Artomatic Ain't Automatic

All 1,500 artists involved must work there too

Alexandra Scannell is even more colorful than the canvas she's mounting at her exhibit.

Her dark hair is pulled back tight so she's all eyes and teeth, as she chatters fervently about the work she is getting ready to display at Artomatic this week, pausing between explanations to greet her fellow artists with a loose wave and hearty laugh.   Artomatic, a month-long art festival, kicks off this Friday and there's no time to lose.

She's on her tippy toes now, adjusting a light, but she lowers her stance quickly to make contact with her audience. "You see, these photographs represent four stages in life ... and the paintings convey the way I see the photographs."

Then Scannell disappears behind a panel to begin her five-hour work shift.

All 1,500 artists who are participating in this years Artomatic are required to work three five-hour shifts during the course of the event. The rule, seemingly opposed to Artomatic's free-spirited nature, is vital to upholding Artomatic's philosophy: "by artists, for everyone."
The artists themselves produce every aspect of the event, including site maintenance, trash pickup and Web site management.

One artist, Anne spends one of her shifts manning the elevator. "Yeah, I am an artist ... my exhibit is called 'The Collie as Me' ... but my job right now is to make sure no one takes anything bad into the elevator ... the hardest part for us is not destroying the building, because we artists are messy, you know."

The venue (55 M St. SE) is a newly built nine-story building next to Nationals Stadium, loaned to the artists for the months before its renter's lease begins. All nine stories (that's 275,000 square feet) will house something special: a theatre and dance stage, three music stages, an area for street-style performances (think fire dancing and drum troupes), and a movie theater.

"The owners are helping us out, while we help them out," says another staffer. "The building wasn't completely finished when we got here .... Some panels didn't have electrical sockets, so we did a lot."

The artists -- incredibly diverse in their backgrounds and interests -- have formed a community, some by choice and others out of necessity. "We have to set up our own lighting ... if one person goes over their 200-watt limit, the whole system shuts down, so it really is a collaborative effort," says the staffer.
Artists exchanged tools and volunteered their carpentry skills to help their fellow artists meet a 10 p.m. deadline to set up their exhibits for Friday night's opening.
The work on display varies from conventional landscapes to a fully operational tattoo parlor. Tracy Salaway, a professor at Gallaudet University, created an eight-piece video art installation for the event, while Bono Mitchel displays larger-than-life 3D caricatures of the Obama family.
Musical and dance performances, cabaret shows and film screenings will round out Artomatic's offerings. Doors open at noon on Friday, May 29 and will close Sunday, July 5.

Fri.-Sat. noon-1 a.m. (except for special events. See calendar.)
Sun., Wed.-Thu. noon-10 p.m.
Mon.-Tue. closed 

Schedule of Events


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