Unleashed Creativity

Unleashed Creativity

Local artists test new material at Artomatic 2012

The Batala Washington all female drummer group opened for this year’s Artomatic. The 40-woman drummer group wowed the audience with high-energy rhythms grounded in Brazilian and reggae beats.

The Batala Washington all female drummer group opened for this year’s Artomatic. The 40-woman drummer group wowed the audience with high-energy rhythms grounded in Brazilian and reggae beats.

— On Friday, May 18, an immense display of synchronized drumbeats and vibrant rhythms performed by Batala Washington hailed the grand opening of Artomatic 2012.


After a three-year hiatus, Artomatic returns to the Washington, D.C. area. The 11-story office building at 1851 South Bell St. in Crystal City has been converted to a gallery. There are 1,300 artists with work on display, which means no single trip can do the event justice. Artomatic is free, and proper identification is required for alcoholic purchases at cash bars. Hours are Wednesdays and Thursdays from noon to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays noon to 1 a.m., and Sundays noon to 5 p.m. Artomatic is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. For more information and list of planned events visit: artomatic.org.

Forty all-female members drummed the signature Brazilian-reggae-samba tunes of Giba GonÁalves, who created the international Batala groups in 1997. The Washington, D.C. chapter is one of 23 ensembles that perform worldwide.

“We’re very excited to play at Artomatic, we’re really amped,” said conductor Ellen Arnold Losey. “A lot of the women joined after hearing us the last time we played at Artomatic in 2009.”

Many in the audience were keen to take up the offer. “It was fantastic, I want to join now,” said Alexandria native Arden Colley. “It was worth coming out just to see that.”

This year’s Artomatic boasts 1,300 artists in the largest location to date for the D.C. area’s chief artistic event — filling the 11 stories of 1851 S. Bell St. in Crystal City.

Artomatic is an unjuried event, and the only requirement for artists is a nominal fee to cover building expenses as well as several volunteer shifts. The open, non-judgmental nature of the event means amateur and professional artists alike can take risks in ways they may not otherwise be able to.

“It’s crazy wild and so much fun,” said Torpedo Factory artist Susan Finsen. “It’s an opportunity for artists to play.”

Torpedo Factory artist Lisa Schumaier embraced the quirky atmosphere of Artomatic with a large installation of her untitled work on the ninth floor. The work highlights the role of women as producers, and includes motifs of eggs, nests and diversity.

“The work is about women as producers and protectors of the future,” said Schumaier. “It stems partly from micro loans, when you give money to women it comes back five-fold.”

Schumaier’s sprawling installation is a sharp departure from her standard 3D sculptures. “I wanted to do more than just showing sculptures. At Artomatic everybody is making a statement, they’re driven to say something and make a big impact,” said Schumaier. “At Artomatic you rub up against other artists doing so many amazing things, there’s great energy.”

Fellow Torpedo Factory artist and Alexandria native Alison Sigethy used her installation space on the third floor to move away from her signature style of glass sculptures. The result was a series of “cliffscape” images made from bark, kelp and other environmental material.

“The whole placeless, timeless aspect appeals to me, I like that nebulous look,” said Sigethy. “For me Artomatic is a chance to get some exposure for new things I’m trying, it offers an opportunity to do installation art which is hard to show.”

Opportunities for creative exploration are at the core of Artomatic. While the artists themselves have taken a leap with innovative concepts, visitors are invited to step outside boundaries and to learn more about personal tastes.

“What is shocking to one person might be run of the mill for someone else. It’s a chance for self-analysis, to see what your personal perceptions are,” said Angela Fox, president and CEO of the Crystal City Business Improvement District. “This is by far the biggest and best Artomatic ever, the energy is just vibrant.”

Unlike in years past, the Crystal City location does not have walls separating installations. The result is an array of amateur and professional work placed side-by-side.

The extent of this year’s Artomatic, however, means visitors will have to return multiple times to catch it all. Fox estimates that as many as 100,000 people will pass through before the June 23 closing.

“It’s fun and fabulous and wild out there,” said Fox. “Expect the unexpected and make time to explore.”