Last year D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood had 30,000 visitors for Art All Night. There were lines out the door of every shop, packed streets, artists selling out of their artwork, and parties powered by deejays and alcohol.
This year, art all night did not last all night. In fact, it ended at 9:45 p.m.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the annual arts festival was held virtually, with attendees able to view performances and local art on the festival’s website. If there were any mixed drinks, they were made at home.
For organizers, taking the life out of a nightlife festival was a necessity. For Graham King, owner of Urban Athletic Club, a gym on N Street, the virtual version was the only way to ensure the event continued to 2021.
“Just keep on swimming, let’s get to next year,” King said. “Just keep everything going, I think it’s harder to restart a project if it stops completely.”
This was not the only D.C. event to have gone virtual or been canceled this year. The National Cherry Blossom Festival, D.C.’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, and the Capital Pride parade were all canceled. Other popular events like DC JazzFest and the Capitol Fourth’s concert happened virtually.
Art All Night started in 2011 by Shaw Main Streets. The occasion was created to promote small businesses and celebrate local artists in the community. Usually, the event would occur in all eight wards from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Saturday, the final night of two weekends of performances, lasted about three hours. The event consisted of prerecorded videos sent to the event organizers beforehand. In the recording, there was a jazz band, a rapper whose lyrics discussed Black Lives Matter, a woman who danced while blowing bubbles, a video depicting the murals of ward seven, and a fashion show with rainbow-colored tulle outfits.
Julie Outrage, a guitarist and singer-songwriter, who performed her newly released single on Saturday, created her virtual performance in a studio. Normally, her performance would have been in a crowded room with sound technicians and applause. Instead, she had the unusual experience of watching herself perform at Art All Night at home alone.
“It’s kind of nice to have control over the situation, which you don’t always have when you are performing a show at a venue,” Outrage said.
Throughout the two-week event, there were over 100 artists featured, some in a virtual art market. The art market included the artist’s name, a slide show of five selected pieces, a small description of the art, and links to the artist’s website.
When Musah Swallah first came to the US from Ghana his friends took him to Art All Night. The year after, his art was displayed in Calabash Tea & Tonic. This year, he was a featured artist in Shaw’s virtual art market. Swallah takes pride in sharing his work with the community but did not sell any art at the event.
“For me, I do not like doing my art and keeping it in my studio, I really want to share so other people can also enjoy what I am doing,” Swallah said.
In 2019, King’s Urban Athletic Club sold $1,000 in art. In past events at the gym, people body-painted models and an “I love Shaw” sign. This year, King did not watch the event because he had Zoom exhaustion. Besides lacking excitement, the virtual format, King said, lacked revenue.
“Art and music is what gives neighborhoods their feel, and cities their feel,” King said. “And I think we just have to make sure… even though we weren’t in person this year, that we make sure that we just take care of our artists and our musicians and all the talent that we have in the city.”
As the headliner, The Chuck Brown Band, a local Go-Go group performed to an empty concert hall, and viewers remembered that there is still a community of artists and musicians in D.C.
Art All Night’s virtual format may have been new, but the varied performances felt familiar. They almost felt like stumbling into an unexpected performance on the street at 2 a.m. in Shaw.
To the crowd watching at home, the lead singer Frank “Scooby” Sirius said, “DC Art All Night y’all ready to have a good time? I don’t hear y’all at home! I said are y’all ready to have a good time?”
There was no response.