52 O Street Open House -Lost Bohemia of New York found in DC

Carnegie Hall is recognizable in name by pretty much all familiar with New York or the arts.  However, the lesser known fact about the building is that, until 2009, the top floors of Carnegie Hall used to be residential studio spaces for artists, writers, composers, and performers, including Judy Garland, Mark Twain, and the adorable New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham.  Architect William Burnet Tuthill designed these studios with great thought specifically to serve as optimum environments for all artists.  For example, painters’ and photographers’ studios had skylights to get abundant natural light, and all of the musicians were grouped together in one wing with soundproofed walls to not disturb other residents. To learn more about this bit of history about Carnegie Hall, watch Josef “Birdman” Astor’s documentary Lost Bohemia or read this article.

My art-loving friend and I went to a free screening of the documentary at the National Gallery of Art about a year ago (right after we watched Bill Cunningham New York and fell in love wit the man).  Since then, we have been on a quest to discover local DC artists.  I have been very excited about the 52 O Street studio open house since I learned of it not  only because of how many artists I would meet in one day but also because I had a feeling it would be reminiscent of these Carnegie Hall apartments.  I was right!!

Ok, it’s not exactly the same.  The architecture is not tailored to specific artistic fields, and there is no communal shower room on each floor.  However, there was a sense of community within the building.  Each artist knew their immediate neighbors well to introduce me to them and were at least acquainted with the occupants on other floors to make references in our conversations.

If you refer to my previous post about this event, 52 O Street is a warehouse that now houses artist studio spaces.  Inside is an amazing range of artists and media -from a woman who makes knitwear and a couple of men who make wood furniture to artists who make plush art out of textile.  Some artists use the studio purely as a work space; others have installed plumbing and a kitchen and call the studio space a home as well.  What is most interesting about this warehouse, though, is how each person has personalized the space for both aesthetics and function.

While 52 O Street studios host the open house annually, residents come and go in between each cycle.  For instance, Georgetown art professor Scip Barnhart moved in his basement printing studio in July.  Jeffrey Smith, an oils and wax artist, is an even more recent neighbor, having moved in November 2011.  With the transience of residents in the warehouse much reflective of the nomadic lifestyle of the general DC population, the combination of art you see and respective artists you meet during the open house will never be the same.

If you missed this event, mark your calendar for next year! It is awesome.


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