Davanti Arts’ owner Elody Crimi recently moved into her new space at Artists & Makers Studios 2 on Wilkins Avenue in Rockville. While she was busy getting the area ready, two other artists moved in to a conference room area next door.” They are over (there) tap, tap, tapping away and I am in my studio tap, tap, tapping, putting stuff together,” she said. “It reminded me of the first day of college. I think we have a lot of positive energy going on right now. …I am excited to see where we are going.”
Activity at the site is welcome after the former site manager, Washington ArtWorks, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in August, which left many of the artist-tenants in a state of uncertainty. Wanting to keep the space as a place for artistic expression, the building owners contacted Artists & Makers Studios founder and executive director Judith HeartSong about expanding.
The 13,000-square-foot flagship building on Parklawn Drive has been offering services, support and studio space for creative professionals in the Metro area since March 2015. The original facility is home to 43 studios, three classrooms/workshop spaces, five galleries and hosts 70 resident artists. “In the first six months or so (of Artists & Makers 1), we were running completely in the black,” she said. “We are a for-profit business model, so we aren’t relying on grants or subsidies or asking for donations. The business model really, really works.”
Early on, HeartSong discussed with her business partners about the possibility of expansion to create an Artists & Makers Studios 2. “Who knew it was going to be nine tenths of a mile up the street?” she said.
Once HeartSong agreed to take on the 23,000 square foot Wilkins Avenue spaces, she spent an entire month cleaning out and repairing them. The site opened to the public on Nov. 1 with its first soft gallery opening held on Dec. 2 as part of Rockville’s First Friday event. “In my opinion, we have something that is almost as wonderful as the Torpedo Factory (Art Center in Alexandria, Va.) right here in Montgomery County,” HeartSong said. “At 36,000 (total) square feet, we are, by far, the largest visual arts center in Montgomery County. …It’s very much a studio complex, so it serves a lot of local artists. It provides a place for local people to go. Our parties are very welcoming.”
“People can buy local right here, which is amazing,” she added. “If people want to come in when we are open, they can do a lot of their gift shopping and holiday shopping from local artists and makers. I think that is a huge asset to the Rockville community.”
Artists & Makers 2 can accommodate some 70-plus artists. HeartSong said 45 stayed after the bankruptcy filing and as of the first week of December, less than 14 spaces were available to rent.
The two sites will be run exactly the same way. “Not only does the average square foot price need to be similar, the way we run the galleries, the way we create our policies, it needs to be the same, so that not only can an artist transfer between projects, but if someone is looking at both spaces, the amenities are the same in between,” HeartSong said.
Some studios impose a limit on how long an artist may stay in order to get a new rotation of artists at the facility. HeartSong is not a fan of this model. “Sometimes an artist will just start to hit their stride when their lease is up,” she said. In contrast, Artists & Makers offers a year-long lease, which is renewable by either party. “As long as it is mutually agreeable to all parties, we want them to stay for as long as they want to stay,” she said.
Crimi joined ArtWorks in 2014 and decided to stay during the transition, moving from a third-floor studio to one on the second floor. “It is a bigger space, giving me the opportunity to teach classes in that space along with having my studio,” she said.
A photographer with a focus on landscapes, portraiture, and fine art, Crimi also teaches classes on smart phone imagery, Photo Shop and an introduction to digital basics. “Just being around the pastel artists, the watercolorists, the painters, the sculptors, all of it,” she said. “It is just very, very inspirational. It’s kind of like being in art school again.”
The art school, Compass Atelier, at Artists & Makers 1, is expanding by leasing 2,100 square feet at the Wilkins Avenue location. One space, 1,100 square feet, will be a gallery featuring the school’s emerging artists’ student work on a monthly rotating basis. The other 1,100 square feet will be used as classroom space where members or people from outside the community can run classes, workshops or events.
Owner Glen Kessler said he decided to expand because HeartSong is an advocate for artists. “She runs a great business, so any opportunity I have to expand my business in conjunction with Judith’s business, I will take,” he said. “This was an extension of the philosophy of my school. We are taking hobbyists or even untrained artists and we are transforming them through a program that we offer into professional artists. Many of them were then looking for that gallery representation and this cooperative that we set up serves as a stepping stone for them to get visibility (and) build some of the business elements into their personal practice. …It’s an incubator for their artistic careers.”
With so many different entertainment and leisure activities in the area, Kessler feels that being under the umbrella of Artists & Makers 1 and 2 makes his business a destination for folks to come to for an afternoon or evening out. Having his students around other creative people will benefit them. “Serendipitous conversations can stoke creativity and make connections and encourage development for each of the parties,” he said.
Artists & Makers Studios 2 is located at 12276 and 12280 Wilkins Avenue. View December in the Galleries at Artists & Makers Studios 2 here.