Old Entrance by M.V. Jantzen
Decades after the trolley system was shut down at Dupont Circle, the city is still looking for a viable use for the abandoned underground space. The last attempt was a food court, creatively named “Dupont Down Under”, however it failed miserably and was only open for a year. In 2007 a proposal to create some adult strip clubs was circulated but not surprisingly it was shot down.
The Post is reporting that the city will be putting out a request for proposals next month to solicit possible uses for the 100,000 square foot space. Council Member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) says, “It needs to be a destination place that people will come to.” What a novel idea.
One group, the Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground, is proposing that the space be used for “an exhibition and event space for the arts community”. The tunnels would be cleaned up and retrofitted with museum-quality lighting and would be a place to “take in avant-garde art shows and exhibits of experimental architecture.”
This doesn’t sound like a “destination place” unless it has an edge to it and is done in a “New York state of mind”. All too often we see art projects around the city that lack what is needed for people around the world to say, “Wow, what are those people up to in DC? Let’s go check it out.” Case in point, “The Bicycle Musician”, the ultra conservative, boring statue that is slated for Adams Morgan. We don’t need a polite place with nice lighting to show art. We need something edgy, something crazy, something along the lines of The Bubble.
If DC can’t come up with its own edgy idea, it should copy one that already exists. There is an underground performance space in London called “Shunt” that I visited last fall. It’s dark, musty and raw. The lighting is terrible. In one section of the tunnel is a light and sound display, mixed with a fog machine that gives you the creeps. In another section, a string quartet performs classical music on a loft built using two-by-fours. Around the corner, performance artists act out a sex show as they writhe to techno music. Up a set of stairs you will find a table where you can make your own mustache out of felt and double-sided tape. Shunt is constantly changing as different groups inherit the space and make it their own.
I have hope that DC will come up with a creative use for the abandoned tunnels, but I’m worried that we’re a little too comfortable in our khaki pants and button down shirts. Maybe we should just try the food court idea again.