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A Way to Save the DC City Museum?

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DC Artist Marsha Stein Steps in with Proposal for City Museum

Recently, the Washington Post has been reporting on the woes of the new City Museum of Washington DC. Area artist Marsha Stein responds with the following letter to the Washington Post’s Chief Art Critic, Blake Gopnik:

“Hi Blake,

How are you? It appears as if we’re finding ourselves on the same page.

After I read the story about The City Museum reported by Jacqueline Trescott, I phoned the special events coordinator at the museum, Elizabeth Dreux. I met Elizabeth at a meeting of artists participating in the Funky Furniture exhibit. I told her about the art project that evolved from your “Getting Cute” article and she loved it. She put me in touch with a project coordinator to get it rolling.

Let me elaborate on the original description. I’m picturing around five teams of artists from different venues. They can be of various disciplines to include music, et al. It seems as if the best way to make the selections would be curators, gallery owners and renowned aesthetes. As I said before, W/PAC, Art-O-Matic, Eastern Market, the co-ops and Numark, Zenith or any galleries who wish to step up will make suggestions. The requirement is that every artist shows and sells in DC. The team members must be capable of working on a team.

I would like each artist to receive $5,000 for the time and work. I will participate as a facilitator rather than team member to keep the “heart” of the challenge. A $2,000 fund for each team will be available to purchase supplies and accessories. A documentarian will film the first meeting when the artists come to the table with their concepts.

Since the exhibit will be at City Museum, the theme will be relating to Washington, D.C. I do not think this is too constraining. This is an exercise for the artists and a real challenge in terms of blending the art or having it make a statement by parts to the whole. The next documentation can take place when the process is under way at the invitation of each team. After the agreed upon time period for completion (three months?), the exhibit is mounted. Some of the film can be shown, but the art is not identified by team. When the public votes, they are encouraged to elaborate. This is great visuals for TV as well as fodder for the newspaper critics. When the fun of counting and discussing the vote is completed, the “winner” is announced. The next activity is an auction and, of course, we will have a lovely film for art education.

Back to the place where we’re on the same page….Wouldn’t this be a great way to get this city and The DC City Museum on the map in terms of innovation?

Be proactive, Blake. OK, by your standards, it’s not “pure” creation from the soul of a trusted artist. Maybe they won’t all be geniuses, but think what will happen if there are two or more who really have chemistry.

I’d like to see those sparks! It’s enticing, it’s fun, it’s intelligent and it’s not the same old dry DC. Yes, people want something to look at. I want to push forward with the making of art. I believe that artists have the capacity to stimulate one another just as musicians do. It doesn’t surprise us that an ensemble is inspired by one another. Why can’t visual artists have the same opportunity to play together?

You may wonder why I’m pushing you for this. The Washington Post is our main news source. Most Washingtonians pick it up every day. Does everything have to be politics and “Who’s Who?” This is for everyone who is not a political junkie, or gives a damn about a lot of people who have no connection to DC except for the White House.

Both of my parents were born and raised in DC. I recently returned after living in the Virgin Islands, Italy and California. I know how it feels to live where art is alive. It’s asleep here. Let’s wake it up. It takes an artist to make a dream come to life.

Your friend,

Marsha Stein

As “fuzzy” as it is initially, I fully support Stein’s idea and proposal, as I will any new idea or proposal to advance our area’s visual arts. I am not sure exactly what she is asking of Blake Gopnik, other than for Gopnik to be “proactive,” which I guess means that she hopes that Gopnik will write and endorse the project? Stein also has the following words aimed directly to area artists:

“Hi artists et al:

We are getting the ball rolling on the art challenge. The Post has indicated that they are considering to publish this letter. If they are kind enough to let me know what day, I will forward that info.

I have been advised by a project coordinator (fund raiser) that the next appropriate step to take is a meeting of interested parties. We need to schedule a meeting for some time in September.

For those of you for which this is “new news,” feel free to answer this and ask questions. I am at Eastern Market every Sunday. For me and a few of the others, a meeting on Sunday evening near Eastern Market would work.

I am looking for artists who are interested in participating, but I don’t want to put out a call as of yet. The money that I am proposing is significant enough so that most artists will want to do this. The artists who are in this mailing are in the loop on the project. Others of you are from the venues that I mentioned in the letter. I have been including the press in many of my communications because the origin of this competition came from a news article.

I need a meeting of about 10 people. Please respond to this e-mail. Thanks!

Marsha Stein

Any DCARTNEWS readers who are interested in supporting this effort should contact Marsha Stein directly. I would also recommend that Stein should apply for a DC Commission for the Arts and Humanities City Arts Projects Grant, where the City Museum would be eligible for a $15,000 grant for this project. Having been on the Advisory Panel to DCAH’s City Arts Projects for many years, I suspect it would be easily funded, as there are usually few visual arts proposals in the City Arts Projects category.

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