, Flint, Michigan; © Mary Lovelace O’Neal, Magnetic Fields (2017)

How I Got over runs from January 13-February 24.


Adrienne Gaither (b.1987) is a visual artist whose work explores color and shape to recompose various ways of communicating an idea. Her works can be conceptual and narrative, serious and playful, and are distinctly constructed with influences of West African Patternmaking, Suprematism, Constructivism, Minimalism, the Bauhaus, and Abstraction.

She has exhibited at Strathmore in Bethesda, MD, The National African American Museum and Cultural Museum, Wilberforce, OH, PRIZM Art Fair at Miami Art Basel, and MoCADA (Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts) in Brooklyn, NY. Gaither lives and works in Washington, DC.


This interview was originally printed at DIRT, an independent platform and resource for accessible critical arts discourse within the DC, Maryland, Virginia (DMV) area.


On October 7th, the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center (PGAAMCC) will host Rated PG: Black Arts Festival, a festival to showcase local black women-identified artists and the first of its kind in the county. Festival events will explore beauty standards, identity, multi-generational traditions and sisterhood. It will also debut two exhibitions, “This Hair Deserves a March” and “Like Blood from a Stone,” that will be on view until January 2018.

The PGAAMCC stands as a monument to the Prince George’s black community in North Brentwood—a community space very much steeped in its history and actively imagining new futures for black collectivity in the museum. An event of this kind creates a fluidity between the museum and its community, and puts themselves in direct conversation with the issues that ail black women in our society. Black women are often seen as profitable to culture, but rarely are they valued for their contributions. As spaces arise to celebrate the full humanity and vitality of black women, we witness the full range in which black women have always existed. It is why I’m excited that a space for black women, though not exclusively, is being reserved in the institution to explore that range.

In a Q&A with the Executive Director of PGAAMCC, Maleke Glee, curator Yaya Bey, and artist Monique “Muse” Dodd, we discuss the upcoming festival, liberatory art-making and their vision for the future of the DMV arts ecosystem. It is a conversation I look forward to having with many others at the festival come October 7th.


PG (4).png

Ravon: What is the intention for the Rated PG: Black Arts Festival happening now? Why do you think these narratives need to be told in this moment?

Maleke: The intention of the Rated PG festival is to celebrate Black Womanhood, and its vastness. Our curator, Yaya Bey, has been very intentional on breaking the monolithic representation of Black Women in media. The limited narrative affects self identification, capacity for imagination, and treatment in society. I think these narratives need to be told in this moment to provide a self liberation that is healthy and progressive for a communal liberation. Having your image reflected is affirming; and further understanding another’s narrative is humanizing. I think the thoughts provoked in the exhibitions will allow for reflection, and the performances of the festival will create unapologetic, felt celebration.

Ravon: Tell me about the two shows you curated for the PGAAMCC. What is the inspiration for them?

Yaya: The shows, “This Hair Deserves a March” and “Like Blood from a Stone,” are parts of a series called “Tell the Truth About Me.” The overlapping theme is reclaiming black-woman narratives. While “This Hair Deserves a March” addresses falsehoods in narratives surrounding our aesthetic, “Like Blood from a Stone” addresses the truths about us that are often left untold.

Ravon: Tell me about your work that will show at the upcoming Rated PG?

Muse: I will be premiering a new body of work entitled La Negra de Nadie which translates roughly in English to “the black woman who belongs to no one.” It is a triptych which includes a self portrait inspired by the Colombian artist Enrique Grau’s painting La Mulata de Cartagenera. It is an ode to femininity and the Yoruba deity Oshun. My work is a reflection on beauty, autonomy, and power.

Ravon: What made the themes of this work timely? Why do you think these narratives need to be told at this moment?

Muse: This work is in honor of the divine feminine. Especially now, we have seen how toxic masculinity can be, when not balanced by femininity. Politically, socially, and culturally we need to respect the mother, the earth and each other in order to progress collectively and survive.

Yaya: It’s always the right time to talk about black women. Anytime I get a chance to put black women on a platform I do, because we need more opportunities to tell our own stories. Too often people tell our stories for us and do a bad job because it wasn’t their story to tell in the first place.

Ravon: As an artist, how would you define your art-making practice? How do you know when an artwork is done?


