// ART OF THE CITY
This is the best DC collection you’ve never heard of.
The permanent collection at Walter E. Washington Convention Center is the largest in DC outside an actual museum. What’s more, it’s free—and worthy of celebration!
ONE OF THE LARGEST ART SPACES IN WASHINGTON, DC—in every sense of the word—is a venue that residents probably never give much thought to. It’s a collection with more than 130 modern and contemporary artworks, which puts it in a class of its own, just behind the official museums in the city and on the National Mall. It’s also 2.3 million square feet in size, which means it’s a helluva lot larger than any museum in town.
The Walter E. Washington Convention Center—that’s right, the convention center—is probably not the first place that comes to mind when Washingtonians think about art. The building’s purpose is almost always given over to something else, and, barring a few events on the annual calendar (Awesome Con, the National Book Festival), is usually reserved for out-of-towners. But culture vultures and residents alike should give it another look.
“Many works came over from the old Convention Center, just south of here, which was built in the 1980s,” EventsDC art program curators Robin Moore and Dena Crosson explain. “The largest number of works was acquired as part of a call for entries. In this case, artists from all over the world were invited to submit works for consideration by a panel.”
Since 2003, the Convention Center has showcased artworks by some of the bestknown artists in the District, alongside some of the biggest names in contemporary art. A lot has changed in the city since the Convention Center opened its doors. Now, it hopes to embrace its place as an anchor in a Shaw neighborhood that has changed dramatically by undergoing a renovation.
The Convention Center is planning an upgrade in stages. Stage one will focus on the building’s exterior, creating a more vibrant façade for shopping and retail centers, in keeping with a neighborhood that is increasingly (and rather suddenly) a destination for luxury outlets. OMA and OLIN, the same architecture and landscape-architecture team that is designing the city’s 11th Street Bridge Park, will take the helm on the project, which includes a 4,000-seat balcony, a more attractive streetscape, and improved food offerings.
Art will be the last part of a plan that’s expected to span four years. “At the end of four years, you’re going to have this completely revitalized and transformed experience,” says Max Brown, chairman of the board for EventsDC. “Art is the cornerstone of that differentiation. There’s been a proliferation of young artists in Washington, and I think we’re going to take [an approach] where the majority of the new art [in the collection] will be from local artists, and the rest international.”
Brown continues, “We want to look ahead to the next three, five, seven, 10 years, and help position our building, using some of that art to represent who we are as a city, and what we’re doing.” For now, he concedes that to consider what the new collection could look like, the city deserves to celebrate what’s here—and what’s now...