This is the latest in a series of profiles about Bates Area businesses. You can see prior posts here. This week, we’ll be looking at 52 O Street Studios at 52 O Street NW. 52 O Street is definitely not the kind of establishment I had in mind when I started doing this, but aren’t artists kind of one-person businesses too, I thought, trying to make a living doing what they love? And aren’t the owners of places like O Street just as much an influence on our community as our neighbors? So I decided to get in touch with an artist and the building’s owner, and that led me to Kendall and Marty.
52 O Street recently popped up in the news because of some potential changes there, and, as I’ve since learned, it generated some passionate debate in the community, not least here on the BACA blog. As a result, I’m going to do this profile a little bit differently. Today, we’ll meet Kendall Nordin, one of the artists who does her work at 52 O Street. On Friday, we’ll meet Marty Youmans, the building’s owner. You can learn more about 52 O Street and the potential changes here, here and here.
Without knowing it, I walked by Kendall Nordin’s artwork every day for months. I must have seen her art literally a hundred times, but I never thought that the artist herself might be working just a couple blocks from me.
Her piece “Now Is Never” was one of six in the street-side windows in the Convention Center on M Street NW, between 7th and 9th. My day-job is at 10th and New York. I passed there twice a day, Monday through Friday, walking by the artwork each time until the exhibition ended in March 2011. I was interested in the artwork – I always glanced at it while walking by – but I never really thought about the process behind it, and I certainly never wondered where the artist actually found space to do that kind of thing.
Honestly, it wasn’t until I visited 52 O Street that I realized the diversity and creativity that hums in that place every day. And it wasn’t until I talked to Kendall that I had any idea what art is actually like as a serious pursuit. In explaining it, Kendall cited that “What I Actually Do” meme that was unavoidable a month or so ago. The life of a contemporary artist, Kendall says, is a tricky balancing act between leaving space for creativity and spontaneity, and working really, really hard to get your artwork out there into the world, for example by writing exhibition proposals.
Which is where affordable studio space comes in. It’s a place you can go, day or night, to concentrate on your work, but still be part of a community. Kendall remembers that when she moved in about five years ago, 52 O Street had more older, experienced artists, including one, Stevens Carter, that became a kind of mentor for her. “The thing you never know is when a 2-hour conversation might be the most important part of your day,” Kendall says, “because it will lead you to think about things in a different way or open you to new possibilities.”
You ultimately have to learn to trust your instinct about what’s important and what’s not, when to focus on that proposal and when to focus on the work. For Kendall, who works in all mediums and even has the creation of a 22-piece women’s rock orchestra in Australia on her resume, art still doesn’t pay the bills. That’s true of nearly all of the artists at 52 O Street, most of whom do their art alongside a 9-to-5 job or a variety of side-gigs – Kendall works in the service industry and as a preschool teacher. That also means that art is a 24-hour pursuit, and Kendall says it’s not unusual to find people up and working at 52 O Street at 2am. “Artists are pretty much the scrappiest people ever,” she says.
According to an Artist’s Statement on her website, Kendall’s work aims to illustrate “the spaces in between, the gaps, the structures and processes just below the surface.” I was really grateful to get this opportunity to see the “processes below the surface” of the art that surrounds us in the city, in galleries, in exhibitions, even in the Convention Center windows, much of it conceived right here in Truxton Circle at 52 O Street.
Kendall just had an exhibition wrap up at Montgomery College in Silver Spring. This article about that exhibit explains her art much better than I can. She is headed to North Carolina’s Black Mountain College through April 8th for her next piece, but you can catch her here at 52 O Street’s upcoming Open Studio, from 11am to 5pm on April 14th and 15th.
Check back here Friday to meet Marty Youmans, 52 O Street’s owner.