D.C.’s Open Artist Communities for the Non-Artist
When I was a kid I wanted to be an artist.
Doesn’t everyone feel that way at some point? I’d doodle in my notebook and envision wild success as a painter selling out shows in art galleries. Eventually, I realized the limitations of my skill, but the appreciation for art continued to linger. I wanted to find others who felt the same way.
The Non-Artist is someone who enjoys art without creating it themselves or for the prospects of a career.
They dabble in watercolor painting and post pictures on Instagram without labeling themselves as a capital-A Artist.
There’s the instinctual need for self-expression that drives creativity, but it’s also as much a thread for connection. Sometimes you just want to bond over knitting without the pretense of artistry. And in today’s world art has become a vehicle for social and political change, a force that extends past the walls of a museum.
Many of us wish to participate in the arts without pressure, and as the nation’s capitol, we exude visual art culture. DC is chock-full of places to let those creative juices sizzle.
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop
Their mission since 1972 has been “building community through the arts,” so we can’t think of a better place for non-artists. Located on Capitol Hill respectively, this non-profit offers an array of art classes and activities. Creative writing, pottery, dance–nothing is off limits to try. Friday Art Nights are the perfect way to loosen your reserve if you’re new, and many classes can be taken with little to no experience. Let an instructor guide the way while you sip beer and craft to your heart’s content. You may discover a talent you never knew you had, or at the very least have a fun night out.
Hillyer Art Space
Located in the trendy Dupont Circle neighborhood, this art gallery provides a platform for local artists to exhibit their work. Their monthly First Friday events are open to the public and draw a variety of crowds. With a suggested donation, visitors can enjoy wine, crackers, and cutting-edge paintings and installations. You can also find the artists themselves mingling among the crowd. Get in the know on what’s bubbling under the surface with exhibitions, lectures, and presentations from visiting artists you may not get the chance to see otherwise. Some exhibits are even interactive, so visitors can become a part of the artistic experience. While the space is small, it’s perfect for those craving a more intimate setting. They also double as a venue space, so you can get creative and host your very own event.
Alright, so maybe your tastes are less abstract. You’d rather sit down with good food and drink and let the experience come to you. Why not try an open mic night? Gypsy Sally’s in Georgetown holds one every Tuesday night. Set against a view of the Potomac River and Key Bridge, this bar/music venue allows patrons to enjoy a wide range of musical talent. From their daily roster of local bands to strangers belting their hearts out with guitar, the emphasis is less on formal artistry than it is on putting oneself out there. After all, it’s a music venue “for serious music lovers who don’t take themselves too seriously.”
Their Americana-inspired venue is laid-back and unpretentious, making it a great space to share your own song. Feeling stage-fright? Their extensive bourbon and booze selection will do the trick. It’s a place for getting together, and the passion of owners and power-couple David and Karen Ensor make Gypsy Sally’s a haven for creative expression.
There’s also the non-profit arts collective Figment, who throw an annual festival for artists to showcase their work. Much of it is interactive, so the public is able to engage directly with tangible work. As a free event, their mission is to make art an accessible resource for everyone to enjoy, “blurring the lines between those who create and those enjoy art.” They’ve reached the nation by storm (including DC!) and you can find volunteer opportunities or even submit a project of your own.
Likewise, A Creative DC captures D.C. residents’ view of the city through a social media platform. Peruse Instagram or Twitter to see the drawings, murals, and streets that make DC the cultural hub it is. Offline you can find them in collaborations with the DC Public Library, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and more.
On Being an Artist
Not everyone considers themselves an artist, but anyone can grab a pencil or paintbrush and make something special. Part of the reason art can feel intimidating is because you think you have to be good at it in order to make it. That’s counterproductive to why people create in the first place. Art is a cultural force that exceeds class and societal lines, and many people connect to a variety of creative expressions.
What marker is there of “good” art? It’s a way to connect to the people around you and connection doesn’t always require top-notch materials and an art school degree. It just requires the drive to create and have something to show for it at the end. With these venues, interaction and connection is key to involving yourself in the arts, even if you’re not Picasso. And not many can call themselves Picasso.