The District may be home to a wide variety of museums, but most associate it with politics, not a burgeoning art scene. Artomatic, the D.C. area’s largest free arts event, aims to change that perception while fostering artistic collaboration.
The festival will take place from May 18 to June 23 as artists, performers and filmmakers gather in a transformed area just a block from the Crystal City Metro station.
“The event is unique in that it is open to all artists to participate,” Eric Shutt, Artomatic’s marketing coordinator, said. “There are no criteria to register, and artists are welcomed in an unjuried process on a first come, first serve basis.”
The first Artomatic event took place in a Laundromat in 1999 and gathered about 350 artists. Since then, the festival has occurred sporadically in the D.C. area, occupying any space available. Past participants have included Frank Warren, who launched his PostSecret project — now a widely read blog — at the 2004 event. At the last Artomatic event, held 10 years after the first, more than 1,200 artists and 600 performers drew about 75,000 visitors. The event struggled to find performance space for the last two years, but this year, Artomatic returns with over 1,300 artists and performers.
The event hopes to encourage creative growth in the area while giving valuable exposure to the D.C. arts scene.
“We take a new space and fill it with artists and performers for six weeks,” Shutt said. “Our goal is to build a creative economy in the area and connect the community. We want to establish a relationship between artists and visitors.”
Crystal City Business Improvement District leaders mirror this collaborative attitude. In 2009, Artomatic was the city’s first major attraction, and officials are excited for another successful event this year. The festival showcases the transformation of Crystal City and fosters its reputation as a cultural hub in the D.C. area.
The visual artists of Artomatic exhibit a wide array of art forms. These include painting, photography and ceramics alongside less traditional art forms like furniture, found art and jewelry. There’s also an area which displays art for and by all ages.
The artistry on display isn’t limited to the visual; musical performances similarly span a wide range of genres. Jazz, goth, acoustic, gospel, electronic and classical are just a handful of those represented. Along with music come diverse forms of dance from all corners of the world, including Brazil, India and Indonesia. There also will be traditional tap, modern dance, belly dancing and step the wide array of music reflects the cultural diversity Artomatic tries to foster within the area.
Along with dance and music performances, Artomatic will feature poets, comedians and DJs. This eclectic mix of creativity is representative of the all-embracing spirit of the event, which draws a diverse mix of ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and experience levels. Artomatic becomes an event that links younger and older generations, fosters intercultural dialogue and encourages community development. Organizers hope that the diversity of the art presented will allow visitors to view art that they find compelling, whatever that may be.
This year, Artomatic is also offering a new way for visitors to get involved in the art. “There will be an art reactor, which will allow visitors to mess around with art supplies and create their own art,” Shutt said.
There will also be a tour of the event available by mobile phone, aiming to provide a guide to the overwhelming amount of art.
Another particularly interesting facet of Artomatic is its dedication to volunteerism.
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Artists who present are required to help with the project, but many go above and beyond the minimum requirement, drawn into the spirit of Artomatic.
Volunteers manage everything from picking up trash on-site to updating the event’s social media presence. The benefit of this aspect of Artomatic is that it allows artists to fully engage with the community and with one another. It gives emerging artists a chance to interact with more established pros, learning from each other’s experiences.
Artomatic offers artistic discovery supplemented with great food and drink provided by D.C. favorite Busboys and Poets. The variety of offerings makes this event suitable for everyone’s interests and will surely open your eyes to a large range of creativity.
WHEN: Friday, May 18 – Saturday, June 23
TIME: Wednesdays and Thursdays at 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 12 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Sundays at 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
WHERE: 1851 S. Bell Street, Crystal City, Va.
METRO: Crystal City (Blue and Yellow lines)