This is the best DC col­lec­tion you’ve never heard of.

Capitol File - - CONTENTS - by KRISTON CAPPS

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...

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