(Updated at 8:51 a.m. Saturday) Though one of D.C.’s largest art events is set to return this year with more neighborhoods than ever before, its founder and former creative director won’t return with it.
In an open letter she penned to attendees and organizers earlier this week, Art All Night founder Ariana Austin said she’s parted ways with the event. Why? A participating community group and a city agency took her idea and ran off with it, she alleges.
“Art All Night was a terrific idea usurped by our sponsoring organization, not properly credited by D.C. government agencies, and a case study in competing business and arts interests in the city,” Austin wrote.
The problem began, Austin said, when Art All Night linked up with Shaw Main Streets. Though the community group “seemed like a terrific sponsoring organization,” they soon began to take credit for the festival, she alleged. (Side note: Alex Padro, executive director at Shaw Main Streets, said he had “no comment” about Austin’s version of events.)
In 2014, Austin said the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities moved to expand the festival without consulting her. When she contacted the agency, she recalled their response as, “oops, was that you who started Art All Night? Sorry!”
Austin continued in her letter:
This year (2016), the Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) received a reduced amount of funds from DCCAH to produce the festival, changed the subtitle (from Nuit Blanche which I had a license to use to Made in D.C.), but kept the name “Art All Night” (too generic to be protected by law). Of course I sent a note to DSLBD, but they never responded.
In other words, Austin told us, the groups pushed her out of her own event.
“Nobody makes any distinction between the Art All Night that’s happening this Saturday and the other,” Austin told us. “They didn’t credit it. They didn’t say it started five years ago … It’s just Art All Night.”
When reached for comment, Ana Harvey, the DSLBD’s acting director, responded with the following statement:
We are honored to have played a role in supporting this community festival but the credit for its success and continued growth since 2011 is due to the grassroots efforts of hundreds of volunteers and community organizations. We look forward to supporting this and other programs, such as Made In DC, 202 Creates and Mayor’s Arts Awards, that capture, highlight and promote the intellectual and creative genius of DC’s local maker community.
All in all, Austin said she just wants credit for her idea and recognition for the work she and other volunteers have put in over the years. Austin ended her open letter with three suggestions:
DSLBD, DCCAH, and Shaw Main Streets should immediately put the history of the event on the current website and honor the contributions and intellectual capital that they’ve borrowed.
DC Government agencies must do a better job of giving credit where it’s due, and responding to individual citizens with respect especially when they use their concepts.
The time is now for a general convening with artists, businesses, developers, and government agencies to discuss roles and responsibilities for collaboration and partnerships so we can all benefit from our shared interests in this beloved city.
Though she’s not helping organize Art All Night this year, she’ll still attend the event, however.
“I’m going to go,” Austin said. “I have a lot of friends still involved in this event. We helped them build out this project.”
Photo via Twitter / Art All Night DC