Muse: I don’t like to define my art-making practice, everything I do is art, it is creation. I find myself most inspired when I’m doing mundane things like riding the metro or washing dishes. I think my work is never finished but an ongoing conversation, but how I know it’s ready to be viewed by other people is when I look at it and it takes my breath away.

Ravon: Yaya, I know you’re also an artist as well. How would you define your
art-making practice? How did that influence your approach to the shows you exhibited?

Yaya: I tell stories and I provide platforms for other people to tell their stories. In everything I do I strive to be better at telling the truth. For this show—the task was telling the truth about black women and that required pulling from different perspectives and knowing when to step back and let perspectives that are not my own shine. Again I think the better at balance I get, the better I will get at telling the truth especially when it comes to black women as we are not a monolith and deserve to be shown as dimensional human beings.

Ravon: I greatly admire the effort and ability to curate—it is deeply careful and methodical work. However, it is a word that now circulates largely in many spaces, but I don’t think that deeper meaning always travels with it. What does “curate” mean to you? When is something like the exhibitions being shown during Rated PG done being curated? What’s that process like?

Yaya: To curate is to help a story come together. To me, art is storytelling and when you bring several voices together in an effort to tell a story the message is layered, and probably more honest because I think the truth requires more than one perspective. I don’t think I’m done curating these shows as of yet, I think I’m still pulling truth from places and asking the artists questions. In a lot of my work, I like to interview people and I’m still sort of in that interview stage.

Ravon: How do you see these shows fitting into the larger art scene and landscape in the North Brentwood community? In the DMV area? How do they lend themselves to a larger conversation?

Yaya: I think black women are a worthy topic of discussion no matter where you go. Here in the DMV, and really any where there are black women, we are major influencers and deserve to be celebrated.

Ravon: What can folks look forward to at the upcoming festival?

Maleke: Folks can look forward to meeting new people, creating memories and having a great time! I am most looking forward to our pop up beauty shop. We are doing new, interactive things in our gallery spaces; I’m excited to see how people engage.

Ravon: As a museum, what is the significance of the institution being a space for these types of events and dialogue?

Maleke: Due to a long history of colonizing narratives, and appropriation of sacred artifacts, communities of color have not always felt welcomed in museum spaces. Museums fail the community when they speak for a community; I think the significance of community events and dialogue is that the history barriers and culture keepers have ownership of their narrative. What brought me to PGAAMCC as an educator and community partner was their openness for public involvement in the exhibitions and programming.

Ravon: What inspiration are you gaining from the local artist community to showcase certain work and perspectives?

Maleke: I think everyone in the DMV is a hustler! I think that is the inspiration I draw, it encourages me to be brave and bold in sharing my ideas and talents. I am inspired to find ways to support, sustain and celebrate the work artist are doing. I am really enjoying Goldlink’s At What Cost. The project exemplifies community support, as the DMV narrative is told by Goldlink, his features, and even in the cover art by Darius Moreno. Right now I am most inspired by artists in the region who are telling intimate stories of community, artists such as Lionel Frazier and Larry Cook.

Ravon: I am really excited for Rated PG’s role in uplifting the perspectives of black artists, and especially those of women-identified artists. There is a spotlight on these perspectives right now, particularly in our current political and social climate. As the director, what role do you think the museum has in deconstructing certain narratives? Are or should museums be “neutral” spaces?

Maleke: I really feel uncomfortable with the term “neutral space,” I have been teasing with the idea of neutrality in my career. However, my career is so tied to artistry, and neutral art does not exist. Art is political, cultural, religious, etc. I think the museum does have a role in elevating stories that need visibility. As it is, Black women, and trans-women are grievously oppressed in our society. The ways of oppression are both political and personal (familiar, intimate), they are in ways implicit and explicit. The museum is a safe space, a healing ground—I think the Black Arts Festival heralds our invitation to the community. The museum looks to listen to the community, and allow them to share their stories. I think the museum stands alongside anyone being oppressed. We should use our platform to activate changes, educate our community, and connect networks.

When I think of deconstructing existing narratives, I think of creating a new table when the one that exists does not serve you. I suggest an investment in our narratives, our institutions, our businesses, our families, our community.

