WASHINGTON--Tim Tate remembers his first time participating in Artomatic, an annual multimedia art show featuring local artists. "I had the best spot in the house," he says. "It was next to the bar, next to the elevator, and facing the entire show."
The location was perfect. Visitors could easily check out his installment, which comprised of nine glass sculptures. These were Tate's first "real" art pieces, and he was the only artist at Artomatic showing glass, which wasn't a popular medium in Washington at the time.
Suddenly, another artist hurried over to him. "I think this is my spot," she said.
"Nope, it's mine," said Tate, showing her the assigned number he was given to designate his location. He smiled; excited to prove the prime location was his.
"Oh," the woman said. "But this is the only place my installation will work..."
She burst into tears.
The next thing Tate knew, he and his sculptures were in the basement underneath an elevator shaft. But no matter how tucked away he was, Tate's talent couldn't be missed. Tate sold seven pieces during that year's Artomatic. One sculpture went directly to the Smithsonian.
"I couldn't believe it," he says. "[Artomatic] really opened the door for me." Today, Tate runs the Washington Glass School and has helped bring glass into galleries all around the city.
Since it began ten years ago, Artomatic has helped local artists like Tate present their artwork to the public. It started as a small group of artists displaying their work for friends and family in an old, empty laundry building on Florida Avenue. This year the show is located in a 275,000-square-foot office building above the Navy Yard Metro station, and includes artwork from over 1,000 artists. The event--which runs until July 5--boasts eight floors of artwork, five performance stages, cocktail lounges, a poetry room, a film room, and art classes for children.
Under one roof, Artomatic brings together artists, designers, performers, art critics and collectors, and provides a venue for them to rub elbows. But it's not just for art aficionados. The month-long event also attracts visitors who know nothing about art, but just want to enjoy an evening out or possibly buy their first piece of artwork.
"It's a great place for people who wouldn't walk into a gallery to buy art," says Rebecca Gordon, an Artomatic board member.
Artomatic relies heavily on donations and volunteerism, Gordon says. All of the furniture and wooden partitions used for the artwork displays are contributed by local businesses, and every artist registered in the show has to complete three volunteer shifts over the five weeks the show is open, carrying out tasks like setting up installations or giving tours.
"The whole show runs on guts, spit, and duct tape," she says.
While Artomatic has helped make a name for various local artists, it's also transformed the way Washington is viewed by the art world.
"It's changed the tapestry of art in the city," Tate says. "Before, there was a void in the art world called 'Washington.'" According to Tate, there was a perception that there were no good artists in Washington in 1999. The reality, though, was there were only a few conservative collectors, he says. "So there was nowhere to show. If you wanted people to see your work you had to show it in a bagel or coffee shop."
After the first Artomatic, however, more collectors came to Washington to seek artwork. "People were representing more local artists than ever before," Tate says. "All of a sudden the world saw us as viable."