It's impossible to have a conversation about the DC creative community without that conversation leading, often with exceptional quickness, right around to CREATIVE SPACE. More specifically: where is it, who has it, and what can we do to get/make/own more of it as a community at large. And so our eyes are o p e n w i d e for examples of people making it work in unconventional locations across the city, whether that's at 411 New York Avenue, the Arts Walk at Monroe St. Market, and – most recently – at The Lemon Bowl, a former deli and current workspace/collective in the Park View neighborhood on Georgia Avenue.
(An aside: the fact that we just referred to a series of art studios + workspaces as unconventional means that as a city, we've got sleeves to roll up/work to put in, both on promoting + educating that these spaces add value and are vital, and on creating more, more, more. But back to the Lemon Bowl!)
Washingtonian had an amazing first look at the space last month, and we were excited to check out The Lemon Bowl for ourselves, and follow up with co-founders (and three of six women working from the space): artist Kate Zaremba, Sill Life founder Holley Simmons (you know her!), and artist/designer Linny Giffin for their perspective on (and the practice of) finding + running a creative space in Washington, DC.
There's five of you total working in the space, yes? But you three are the proprietors?
HS: There are six [of us] total! [Including] Sai Souphom, floral designer extraordinaire, Amy King, kick-ass designer for The Washington Post, [and] Gracy Obuchowicz, yogi and spiritual goddess.
KZ: Linny, Holley and I...are responsible for all the nitty gritty and general running of the space like keeping track of the bills, making sure our on-line calendar is looking sparkly and super fine, responding to inquiries, and planning workshops. Our members pay monthly to have access to use the space. We use a shared calendar so everyone is privvy to what people are planning or needing the space for. However, anyone can submit a workshop to host, you don't have to be a member for that.
You had serious vision when turning the former deli into a workshop + studio - - - and we love the retail aspect of the front room. The Lemon Bowl gets our brains working towards other community-centric, mixed-use spaces in the city like Nomad Yard and Maketto, and we see it less as a trend and more of a response to need. What are your thoughts?
LG: The Lemon Bowl invites people in for an opportunity to be playful. I think we as a community really need creative, community-centric spaces that help us feel connected to each other. Everyone in DC works so hard, but to have a chance to sit down, make something, have an in depth conversation and feel a connection to this place is invaluable.
KZ: People want to get out and be with people! This is our version of a DIY creative space that is solely based on the idea that as makers in this city, we are all here to support each other and find ways to engage in our own unique ways. We've tried to create a communal space (albeit small) where others just like you are quietly trying to make their ideas come to life. Through maker-led workshops we can engage with the community and maybe even bring out those makers who didn't know they were makers.
HS: People tell us all the time, “I’ve been looking for something like this!,” which makes us think we’re onto something. What I think the Lemon Bowl — and these other rad communal spots you mention —provides is a space where people can interact with likeminded folks in a judgment-free zone. That last part is important, especially when it comes to learning a new skill or tackling a DIY, because it’s so easy to get discouraged or doubt your abilities. You messed up that stitch? Rip it out! Paint dripped on your canvas? Cite Pollock as an influence! Dropped a stitch on your knitting? Welp, you’re fucked. Just kidding. Every snafu is a learning opportunity. Let’s figure out a solution together.
Creative workspaces absolutely exist in the city - they feel less few-and-far-between than in years past, but acquiring - and sometimes, even being in the know about them - does feel a little more difficult in DC as compared to other cities. The Lemon Bowl is a great example of strength in numbers - besides splitting the cost amongst a collective, what's your advice to fellow DC creatives ready to take the next step and start looking for a space?
HS: This kind of fell into our lap. None of us were looking for a joint studio, but when a friend reached out to me about a vacant property, it got the wheels turning. I’d say just being open and ready for an opportunity is key. And you have to see potential in a raw space! When we first saw the building — which used to house The Lemon Bowl Deli — there were pretty bad linoleum floors; a full bathroom with a random shower; and a staircase to nowhere that was straight from my childhood nightmares.
KZ: The Lemon Bowl is definitely our response to the lack of affordable workspaces for artists and even more so, it's about making a space whereby the people in it are really just hoping to support one another as creative entrepreneurs in a city that has recently begun to nurture its creative community. I think because the three of us are makers we aren't looking at this as a business more like an umbrella, a network of people who make the thing happen by working together and having an affordable space to host workshops, do product photography, screen print, have a gathering, etc. Our members have the same benefits within the space as the three of us do. That shouldn't be unique, right?!
LG: Good question- this was crippling for me as I'm a new business owner with so many big aspirations and all of the usual fog on how to get from here to there. I have always envisioned myself working in a community with inspiring women and was able to make that a reality when the Lemon Bowl was being conceived. I think you have to know what you really want, what motivates you and then put yourself out there. Let people know what you're looking for and say yes to the opportunities that align with your vision. Stick to your guns, stay open and get creative.
And how did your art/businesses/crafts change once you had a workspace outside your home?
KZ: I honestly feel myself experimenting more with new ideas and thinking more about how I can engage with the community teaching workshops. I went to art school for undergrad and it feels like I am back there in my studio space sometimes. Just knowing there is a fantastic person in a similar place that I can bounce ideas off of or reach out to with a question or idea is pretty amazing. We are also meeting amazing creative people right and left who are reaching out to us excited and interested in what we're doing.
LG: I live in Bloomingdale and I walk along the reservoir up the hill to Georgia Avenue where I camp out at the Lemon Bowl. After working from home for awhile it has been my favorite thing to come home feeling accomplished from a full days work to really relax. Walking away from work feels impossible when your studio is in your bedroom so I am loving the separation.
Walk us through a typical day at The Lemon Bowl, and on your stretch of Georgia Avenue. Who's stopping by and where are you stopping in?
HS: The Lemon Bowl is a completely flexible space, so the six of us come and go throughout the day. It’s rare that we’re all there at the same time — but we absolutely love it when that happens! Myself, I’m usually there in the morning checking on plants and spray-painting things gold (it’s a problem) before heading to my day job. On weekends, I can’t start the day without some coffee from Colony Club. Lunch is usually poutine or some other fried goodness at SmallFry or a plate of vegan mac and cheese from Woodlands. We love being in Park View and have serious crushes on all of the businesses nearby.
LG: I get my cup of coffee at Colony Club. If I have computer work to do, sometimes I'll stay there because it's so relaxing. Then I head to the Lemon Bowl to either fill orders, design something new or experiment with project ideas. If the girls are around, then we're probably off to the races rattling off ideas for The Bowl or for future collaborations. People drop in here and there for order pick ups, to buy a last minute gift or just to say hi. There's a really warm community of neighbors and businesses who we are fortunate to have around us. When the weather is nice I like to go to the park and swing on the swings or try to convince a friend to play basketball with me. re- does anyone want to play basketball with me?