Ravon: As an artist, do you feel a responsibility for your work to deconstruct certain narratives? Is art always an intervention? Should it be?

Muse: I believe the role of an artist is to question how we view things, to help us better understand the world we live in and ourselves. I think it is important to have a multi-narrative view on a group of people (especially minorities). However, I also believe that if all our work is reactionary then we are letting the oppressors drive our focus and creation. Toni Morrison put it best when she said, “racism is a distraction.” My audience is first and foremost black people, anyone else who sees my works and appreciates is a plus but not necessary. This is the greatest gift I have been given, and I will use it in service to my people.

Ravon: Who is or are some women-identified artist(s) that are inspiring you right now? Who should folks be thinking about?

Muse: I am so inspired by a lot of the amazing artists included in the show, like Nakeya Brown and Adrienne Gaither. If you don’t know who these ladies are then you need to get hip and come check out their work October 7th! Nakeya’s work is so layered but reads very clearly, black womanhood oozes out of her work and you can smell the Pink oil sheen through her images. And Adrienne’s work is amazing, her approach and application are unique and precise. Black women just make me so happy.

Maleke: There are too many to count! My artistic influences and mediums are varied—

Issa Rae. I love Insecure and the strong sense of identification we have with the characters. It’s like memes, we get it so clearly! Princess Nokia. I am living for the inclusion of self care, spirituality, and ancestral ties. Azealia Banks! I am an unapologetic stan of Azealia Banks. She is complicated, as we all are. I most admire her scholarship in Blackness, and how that influences her music in very subtle and explicit ways.

Zora Neale Hurston. I am in a Cultural Sustainability master’s program; I admire Hurston’s auto-ethnography. The relationship between her anthropology and literary writing is inspiring. Emma Amos. Her style makes me think of my Aunties. Centered on relationships, and held with care, rich with history, and bold personality.


I am also a fan of all the artists in the exhibition, and am glad we are showcasing their work. I have followed Nakeya Brown for some time, and love her historical ties of beauty, objectification, and labor in work that feels very modern.

Yaya: Right now I’m inspired by my friends. The women that I know like Alanna Fields, Nakeya Brown, Lakela Brown. Women who make great art but also women I see living lives and making it work. Right now I’m really into balance and fullness, so I’m inspired by women I see doing both. The women I know personally and see raise children, or balance student/artist life or teacher/artist life inspire me strive for fullness. Also these women are amazing at what they do.

Ravon: So, I’ve been living in D.C. for a few years now, and I assume I was like many people when I first moved to the DMV area. I wrote the area off as not having a vibrant arts and culture scene. So much of that has to do with the way the area is changing and undergoing development. What would you say to those who assume the area has no artist-community?

Maleke: I would tell newcomers to the D.C. region who assume there is a lack of arts culture and community that I understand. I understand that in a gentrifying city most of what you see are ploys to attract particular demographics, these artistic ploys do not represent the community of Washington, D.C. I also think, and of course cannot speak for time beyond mine—however, I think, in this region the arts culture is within youth culture. Many adults moving here, without the experience of growing up here, will miss the rich creativity and community of young artists.

However, there are many small organizations that are well respected and do impactful work, like diamonds in the rough. I would encourage newcomers to visit art spaces, and talk to the people in the room…you will be sure to learn something new, that leads to another opportunity.

The African American artist community has been dispersed among the region, as one of many effects of gentrification. While I initially was disheartened by the forceful separation of art and business communities, I realized the potential. We now have folks spread across the region, displaced persons, and like seeds we can grow our artistry, and create networks of support.

Muse: If you don’t think DC has an arts scene, dig a little deeper.

Yaya: Anywhere black people are there is art.

Ravon: In 5 or 10 years, what do you hope will have been created to support the DMV arts ecosystem?

Maleke: In the next 5 to 10 years, I hope that the museum can expand our capacity to broaden our reach within the region, supporting other local institutions and artists.

This will create a model for other African American enclaves, a model of communal creativity and entrepreneurial support. As the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center we are a historical database for the cultural and artist contributions of Africans Americans in our county Entrepreneurship, and the intention toward economic liberation is a part of our culture. I wish to patronize and herald PG County owned and operated businesses.

