There’s good news and there’s maybe bad news about the Jackson Art Center’s proposed 20-year lease renewal. The nonprofit artists’ collective has occupied the historic Jackson School building at 3050 R St. NW in Georgetown since 1980.
The good news is that it has important support. “The Jackson Art Center is a place of refuge and quiet productivity for more than 40 practicing artists,” testified Barbara Downs, an instructor at the center and a former Citizens Association of Georgetown president. Several art exhibitions, workshops and art-related events are held at the center annually. “The center is such a real gem in our community,” District Council member Jack Evans has said repeatedly. “It’s really important that we keep it there and continue to support the arts.”
The center has signed two short-term lease extensions in recent years; the one signed in 2015 is due to expire in June of 2018. Members pay a $45 annual fee and an additional monthly fee of about $21 per square foot to rent their private studios. The center pays the District of Columbia $145,000 in annual rent.
But real estate developers have been eyeing the large building across from Dumbarton Oaks Park amid some of Georgetown’s most renowned mansions. It is just two blocks from the Georgetown Library and the Book Hill strip of galleries and boutiques.
Mayor Muriel Bowser is on record supporting a long-term extension of the lease, Department of General Services General Counsel Camille Sabbakhan told the Council’s Committee on Business and Economic Development at a July 5 hearing. But Sabbakhan asked the committee to delay voting on the bill because the mayor wants to discuss the terms of the lease before submitting her own proposal.
“We’re upset that the mayor’s office has requested we follow a set of procedures that could take us well into late fall,” said the center’s pro-bono counsel Gary Thompson in a phone interview with The Georgetowner. “That does not give us enough time to plan, with a deadline less than a year away. We are asking the mayor to expedite the process.”
Evans said he would like the city to direct more funding to the center for upgrading equipment and other needs, likely through grants from the Commission on the Arts and Humanities. But that takes time. Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie said at the hearing that he’d like to see the center expand its outreach to residents across the District.
“We need faster progress on the lease decision,” Evans said. The mayor’s proposal is reportedly very similar to Evans’s. If meetings on the topic in early fall go well, the deal could be approved by the mayor without a vote of the full Council.