Opening Night at Artomatic


Artomatic is an overwhelming experience where you will find art to inspire your senses. More than that: it will change how you look at art, moving it from the realm of museums and galleries down to an approachable level where art can and should be made by everyone.

But as an event, Artomatic has its challenges.

Here’s what I experienced on opening night, March 8, 2024.

The Galleries

One of the things that makes Artomatic cool is that it’s reusing office space. They take buildings soon to be demolished, or newly constructed, and use them for temporary artist spaces.

As someone who spent most of his career working downtown in buildings just like the one at 2100 M St NW, it’s surreal and world-altering to see the familiar confines of white-collar life transformed into something bright and colorful where anything is possible in the next office.

Wandering down beige halls and peering into offices that are home to different artistic visions is like viewing a kaleidoscope of creativity. As The Washington Post described, you are destined to find something that you like. You will build a curatorial taste.


You will also get lost, which is part of the pleasure and pain of the Artomatic experience. It’s disorienting being in a maze that could be Office Space but instead is overflowing with people and paintings. I found it helpful to try to identify a landmark – a particular blue painting, two chairs in the lobby, the room with the giant Satan – to orient myself.

Luckily, the first gallery I visited, of my college roommate, Frank Mancino, was easily spotted once I got off the elevator.


The 8th Floor

Unlike the rest of the building, the 8th floor is massive and open, with concrete floors and big windows. There you will find the larger pieces of art, as well as the stage and the bar. It’s the coolest (literally, more on that later)  and most spacious area to visit.

While the line was long at the bar (only one was open), I managed to get myself a beer and see Flo Anito perform (after some sound issues).


Health and Safety

As a veteran of Artomatic, I knew what to expect: stairs. Office elevators aren’t meant for hundreds of people arriving all at once. I took a jammed elevator up but then used the stairs the rest of the night.

If you can’t do stairs, I’d visit during the off-hours.

Wandering the lower levels of the buildings, you will encounter hallways blocked-off with makeshift barricades. Also, some of the bathrooms are out of order and others are without water (don’t expect toilet paper).

The lower floors were stuffy, even with the temps outside in the 50s. Windows don’t open in modern office buildings.

A friend of mine wore a mask. I’m not really a mask person but after being in an enclosed space with hundreds of people (and some distressing coughs), I’m reconsidering. My work-from-home immune system wasn’t ready for this and I have a cold this morning.

The Stalker

My friend Biketifa has an exhibit in the show, featuring political protest art trolling the “chuds” i.e., January 6th supporters who hold a nightly vigil/YouTube griftathon called Freedom Corner outside the DC Jail.

It’s political protest art that is hard to explain to the uninitiated, but if you know the lore, then it’s hilarious. One of his pieces is a photo of an insurrectionist fangirl surrounded by a pentagram with a Latin inscription that reads, “Never going to give you up, never going to let you down…”


I contributed to the exhibit – some of Will’s (Biketifa) work is based upon photos I took – and Red Bike Guy gets a shoutout, along with Anarchy Princess and the Commish, all of us forming a little gang devoted to defending democracy against fascism in DC.

Anarchy Princess is being stalked by Bryan Betancur, a January 6th rioter and Freedom Corner regular who has expressed the desire to shoot up a school.

She has a protective order against him. He’s not supposed to get near her.

Yet, after seeing her talk about Artomatic on social media, he decided to show up:

Will, along with Artomatic security, quickly booted him from the building; Betancur fled before the police arrived.

If his purpose was to intimidate Anarchy Princess (or damage Biketifa’s art), he failed. She’s faced off against worse characters than this and has a network of people behind her (including me).


Red Bike Guy, Anarchy Princess, the Commish, Biketifa

I was already overstimulated by the art, noise and crowds of Artomatic when I emerged from the building to see Anarchy Princess, Biketifa and the Commish talking to police officers.

It was barely 9 o’clock. All this had happened in less three hours of Artomatic. In 180 minutes, I had visited three floors, climbed twelve flights of stairs, drank one beer, posed with Satan, seen countless artists, run into a bunch of old friends, gotten lost, watched a concert, visited protest art that I inspired and put out a BOLO for a stalker.

Hopefully, your Artomatic visit won’t be as exciting. But if you go, be prepared for anything. Inspiring, uncomfortable and a little bit dangerous is Artomatic 2024. Open Wed-Sun until April 28. Free admission.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.

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