I also hope there will be an institution that is specifically for Go-Go music and culture. I imagine a Go-Go museum, and educational center.

Muse: More funding and institutions that specifically uplift artists of color. The talent is there but we need to cultivate more opportunities for artists in the city.

Yaya: I hope that there will be more opportunities for black women in the arts. I think the art scene is very much male dominated and too many resources are going to white artists to tell the stories of black and brown people. So I guess my hope really is that black women/black people are afforded more opportunities to tell their own stories and are supported with the resources to do so.

Ravon: What song or album is motivating your work right now?

Muse: I’ve been rocking with Celia Cruz’s La Negra tiene tumbao, it just gets me energized and ready to dance and conquer the world.

Yaya: Nina Simone, “Wild is the Wind.” That song calms my nerves and reminds me to stay true to self.

Maleke: Princess Nokia’s 1992 Deluxe Edition is inspiring me right now. An honorable mention, Rico Nasty’s Tales of Taco Bella.

Ravon: “Blocklist’” is my anthem.

Artechouse: Curating for the Digital Future of Museums (Review)

The newest art org to join the fray of contemporary arts spaces across the landscape of the District occupies particularly odd territory, previously solely utilized by uninviting office space. Artechouse, a new arts space opened in Washington, D.C. in June, and recently presented “Spirit of Autumn” (October 1 – November 5). It was the follow-up installation to its debut show, “XYZT: Abstract Landscapes.”

Photos by @bluelikechagall

The building, unremarkable in any way, features a sandwich and pizza shop among an array of unmarked business suites tucked within. The location, however, is interesting. Prior to about 3 years ago this precise sliver of the SW quadrant of the District saw little to no foot traffic – or any traffic outside the comings and goings of the 9-5 federal crowd. Known as Washington’s business district, it was assumed that retail, restaurants, let alone art, couldn’t thrive past 5pm with the mass exodus of the population, i.e. federal workers, leaving to return to their homes in the northern quadrants and the burbs. Then the SWBID (Southwest Business Improvement District) swooped in to “improve the business climate” of the quadrant. Focusing on the section of the quadrant connecting the federal buildings to the residential neighborhoods and Wharf further south – a walkable area through highway underpasses – the BID has worked to flip the impression of this area from staid and stuffy to lively and entertaining. Enter: Artechouse.

Not exactly employing a position of gentrifier in that groups have not been displaced by this section of the SWBID, Artechouse is certainly a tool for changing the landscape of its neighborhood. Though the BID has created a boom in development, including luxury high-rises, restaurants, and retail, throughout the sprawling 400 plus acre of Southwest, branded “District Wharf,” Artechouse’s placement is within existing business district territory. But as such, it’s impossible to ignore the agenda-ridden existence of the art org, written all over its design and #mood, I mean, atmosphere.

Artechouse is certainly an original feature in the D.C. arts landscape and self-describes as
“At the crossroads of art, science and technology, ARTECHOUSE brings a true 21st century art experience to the nation’s capital as Washington, D.C.’s first interactive digital art gallery.”

While most D.C. art galleries almost exclusively call the Northwest quadrant home, Artechouse brings a fresh art experience to unclaimed territory both in locale and in theme. As the District’s first space solely dedicated to tech art, Artechouse has the sobering responsibility of setting the bar for this rising art medium . . . but sobriety is not on the menu. Explicitly designed in the layout, curation, and experience of Artechouse is the bar, specifically the role in which artisan cocktails will play within the exhibitions. After downloading their app you’re instructed to snap a photo of your cocktail, which features an edible wafer cookie atop via AR, that reveals swirling leaves virtually floating above your glass.

Upon descending the two flights of stairs down to the exhibition space entrance you enter at the top of landing, where to your left is the minimalist-styled glowing-white surfaced bar, and down yet another flight of stairs is the main gallery.

In “Spirit of Autumn” a giant two-story digitally-projected tree stands middle against the far wall, as digitally-composed leaves flutter in virtual air. The two side walls are projected with more falling, twirling, dancing virtual leaves, which respond to your movement and noise. As you interact with the painting a ghost-like outline of yourself appears on the wall. Two microphones hidden in the walls pick up sounds within the gallery space, but are best activated by clapping directly into the speakers. Sound triggers a visual response within the digital painting – storm clouds, thunder, and lightening appear and disappear.

