327 S Street NE is an empty canvas, but soon enough 40 of D.C.’s artists will fill the space, making it come to life. The Eckington warehouse that once served as the Nabisco factory and the Art and Drama Therapy Institute, is switching gears, and a large chunk of the building (9,300 square feet of it) will be transformed into STABLE Arts, featuring affordable studio space, a fully programmed gallery, but more importantly, a robust artist community. “We’ve moved away from the idea of going into your studio and closing the door,” says co-founder Tim Doud.
Tim Doud, Caitlin Teal Price and Linn Meyers are the mad geniuses behind the concept. They met up a few years ago after Price was struggling to find studio space, as well as a place to meet local artists. “I didn’t know where anybody was and there was such a lack of studio space,” says Price. After doing a show together with Doud, she pitched him the idea and they started talking to a developer in Ivy City. While that project didn’t end up working out, it did give them the name STABLE Arts, says Price, explaining that their first developer talked about refurbishing a stable for the project.
“It just kind of crumbled because they really couldn’t commit to what we wanted, which was long term, affordable studio space,” says Price.
After Ivy City fell through, Doud and Price did a presentation on the future of the art scene in D.C., which in their mind would include STABLE Arts. Meyers was at the talk and saw Doud and Price’s project as one of the major ingredients D.C.’s art scene needed. She herself had done a previous presentation about D.C.’s lack of artists space, plus she was already talking to a developer about making something happen. The three of them quickly fell into place and started seriously shopping around for a space.
“We were the right combination,” says Doud, “The secret sauce.”
After teaming up with the Bernstein companies, the group found the warehouse at 327 S Street and fell in love. They ended up getting into a bidding war with Boundary Companies and Folger-Pratt over the warehouse, a bidding war they ultimately lost. Within a week of losing the space, Price was contacted by a friend of hers who said they knew someone who was looking to add an art component to their new building. Sure enough, it was the same building they had just lost. “I was kind of a little grumpy about it at first, but then we met with them and fell in love with them,” says Price.
While it feels like everything that’s happened so far has fit perfectly together, getting STABLE Arts off the ground has been far from easy. “We have short memories,” says Meyers, “We reached out and for every 100 people we talked to, three end up being a part of the ongoing conversation. We have ended up with a lot of partners, but that’s because we have talked to a gazillion people.”
The most difficult parts of the project (finding the space, securing the partners) might be behind them, but it has been a struggle to explain to local developers why they needed more than just affordable studio space, they needed long term, affordable studio space. “Don’t psychologists say that some of the biggest stressors in life are death, divorce and moving?” says Meyers, “And somehow artists are supposed to move every two years!” Up until now, that has very much been the status quo. “I think that some people think they’re being philanthropic by having an artist in the studio for not very much money, while they’re getting their permits to take the building down and redevelop it,” says Meyers.
Price agrees, adding, “We really had to say, okay, we want a long term lease and that’s what we want. It was a push and pull for getting the price per square foot that we thought was reasonable for artists.”
Which is what makes their current situation so unique. Doud, Meyers and Price are working with three different developers on the project, yet they’ve managed to secure long term studio space in D.C. proper, something not many people have been able to pull off. Especially with three different companies in the mix.
“They’re really building it out and they’re really helping us,” says Doud. “This is happening because of everybody involved.”
After teaming up with Boundary Companies and Folger-Pratt, the group scaled down from inhabiting the entire building’s 35,000 square feet, to their current size of 9,300 square feet. While they had dreams of having the entire warehouse to themselves, Price admits that it’s a more manageable size for what they want to accomplish. They plan to have 24 studios ranging in size from 100 square feet to 650 square feet, the idea being that there are space to accommodate artists no matter where they are in their careers. “Scattered throughout STABLE we’ll have artists in different points in their career, with different space needs, and different needs in general, doing different kinds of work,” says Price. On top of that, there’s the 1,100 square foot gallery space, a lounge, a pantry, a shared space that will be comprised of desks and a clean space that artists can reserve whether they’re meeting with a client or they need a pristine room to take photos of their latest work. There’s also an outdoor space which they hope will be a place where artists (and community members) will hang out during the warmer months.
Of course, Doud, Meyers and Price don’t expect their community to be stagnant for 10 years. The goal was to provide longterm studios, but they also want there to be some flow in the space, which is why two-thirds of the studios will be individual leases, and the remaining studio space will be rented out to partners, who will have short term leases. They’ll be working with The Phillips Collection, Hamiltonian Gallery, Transformer, Halcyon and potentially many more groups to bring in a wide swath of rotating artists. The idea being that artists at STABLE will benefit from meeting their peers and networking, while curators will also be able to count on STABLE as a a place where they can find new talent.
“We want to make sure that the model that we create has a sense of openness and that we’re constantly bringing new people in,” says Meyers.
“We looked at about four different kinds of programs and we kind of stole from each,” jokes Doud. And while it’s true that they were influenced by a number of artist studios and groups across the country, including the Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco, it’s clear their main source of inspiration was their experiences at grad school. They wanted to recreate the community and conversations that come out of artists working together in the same space.
“There are a lot of things that we all had in graduate school that we think shouldn’t disappear when an artist leaves school,” says Meyers.
The group is bursting with ideas. As they show us around the building, pointing out walls that will be knocked down (or put up) and windows that will be added, it’s clear they’re ready for the next step, but they know there’s so much work to be done before STABLE is fully up and running. First, they have a Kickstarter to launch and a party to throw. The Groundwork party on February 3rd will be STABLE’s first public fundraiser. They’re going to be filling the space with drinks and music and hopefully plenty of people who want to see STABLE’s vision come to life.
There’s still so much to do before those first artists move in, but the team is optimistic. Before I leave we chat about STABLE’s future in the neighborhood. They’ve been very conscientious about how they’re entering Eckington, but they can see their space changing not just the neighborhood, but D.C. in general. Ever since they started shopping STABLE around, they’ve heard from developers who are interested in doing much more for the District’s artist community. “We’ve spoken with a number of [developers] and they’re very interested in art spaces and also artist housing, affordable housing, which will add to the conversation in a completely different way…” says Price.
After all the meetings, scouting locations and fundraising, the team is still dedicated to their original vision, an artists space that wont just help the people inside, but one that will enact change within D.C.’s arts community. “It’s going to be that people want to be STABLE artists,” says Meyers. “They’ll want to be a part of this community.”
Words by Kaylee Dugan
Photos by Jeff Martin