Jackson Open Studios

By Nancy Murphy, nancysmurphy@aol.com

The artists of the Jackson Art Center will open their doors Sunday, May 1, from noon to 5 pm, for their twice-a-year Jackson Art Center Open Studios.

 Jackson School (1890–1971) has been leased by the DC government to local artists for studio space since the mid 1980s. artists are hoping to extend the lease beyond its expiration in 2018.

Jackson School (1890–1971) has been leased by the DC government to local artists for studio space since the mid 1980s. artists are hoping to extend the lease beyond its expiration in 2018.

Open Studios is an invitation to the community to visit the art studios of 40+ local artists who paint, draw, sculpt, and work in the historic Jackson School, a former DC public elementary school in Georgetown, across from Montrose Park, at 3050 R Street NW. The event is free. Guests may take home an original piece of art for a $25 or $50 donation to Jackson’s community service partner, the DC Homeless Children’s Playtime Project.

At Open Studios, art spills from the former classrooms and cloakrooms into the halls and foyers, with food and drink, live music, children’s workshop, and an opportunity for visitors to rummage through the old school building. The Jackson School is one of the last intact red brick DC public school buildings from the late 19th century that has not been converted into residential or commercial space. Every inch of the school, including the janitor’s closets and principal’s office, is used for art, including a working pottery studio on the lower level.

History and Mission. More DC residents are becoming are aware of the Jackson Art Center and its mission to provide much-needed artist studio space in a city where space is hard to come by, and to give back to the city through arts education and outreach, thanks to a concerted effort to become better known by the Jackson artists. The artists reason that the more DC residents know and value the art center, the greater likelihood Jackson Art Center will remain an arts center after its lease with the city expires in 2018.

 with its high ceilings and abundant natural light, jackson school is a perfect place to create, view, and buy art.

with its high ceilings and abundant natural light, jackson school is a perfect place to create, view, and buy art.

The Jackson School turned into the Jackson Art Center in the mid 1980s. Its residential location, ample light, tall windows, and beautiful views of Montrose Park from all angles make it ideal for artists who work in paint, photography, wood and metal assemblage, and pottery. About a third of its members are Georgetown residents and many more are from upper northwest Washington.

Through its lease with the DC government, Jackson artists are required to maintain the aging school building and grounds. The artists voluntarily comply with the Arts and Culture Elements of the DC Comprehensive Plan to align outreach activities to the needs of the city.

 jackson artists exhibit their work at open houses twice a year.

jackson artists exhibit their work at open houses twice a year.

Reaching Out. To meet demand for art instruction at DC schools and community groups, the artists have an active volunteer service committee that matches member artists to requests and proactively reaches out to organizations where we believe we can be of help. This year, for example, Jackson artists have led hands-on arts workshops at DC’s Fillmore Arts Center and the Georgetown Public Library, and have donated art supplies and funds to the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project that supports children in DC family shelters. Artists work with adults at the Georgetown Senior Center that meets at St. John’s Episcopal Church and host art workshops for Nueva Vida, a program for Hispanic single mothers with cancer that meets at the GWU Cancer Institute.

Built in 1890, the Jackson School stood empty between its closing in 1971 and 1985, when the artists moved in. Jackson’s landlord, the DC Public Schools, provided initial maintenance; however, our current lease requires that the artists maintain the building. With rent credits, the artists have been able to hire contractors to repair the roof, remove mold, install a new boiler, and refurbish the windows.

Jackson Art Center artists are committed to preserving the historic Jackson School and are working with city officials to extend its lease, which is due to expire in 2018. The artists are hopeful the city will continue to value their contribution to maintaining a thriving arts center and allow the 40+ artists to stay in the beloved Jackson School for many years to come.


Editor's note: In February 2016, the Burleith Citizens Association sent a letter to city officials in support of extending the art center’s lease at the school beyond 2018.