By Julian Notaro
Washington DC is one of the most expensive cities to live in in America. The cost of living was ranked the sixth highest of 2015 by Business Insider. The rejuvenation of the city has many advantages, but it also has the effect of pushing out creative people that make the city so vibrant. It is becoming increasingly difficult for artists to rent studio space in which to work, in addition to living expenses and the cost of materials that goes into their craft. Regina Miele is one such artist. Classically trained and with twenty years of experience, she nonetheless found the cost of operating out of one of downtown DC studios prohibitively expensive. “For the first 16 years I was on fourteenth street until it gentrified and got so expensive I had to move out,” she said.
Enter Off the Beaten Track, a warehouse renovated by the husband and wife team of Greg Kimball and Wendy Hauenstein who turned it into a unique antiques store and affordable arts space. The name is representative, its location is relatively remote, it can be found in a residential area with no metro access away from hustle and bustle of the city, but it is not so isolated that there is no sense of community. Greg’s gregarious and easy going demeanor puts customers at ease as they browse the handmade tables, military issue jackets, and other assorted items. Music plays in on a stereo, and from a back room the sound of Gina pounding a frame into a shape can be heard. The focus is on establishing a community of customers, patrons, artists, and artisans, and they seem to be succeeding.
Gina became “the artist in residence” at Off The Beaten Track, working out of a spacious room in the back of the warehouse, where she manages her dual businesses of painting on referral and developing museum quality frames. Walk in customers are not as frequent as they once were, but Gina says she doesn’t regret the move out of downtown “There’s not really an opportunity for traffic here, but I have a lot more time to paint, the quality of life has been an huge improvement.”
Regina’s career hasn’t slowed down since the she moved out of downtown. Her work space is covered in landscapes drawn for Plan B, a gallery located on the fourteenth street art corridor where she used to work. Being able to stay close enough to the city to maintain roots in the art scene while also reducing cost of living is a tantalizing prospect for many artists, whose financial prospects are often uncertain. As the city continues to grow and gentrify the question of how to maintain affordable housing will be increasingly important, especially for those who depend on the community that the city provides in order to do their jobs. Ad hoc artist communities like the one being fostered by Off the Beaten Track aren’t for everybody, but for those struggling to make it in the city while also giving something back to its culture it could be a blueprint for the future of urban living.