D.C. Art Scene Picks Up with Economy

By Katherine Sundt
UJW Staff

WASHINGTON — The global economic downturn has taken a toll on almost everyone, but the effect on the art industry has been especially great.

Art galleries and artists in the District of Columbia have suffered a drop in business as a result of the recession. But the impact has been different for every local gallery.

Duane Gautier, founder of the three-year-old Honfleur Gallery on Good Hope Road in Anacostia, said that 2008 was an especially bad year.

“Our full-time artists were tremendously hurt in 2008. They didn’t sell nearly as much artwork,” he said.

Although Gautier has experienced this firsthand in D.C., he added that this is not limited to this area.

“You’ve seen a decline in both domestic and foreign art sales,” he said.  “Even if artists were selling some work in Europe, they weren’t selling any in the United States, because the dollar was so much weaker than the Euro.”

The artists themselves have suffered just as much, if not more, than the galleries.

Lely Constantinople, a local professional photographer and photography editor who has been in the business for 15 years, has personally been hurt by the recession.

“In the last year and a half, it really does trickle down to artists,” she said.

Constantinople said she often gets commissioned by magazines and online publications to do work, but those companies have had to tighten their budgets, too.  Now, they are more reluctant to hire artists from the outside.

“People at magazines are saying, ‘Well wait, we can just get an in-house person to take pictures,’” Constantinople said.

The economic effect on art collectors has played a major role in the success of artists.  Many collectors are finding that they no longer have the means to purchase as much artwork.

Constantinople said, “Collectors — who used to be the bread and butter for artists like me — when their sources dried up, then mine did, too. If they are running low in their reserves, it’s not coming down to people like me anymore.”

Constantinople said her artist friends also are being impacted.

“One of my good friends runs a non-profit gallery for emerging artists. She has been hand-to-mouth for two years now,” Constantinople said.

However, many artists and gallery owners remain hopeful things will turn around because they are seeing signs of economic recovery. Gautier of the Honfleur Gallery in Anacostia has been experiencing recent success.

“Now, people have more disposable income than we had in the last year. The last three months were the best three months for the gallery since it was founded in March 2007,” he said.

The evidence of just how much things are changing is on northeast H Street.

“Six galleries have opened or relocated to the H Street corridor in 2009 and 2010,” said Philip Hutinet, the owner and director of Studio H, a gallery on H Street.

“Is D.C. on the cusp of becoming a major gallery destination?” he asks.

The answer will likely emerge as the economy continues to improve.


Founded in 1975, the Washington Association of Black Journalists is an organization of Black journalists, journalism professors, public relations professionals and student journalists in the D.C., metro area. WABJ provides members with ongoing professional education opportunities and advocates for greater diversification of the profession.