As your ghost avatar shadows your movements throughout the space, you become a subject within the artwork itself – a moving object walking in painting. Another gallery space opens to an enveloping, hypnotic swirl of color, this time completely controlled by the visitor. Virtual paint spills move, change color, and churn along the floor directed by the movements of the visitor within the space. The responsiveness of this algorithm is more sensitive than the one working the leaves in the other room, resulting in a more satisfying experience of art-creator.

As a further immersive, interactive experience you’re invited to create a leaf to add to the digital collection within the painting. In the back room you can color a stencil – adhering to the guidelines of the artwork, no words please! – which you drop through a slot into a room where a technician will digitize and upload your creation to the algorithm of the painting. In just a few minutes your work of art will descend from the upper corners of the painting to join the mix of leaves swirling and twirling in response to the visitors.

The effect is meant to be pensive and peaceful, but the aesthetic of outlined ghosts coupled with the swoosh of falling leaves and sporadic, ominous thunder produces the creepy feeling of a virtual haunted forest. As nothing in the design of the exhibition or the gallery seems haphazard, I would guess that the spookiness is intentional. The art itself falls just short of being a parable of the season it represents. As fall is associated with the return of school it is married to the sensibility of intellectual resurgence. But the exhibit feels more like summer in its playfulness and intellectual-lightness. The docents explain that the artists attempt not a literal exploration of fall, but one that is surreal.

However, in considering the climate of arts within the District – monolithic national museums contrasted by small but feisty community-driven arts orgs – it’s Artechouse itself that is surreal. Where did this place come from? Who is it here for?

As a space that reads explicitly cool and detached, that has sprung to life not of the demand of a passionate horde within a dedicated community – as most non-federal arts orgs in D.C. do, Artechouse is a conundrum of placemaking, but assuredly an icon of today’s art trend.

The staging of both the exhibit and the gallery structure is meant to be Insta-envy prime.  As hip artisanal drinking is laid into the very plans of the exhibition, the gallery and show beg for social, as well as artistic, interaction. It’s impossible to ignore the prominent placement of the bar, upon entry, reachable before the art. Perhaps this is done knowingly, as in all art openings visitors crowd the bar anyway, why not make it easily accessible? But it remains that the bar, perched aloft the gallery space, sits physically above the art – looking down from it throne most high. As if to further illustrate the import placed on social drinking within the exhibit, when I asked the bartender for the hashtag for the show, he replied chuckling, “#amazingcocktails?”

However, the signature drink, as is the entry ($15 – $25), is expensive, at $12 each.

In an era of uncertainty for the funding of art Artechouse exemplifies what may well become the future for experiencing innovative art forms outside of traditional museums. Appealing to the social media boozing crowd and their need for Insta-ready spaces to share their happenings, Artechouse’s format resists threatened traditional arts funding structures. Self-monetization is a good thing, and may well prove a necessity for the future of alternative art spaces. But what does that mean for the future of art – and specifically tech art – itself?

Artechouse claims to be a haven for exploring the intersection of art and tech, but as such a broad and varied medium and with their galleries designed as selfie stations, can (or perhaps, will) the organization sustain exhibitions not easily bent towards social media?

As a space to explore new age media, Artechouse is refreshing in the D.C. arts landscape. Compared to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, whose dedication to exploring tech art has leaned heavily towards media art, and when it has varied from that, exhibitions have rested about a decade late of innovative, Artechouse is sharply zeitgeist.

But Artechouse delivers a very specific experience of tech art—one that is closely married to the commerce of social media. Not all tech art will comfortably fit under this umbrella. Moreover, Artechouse has the built-in problem of the Instagram double-edged sword: will visitors pay for the experience after viewing it for free through friends’ Instagrams? As one of the very few paid entry art spaces in town, Artechouse will have to overcome the local mindset that resists paying for art experiences.

The exhibition is designed as a social-media crack den but is that the Artechouse hook?

Of course there is still the bar allure of the gallery.



Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell (@KayleighBinDC), is a Washington, D.C. native and museum educator with over 10 years of GLAM experience, devoted to exploring ways to engage with marginalized audiences through museums and social justice practice.