Painted black and gently lit, the brand-new STABLE art space in Eckington looks almost reserved on the outside. But step through the front doors, and you’ll find a torrent of creativity and a veritable warren of studios showcasing local artists. STABLE is a new breed of creative space in DC, and it’s been generating plenty of excitement since its mid-October opening.
The self-described platform for artistic growth provides both studio and gallery space for contemporary artists creating multidisciplinary work. Take the lush, cut-paper collages of Katherine Mann, which almost resemble botanical growths sprouting across the walls of her studio; Molly Springfield’s graphite drawings of printed texts exploring the quiet power of the written word; or Tsedaye Makonnen’s multifaceted exploration of themes such as identity, kinship, migration and colorism through ceremony, installations and light sculptures. This is just a glimpse into the many unique talents who fill the space with the kind of burgeoning creative energy that you don’t usually find in DC’s iconic museums and art galleries.
Visiting STABLE’s open studios in November, I felt like I was moving through a series of microcosms – each studio a contained vision of the artist or artists in the space. Yet there’s also a powerful feeling of connection. STABLE is more than simply a collection of artists in one place. It feels like a cohesive whole.
That feeling is intentional. Co-founders Tim Doud, Linn Meyers and Caitlin Teal Price, who all have studios in the art space, envisioned STABLE as an enduring institution with a strong sense of community. Each is an established DC artist: Meyers painted “Our View From Here” on the wall of the inner-circle galleries on the second floor of the Hirshhorn Museum in 2016, and Doud and Price have both exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery.
“We met one another through various arts events and realized that we were all thinking the same thing,” Meyers says. “There are a lot of very committed artists working in DC, but we are somewhat invisible. There is a real need for a hub. There has also been a scarcity of affordable studio space for many years, and we recognize that that has contributed to the difficulties artists have had in feeling a strong sense of community in DC.”
Living in one of the of the country’s most expensive cities is a major challenge, and many of DC’s artists make it work by creating out of their homes. Mann adds that working and practicing in a dedicated place makes a big difference.
“It’s not as if there aren’t any other artist studio buildings in DC, but there certainly aren’t enough of them,” she says. “I’m a full-time artist and it’s really easy to just isolate yourself. It’s easy to get insular. I wanted to be part of a community and have a conversation about art, have critiques, be part of something larger.”
STABLE is a registered nonprofit so resident artists pay for their individual studios, and the price they pay is the same discounted rate that the art space negotiated with its landlords. This means that STABLE fundraises for all its common areas, staff and operating costs, and exhibitions.
“Part of our ethos is opportunity-making and resource-sharing, so if [artists] want to be part of our community, they’re a good fit,” Doud says. “One of the things that connects us is that we all feel very [strongly about giving] back in our field and promoting that community.”
“We wanted to bring in people who wanted to be part of this, not [artists who would] shut their doors and not talk to anybody,” Price agrees.
The space also feels welcoming to visitors. Families with children of all ages and even a few dogs on leashes were in the crowd during my open studio visit. Everyone received a warm welcome from STABLE Director of Advancement and Operations Kali Wasenko, who gave each visitor a map and an envelope of beautiful cards with images of each artist’s work. I walked away with an additional bonus: two massive art books from a free pile next to the registration desk. That spirit of friendly generosity permeates the entire building.
“We want visitors to feel a part of STABLE, and to know that artists are here in DC and there is a serious contemporary art-making community here,” Meyers says.
Several artworks are also reflections and celebrations of the city itself, like Nekisha Durrett’s piece “Go-Go Belongs Here” in the gallery. As they developed the concept for STABLE, the co-founders knew they didn’t want it to be a short-term endeavor, but an enduring institution.
“We want STABLE to be a permanent fixture in DC,” Price says. “We couldn’t wrap our heads around paying for a building that would only last for 10 years.”
The group came up with calling the space STABLE almost by accident, well before finding their current location. They were talking to developers who were excited to work with them but didn’t really understand what the group wanted.
“They promised us this pre-fab barn they were going to build on top of a roof,” Price continues. “[The name] STABLE stuck. It works because it refers to stability and a stable of artists, a studio space – though it was built on some crazy promise.”
In a stroke of coincidence – or stars aligning – the Randolph Place building really was a stable for the horses used to make cookie deliveries for a nearby Nabisco factory in a pre-vehicle DC. Many generations later, rafters that wouldn’t be out of place in a hayloft run across the ceilings of some of the studios. The first floor’s large multi-artist gallery space feels airy and open, a nice contrast to the building’s winding hallways and staircases that feel like secret passages.
Mann says the gallery space at STABLE is something she’s particularly looking forward to.
“I’m excited to see how they bring in other artists who are local to DC, or artists outside of the region. There’s a drought in exhibition spaces, so this is equally exciting.”
The new art space may have just gotten started, but its founders have a clear vision for it.
“STABLE is multi-faceted,” Meyers says. “We offer affordable studios to artists who have been juried into the space in a competitive process, we have cutting-edge exhibitions in our gallery and we offer programs that reach beyond our immediate artist community. Now that STABLE is up and running, we are looking toward our long-term goals. We recognize that this likely means we will need to purchase a building, and we are just beginning to explore that.”
STABLE is here for the long haul, and hopefully the start of a new chapter for DC’s local art culture – one where artists can make and share their work in affordable spaces that are baked into their city and their community.
STABLE: 336 Randolph Pl. NE, DC; 202-642-3320; www.stablearts.org