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December 17, 2008

Art in the City

Bowl Madness begins—this Saturday in Washington!  And can you believe it: DC not only gets its first college football bowl game ever, but it'll be the very first one of the post-season. It’s the EagleBank Bowl pitting Navy v. Wake Forest, at good ol’ RFK. Easy to get to, fun for everyone. Please see ad to right, and hope to see you there!


Washington may be known for politics, but its thriving cultural scene is rapidly changing its reputation. Anne Corbett, Executive Director of the Cultural Development Corporation, is one of the forces behind Washington’s artistic renaissance. At the helm of the non-profit since she was 27, Corbett and CuDC work to engage artists and arts organizations in community development. Along with helping develop Atlas Performing Arts Center, Gala Hispanic Theatre's Tivoli Theatre, and Woolly Mammoth Theatre, CuDC was the mastermind behind Art-O-Matic, a month-long arts event that transforms unfinished indoor space into a free public event.


An Army brat who was involved in theater in college but graduated with a math degree, Corbett decided to switch gears at a book store when flipping through literature on urban community planning. Specializing in economic development, Corbett’s first foray into the field was with non-profit Partners for Livable Communities, where she concentrated on sustainable development. “What I learned there was the role of culture in building urban communities. You need to look at your city’s downtown area and see what’s working. We try to build from inside out rather than bring stuff in. Even in the worst areas, there are artists and creative entrepreneurs,” says Corbett, an‘08 winner of the Meyer Foundation’s Exponent Award.


CuDC Board President Michael Abrams, Immediate Past-President Amy Rifkind and Executive Director Anne Corbett pose for Tom Kochel during the renovation of Source Theatre.

With a $50,000 grant from the Cafritz foundation in ’98, CuDC came to life. “We make arts space in a variety of ways,” explains Corbett. “We broker, we develop, we manage; in the for-profit world, those are specialties; we do them all. It could be office space, theater space, housing: it’s both commercial and residential.” In ‘03 CuDC created Flashpoint, a 6,000 SF arts incubator in Penn quarter which houses a black box theatre, practice studios, art gallery, office space for small arts organizations, and affordable artist housing. In ‘06, Corbett launched a $3.5 million campaign to prevent the Source Theatre from being sold and turned into a bar. CuDC bought it and reopened it as an arts space.


While there may be competition between large commercial real estate developers and non-profits, CuDC consults with developers like PN Hoffman, Boston Properties, Lowe Enterprises and JBG to provide cultural space and affordable artist housing. “Abdo recently acquired land near Catholic University. We will work with them, probably as a long-term lease holder of some studios for artists’ work-only space near the metro. It’s a great plan.” Corbett hopes to see something along the lines of Toronto’s 401 Richmond, a former tin factory that houses 130 cultural producers. “It would be a big artsy office building with retail on the ground floor and creative tenants above.” She envisions a café on the ground floor with a rooftop garden growing produce for the café. “The idea is a whole creative economy with B2B relationships in the building.  I would like to see it in a place that needs a fresh perspective, like Anacostia, where it would serve as a catalyst for the rest of the commercial environment around it.” Committed to the happy union of commercial properties and artist space, Anne Corbett is making a DC a lot more culturally interesting.

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