How can Lorton's compete with the D.C. art scene? There's definitely an art to presenting, selling and comprehending art, and for Scott Habes, the Workhouse director of visual arts, the challenge is doing more with less and still increase visitation, sales and buzz.
Habes, 45, sat down with Patch for a few minutes this week and talked about the job he started four months ago. He's a native of Rochester, N.Y., and lives in Chevy Chase, Md., with wife Vera and their 5-year-old son, Leonardo.
After graduating with a dual degree in arts administration and business at the State University of New York, Habes worked for two years as the director of exhibitions at the Corcoran College of Art + Design and 10 years as the director of the University of Maryland art gallery.
There are 90 studios at the Workhouse, 85 percent of which are occupied. At the moment, Habes is working on recruiting artists and developing a comprehensive criteria for artists to become residents.
Patch: When did you know you wanted to do this for a living?
Habes: My first year in school was at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and I studied biomedical computing. They had these tunnels that used to run through the campus, and I used to cut through the art building to get to the science building, and the people in the art building looked so much happier. So, I did the first definitive thing in my life and dropped some science courses and took art instead.
I think everyone has a vision of what they want to be and accomplish in their lives, and I was creative, artistic and good with management. I enjoy making art, but a good curator is generally not an artist, because preferred mediums can influence that curator's decision-making.
Patch: How do you manage artists?
Habes: I wish there was a golden rule. Whenever you deal with 70, 80, 100 people, there's a tendency to think of them as a homogenous group, but they're all different personalities and all have different levels of expression. I think there's a tendency to handle them with tough love, but I try to have an open ear, act as an ally and to have them think of me of more than just a curator.
Patch: The Workhouse is suffering from . How do you deal with budget reductions?
Habes: Well, the Corcoran used to be an arts school for socialites, but a lot of change had to happen to make it what it is today. It's the same thing with the Smithsonian. Their mission had to be re-examined, and so does ours. There are inevitable changes going on, and it's clearly how you go from offering art classes to becoming a professional arts school.
Patch: Can you describe your version of utopia at the Workhouse?
Habes: In June, we had a reception for our Urban Decay exhibition, and things were happening everywhere on campus. There was an electric spirit.
Patch: How do you arrange a show? Is there a checklist?
Habes: There is, for me. I have a criteria, which is this: Content, collaboration and commerce. The content has to be strategically placed for that time of year, and collaboration is found with partnerships, like with our annual Congressional Art competition. And commerce -- will it sell, is it marketable?
But art and the art world is not simple. There is a sweet spot, if you will, that an artist must find in order to fulfill a creative adventure, to do it with a technical mastery and have it connect with an audience. Looking at social issues is an effective way to do that, and the Workhouse is here to create a framework that supports that evolution. There's definitely that 'wow' factor with a lot of our artists. Patty Rice, a portrait artist, can create portraits so amazing that you can't help but say 'Oh, my God!'
The strategy is to become part of the D.C. arts scene. It's different from the marketing of Lorton to people from Virginia. So, how do you do that? With participation in art fairs, social media, with events like Artomatic in Arlington, which featured Workhouse artists ...
But it can be challenging. We're in an economic downturn, and everything is at odds with everything. If you cut art funding in schools or in the community, (artists) are not going to shrivel up and die. Art is at a disadvantage, because it's always fighting for its life, but if you look at history, society is defined by the arts.
Patch: Who are your favorite artists?
The Workhouse Arts Center is hosting these events this month:
- "Commerce: Painting at the Workhouse" until July 31, in the McGuire-Woods Gallery.
- The Workhouse Artist Association Exhibition from July 25 to Aug. 26
- 2nd Annual Workhouse Clay National Ceramics Exhibition from July 25 to Aug. 26