Del Ray Artisans (DRA) was founded in 1992 as a community art center to host exhibits, slide lectures, classes, workshops, and receptions, and to introduce local audiences to fine and functional art. Today, a new exhibition is mounted nearly every month in the DRA gallery. Each show has a different theme and welcomes artisans in every medium, always encouraging quality and diversity.
Del Ray Artisans was initiated by a group of neighbors who met while walking their dogs. They generally agreed that an organization to attract artists and artisans with skills to restore the neighborhood’s distinctive homes would help to promote a sense of community. This resulted in the formation of the Arts Resource Foundation (ARF), whose initials serve as a reminder of the dog-walking founders. ARF was to serve as an umbrella organization for a host of smaller arts entities; Del Ray Artisans, in support of the visual arts, was the first established entity.
On November 23, 1992, ARF was incorporated. On March 24, 1993 the IRS authorized the Arts Resource Foundation “doing business as” Del Ray Artisans as a 501(c)(3) public membership organization. On September 15, 1997, an official filing was made with the Virginia State Corporation Commission to adopt Del Ray Artisans as the name under which business is transacted. The founders included:
- Terry Atkin Rowe & Nick Bayus
- Ann & Steve Campbell
- Adrienne Hollander & Robert Ellis
- Melissa & Rod Kuckro
- Mart & Bob Larson
- Mary Jo Long
- Kathryn Brown & Marlin Lord
- Lorenzo “Larry” Merola
- Dara Schumaier & Leslie Perkins
- Nancy Reder & Peter Pocock
- Rob Reuter (the first treasurer)
- Lauren & Peter Smirniotopoulos
- Tally Tripp & Mark Morrow
In 1992 the founders and supporters gathered at 2210 Mount Vernon Avenue to consider ideas. In January they opened the door to a cooperative gallery there. The group spent three years at this location—enough time to develop a membership and a reputation for bringing great art and new excitement to the Avenue, which was sorely in need of positive “street traffic” and activity at the time. DRA used that space at below market rent, but when all that activity brought an interested, wealthier renter, DRA searched a full year to find another location.
The organization stayed together during that year by placing member art in local businesses and spaces—the beginnings of their Gallery Without Walls program. A juried multi-media exhibit in the Target Gallery of the Torpedo Factory was also mounted during this transitional period.
Then DRA rented 2003A Mount Vernon Avenue—a cozy space where, led by Bob Larson, they built a wall to hold more artwork. The walls of the large restroom facility were even used as a “Potty Gallery.” When a commercial renter moved in, DRA was allowed to continue to use half the space (2003 Mount Vernon Avenue)—on the other side of their new wall. There was no restroom on DRA’s side, and permission was secured to access the former Potty Gallery during opening receptions.
The next move was up the Avenue to the space now occupied by the Dairy Godmother and the UPS Store, with plenty of walls there. Marlin Lord, Kathryn Brown and Ellyn Ferguson painted the bare concrete floor, even though DRA’s time there was brief. Then, DRA moved across the street to 2213 Mount Vernon Avenue—the rounded facade corner building which now houses Bean Creative. They painted that whole facility—three relatively small rooms, two of them with full wall windows. DRA always benefitted by having that “street presence” on the Avenue.
While DRA was at 2213 Mount Vernon Avenue, the Mount Vernon Recreation Center addition was being completed. DRA Member Jane DeWeerd pointed out that the activities for Seniors, which were then held in the Colasanto Center, would be moved into the expanded space in the renovated recreation center. Marlin Lord arranged DRA’s use of the Colasanto Center, as he had most of the previous spaces. By October of 1997 DRA had its first exhibit on the walls of the Colasanto Center. This building includes yet another wall that the members built, led in the effort again by Bob Larson. The new wall separates the gallery from the back of the space, which includes two restrooms and a kitchen. DRA installed track lighting to light the artwork and put many layers of paint on the walls over the years. In 2010 members installed a new bamboo floor. The Nicholas A. Colasanto Center at 2704 Mount Vernon Avenue is leased from the City of Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities. The City of Alexandria is a strong supporter of Del Ray Artisans.
Many discussions about location were held, especially in the early years of the organization. Offers came to move out of Del Ray or to locations not on Mount Vernon Avenue, but the group believed that it had a commitment to this neighborhood. Del Ray Artisans has been instrumental in the rebuilding of the Avenue—part of the “economic engine” that made Mount Vernon Avenue and Del Ray the enviable commercial and residential neighborhood that it is today.
As the organization has continued to grow and prosper, so has the Del Ray neighborhood. DRA is the only arts organization in the area which emphasizes support for emerging artists. Its focus on inclusiveness has attracted artisans with many skills, and the Del Ray neighborhood has gained a reputation of being highly supportive of the arts.
DRA is committed to the development of the local commercial district. Show patrons and visitors to the gallery frequent the many area restaurants and shops. As part of an effort to give Mount Vernon Avenue a boost, DRA participated in the early years of the Del Ray Farmers Market, a Spring-to-Fall activity where the community comes together. DRA, both as an organization and as represented by its individual members, is a strong presence at Art on the Avenue (a Del Ray Business Association event), one of Alexandria’s biggest annual festivals dedicated to the arts. The event typically attracts over 20,000 art lovers to the Del Ray neighborhood in early October.
Del Ray Artisans seeks to promote community-based art in the Washington metropolitan area and to employ the arts as a resource for community development. By having an open and inclusive membership policy, DRA encourages artists and non-artists to come together and work toward common goals. DRA promotes new talent while nurturing established artists and artisans. It provides the first exhibition opportunity for many of its members, who can reach a wide network of clients, artists, and galleries. By also offering educational and workshop opportunities for the public, DRA develops artistic excellence.
DRA has collaborated with well-known art organizations, businesses, and local schools to reach common goals. Among these are Washington Woodworkers Guild, Virginia Tech’s Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center, The Art League, The Choreographers Collaboration Project, City of Alexandria Public Schools, Mount Vernon Recreation Center, the Live Poets Society, Quilters Unlimited, and the City of Alexandria Office on Women.
Information collected from the DRA Board Handbook, the DRA Curators Manual, and recollections by Kathryn Brown and Marlin Lord. Written and edited by Mary Louise Clifford and Dawn Wyse Hurto.
“Alexandria County (which became renamed Arlington County the next year) established a Health Department in 1919 and constructed one of its clinics in Potomac in 1923 at 2704 Mount Vernon Avenue. The clinic was open one or two days a week, concentrating on pregnancy and infant care, functions later taken over by City agencies after town annexation. Seen here are most of the professional employees of the Arlington Health Department in December 1929: Director Peyton Chichester, MD, second from left; Sanitary Inspector Norbert Melnick, second from right; and Norma Davies, RN, a nurse shared with the school system, far right. Missing is infant nurse Minnie Rudasill, RN. On the far left is Henry Latane, MD, who gave tuberculosis tests as needed, and in the center is Sue Brown, RN, who organized the “Health Crusaders” in Mount Vernon School on a volunteer basis to teach the virtues of cleanliness and a healthy lifestyle to local children. The building was also used sometimes by the one-person County Welfare Department, which concentrated mostly on child abandonment and truancy cases, and by the county school system’s full-time dentist.”
—Photo and information from the Virginia Room, Arlington County Library