Photo: Courtesy of VISIONDC

VISIONDC: The District’s First Arts & Urban Innovation Summit

As a born and bred Northern Virginian, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the DC area change tremendously over the course of my lifetime – but especially in the past decade. The District in particular dove headfirst into new territory, transforming itself into a city with burgeoning dining and arts & culture scenes and urban innovation in newly gentrified neighborhoods. From my vantage point, DC is at the height of its cultural renaissance.

Enter VISIONDC, nonprofit CulturalDC’s first arts and urban innovation summit, held at Arena Stage on Monday, April 24. The event will bring together thought and political leaders, policymakers, commercial developers and artists spanning a range of mediums for a day of conversations, performances, installations and the debut of Art Tank, real-time public art funding following the model of ABC’s Shark Tank. On Tap caught up with CulturalDC Executive Director Tanya Hilton about the first annual event and what it could mean for the future of our city.

On Tap: How long has VISIONDC been in the works? What inspired the idea for this innovative summit?
Tanya Hilton:
It’s been a year-and-a-half in the making, and it really started with a retreat that we had with our board of directors [where] we thought about our legacy as an organization. We’ve been involved in creating, brokering and bringing to life over 250,000 square feet of space for art and artists [including Atlas Performing Arts Center, GALA Hispanic Theatre and Source Theatre]. Add to that the 27 artist studios we helped design, create and manage. [The Arts Walk at Monroe Street Market] is an award-winning art walk over in Brookland. It seemed only natural on this retreat [to consider], “How do we as an organization help bring together those that are impacted by or engaged in the growth of our city?” [We decided to] bring those impacted by the growth together – commercial developers, policymakers, political leaders and artists – to share and showcase all of the great examples of what’s happening here now.

OT: CulturalDC invited “artists, technological visionaries, cultural partners, and business and civic leaders” to participate in Monday’s event. What was your selection process?
We did an open call – one of the hallmarks of CulturalDC’s success – and basically said, “Y’all come.” We said, “Please apply to participate in this summit because we want the world and the city to see the breadth and depth of the artists that we have here.” Between our open call, selection panels, advisory [board] and leadership committee, we put together over 75 people. It’s just so exciting.

OT: How would you describe the relationship between art and urban innovation? Why do you think that relationship is so significant in DC?
Some of our speakers [at VISIONDC] will say we’re not necessarily unique in our explosive growth and innovation. But what makes the capital city unique is that we do have our institutional arts and culture in the form of the Smithsonian and other [museums]. We are a melting pot of so many types of cultures because we are so internationally-driven that it makes us a very interesting enclave and representation for our nation. When you think about what is happening from a development standpoint, the intersections between urban development and local artists are naturally occurring and organically growing in a way that creates an environment for more relationships to form, [creating] spaces for more art incubation and [other forms of] community-driven, made-in-DC growth.

OT: How did you come up with the concept for Art Tank?
One of the things discussed very early on and across the community at large was, “So what’s the outcome of this?” People will come together to discuss growth, development [and] challenges in our city, but what do we really want to come out of this? We want to showcase real partnerships, not only public-private, but some real, tangible partnerships. And that was the birth of Art Tank. It was a way to show actual partnerships coming to life in real-time at the summit. And those partnerships are going to come from developers selecting artists to do projects for them and awarding them projects [on the spot].

OT: How does that process work?
Artists and developers will work together to help define a specific project for specific development over the next 24 months that meets both the artist’s and developer’s needs. We’re very excited about this. The goal really was to award $50-$75K to local artists to work with local commercial developers in creating art projects around the city. Not only did we end up getting developers to go onstage and look at artist concepts, we got a senior advisor for Shark Tank to work with our artists and help them understand how to promote themselves when presenting their portfolio.

OT: Do you have long-term plans for Art Tank, and the summit as a whole?
We hope Art Tank grows annually. Our vision would be five years from now, Art Tank has grown to be a significant funding source for artists working with multiple investors and other philanthropists, and the summit has grown with the outcome of actual working sessions where people are working through upcoming cultural plans and other things that will be happening in our city around the growth of arts incubator spaces, and collaborations that happen across organizations.

OT: Why would you encourage the general public to attend VISIONDC? What conversation do you hope to start among DC area residents?
As a resident of DC, I can’t imagine how I could ever see so many forms of art at one time in one place. I can go and see a music concert or a musician or a spoken word artist or a theater performance or an art installation that’s participatory or a flamenco dancer or a youth orchestra or a hip-hop DJ. The key word is “or.” On Monday, April 24, I can see it and change the word to “and.” I can see all of that in one place. I can witness it, experience it [and] get to know these artists – all in one place. How incredible is that? I get chills thinking about it, and I’ve been involved with this for months. I’m getting emotional about this; it’s incredible. All of these artists agreed to do this, and we’re about to provide this for our city all at one time in one place. And [discussing things with] our residents that impact them daily – mobility, the ability to earn a living (especially if you’re an artist in the city) equity, – these are things that impact our residents too, and I’m sure they have opinions they can share.

OT: What do you think DC’s potential is to grow in the realms of arts & culture, urban innovation and community activism? Where would you like to see our city in five years in this capacity?
 Our model is we make space for art. We continue to seek collaborative partnerships, working to create more affordable spaces for art and artists to have a place to do the work they do and serve the community they serve, and as a collaborator, [we] find, develop and manage those spaces. [We] help the artists grow and facilitate and foster the community connection. In the next five years, as art spaces continue to grow, we would like to see collaborations across arts organizations that are nonprofits here locally and individual artists continue to grow because we need to engage together in order to help our communities continue to be healthy centers of growth and prosperity. I think that if we can collaborate together and we see urban growth, we will be a stronger force for supporting healthy growth in every neighborhood that we touch. There’s much more prosperity for everyone if we work together, across artists of all disciplines. It’s all so intertwined.

VISIONDC will be held at Arena Stage on the Southwest Waterfront from 8 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Go to for more details.

Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.