Monday, June 1, 2009

One of the only places to grab a beer near the 14-month-old Washington Nationals ballpark for the next five weeks will have an added perk - lots of art.

The 10th annual Artomatic festival has moved to Washington’s new, slow-developing ballpark neighborhood this year, filling all nine floors of a new office building above the Navy Yard Metro station. It was completed months ago, but has gone unused because of the sluggish economy. Organizers expect the festival, open through July 5, to draw 70,000 visitors.

“Is there any better way to make use of an empty building in the middle of a recession?” asked Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s nonvoting member of Congress. The building’s loftlike space overlooks the city’s monuments, rivers and ballpark.

About half of the show’s more than 1,500 artists come from Maryland and Virginia this year. Participants hail from as far away as Sunderland, England, the District’s sister city, which is the ancestral home of George Washington.

Organizers said the show has become one of the largest group exhibitions in the nation.

“You can reach an audience that you can never reach by sending out slides and CDs, saying ‘Please take a look at my work,’ ” said Sheila Crider, a D.C. artist who is showing her work at the festival for the sixth time.

The nine floors of art this year are filled with stages for cabaret, dance and music; a theater to screen films; dozens of photographs and installations (including presidents painted in drag) and even a tattoo parlor. Also in the mix: bars, swank lounges and food to eat.

“This is not the same Southeast that people envision,” said Eric Siegel, chairman of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District, noting that a stream of residents has been moving into new condos in what has long been one of the city’s poorest areas.

As for the neighborhood’s slow start, developers still hope to create an entertainment district near the ballpark with restaurants, shops, housing and offices by 2013.

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