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Meet Brett Johnson, New Visual Arts Director of the Workhouse Arts Center

There's an art to selling art.

Brett Johnson wants to create an artistic experience. After a month-and-a-half as the new visual arts director of the Workhouse Arts Center, Johnson admits to still taking it all in, but one thing is clear - that the complex needs increased visitation, better art and more dramatic exhibitions. 

"I get to have input that does up on the walls, and that's my excitement, that's where I find my creativity," said Johnson. "We need to keep the organization alive, which means that we want to continue having revenue come in… The inevitable conclusion is that it all has to happen simultaneously - creating better exhibitions, working with the artists to let them create better work and increasing visitation to the campus…

"I want to continue growing the number of artists on campus, continue to increase the quality of artists that are coming here, and as the real estate becomes more valuable, we use a higher level of jurying to have a higher level of artists," said Johnson. 

Johnson, 30, was born in Philadelphia, and received his undergrad in art from Virginia Commonwealth University and master's in studio art from Temple University's Tyler School of Art. His career includes a stint as a gallery director at VizArts in Rockville, MD, and as an exhibit specialist at the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. 

"One of the things I want to work with is in getting the public involved differently, whether it's their experience of seeing the artwork as they walk into a gallery, or participating in another way," said Johnson, adding that a recent photography exhibition at the McGuire Woods Gallery featured a collage of cell phone pictures contributed by visitors. "Also, we have the ability to expand our exhibit programs… The thing about DC is that you have great art, but it's hard to see large sculpture gardens." 

Would more provocative artwork bring in more visitors? 

"The notion of provocative artwork - to artists, it's one of those silly things people say to get attention," said Johnson. "My main concern is that we make good art here, make people think, create discussions with the greater art community we live in. I'm all in favor of doing something provocative if it's quality and relevant and has a reason to be here. We won't do something sheerly for shock value. That's not why we're here."

The Workhouse Arts Center is hosting these events this week: 

  • 30x30: See 30 new daily pieces of art from 30 artists over the course of a month, runs until Dec. 30 in the McGuire-Woods Gallery
  • Second Saturday Art Walk: An evening of entertainment campus-wide, Dec. 8
  • Live Onstage - The Cecil Ray Comedy Club: Sat. Dec. 8, $20 (general admission) $25 (VIP)

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