- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2001

The Washington Convention Center Authority has announced the recent hiring of Joel Straus Consulting of Chicago as adviser for its $4 million art program.

The authority also designated the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities to manage the art program contract and coordinate outreach efforts with D.C. artists, art groups and residents.

"Our aim is to have the best art in the United States in the [new] center. We realize the importance of art for the people who come to the complex," says Lewis H. Dawley III, who is general manager and chief executive officer of the authority.

Mr. Dawley, who was general manager of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia in the 1990s, oversaw its $2.1 million art program.

"Art, especially local art, was part of the original process for the Philadelphia center, just as it is here," Mr. Dawley says.

The local $650 million convention center is scheduled for completion in March 2003. Now it is a 17-acre hole at Mount Vernon Square in the historic Shaw area just two blocks from the old center.

Convention Center officials traveled to several large public facilities to see how they incorporated art. They visited Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the Pennsylvania Convention Center and McCormick Place convention center in Chicago.

Convention authority officials chose Mr. Straus' firm from among nine for the art consultant position. Mr. Straus was selected because of his extensive experience with large, complex art projects, they say.

Mr. Straus picked Sarah Tanguy, a Washington independent curator and critic, as a member of his team. She was curator of the "Portals" outdoor sculpture exhibit for the "It's Sculpture" project last summer in the District.

"It's very early in the planning process and we're not at the point where we can discuss the project," Mr. Straus says.

He began his career by training as a sculptor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., and working as assistant director at the Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago.

Mr. Straus was asked to curate the $2.1 million art program for the expansion of Chicago's McCormick Place in 1996. "It was my first big project. We acquired 71 works in all media by Chicago, regional and international artists," he says.

He worked on several large complex projects afterward, including one with Vietnam Memorial sculptor Maya Lin.

Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates Inc. of Atlanta and Devrouax & Purnell Architects and Mariani Architects-Engineers of Washington, the joint-venture architectural team that designed the new center, incorporated art in their original plan.

"There are about 100 areas for art for both large public art and smaller, more intimately scaled work. I always incorporate art in my projects," says Thomas W. Ventulett III, design principal and project leader.

"We'll have a real mix of types of art and spaces for them, and we're helping Joel to interpret the spaces. For example, we've designed niches in the walls specifically for certain kinds of sculpture," Mr. Ventulett says. His firm also designed McCormick Place and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities has begun its outreach program with local arts groups and institutions. With Executive Director Tony Gittens, the commission will start a round of community meetings in the next few weeks.

Commission officials will solicit opinions from community members about what kind of art they want in the convention center. The commission also will establish juries to review artists' work.

"We also plan to partner with certain art groups and to have rotating exhibitions," says Alec Simpson, commission assistant director. "We're already talking with the Corcoran Gallery of Art."

Convention Center spokesman Tony Robinson says, "We are blessed to have a resource such as the commission so knowledgeable about local artists."

Another Convention Center mission is to direct visitors to Washington's art galleries and museums. Maps and directions will be distributed.

"We also plan to work closely with the D.C. history museum housed in the old D.C. library and our neighbor on Mount Vernon Square," Mr. Robinson says.

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