Best Model for Breaking into the Arts Scene

When Vincent Gallegos, 25, moved to D.C. for a graphic design job, he knew very few people, but he knew who he wanted to meet: artists, and the creative types who love them. But attending his first opening alone was like walking into a party without knowing even the host. That’s why Gallegos brought something to set himself at ease: his camera. An amateur photographer, he snapped photos of the opening as he introduced himself. He did it the next weekend, too. Soon, he was taking pictures at art events every weekend and posting the photos to his personal blog. Before long, this newcomer became not only friends with people in the scene, but a fixture in it.

“My whole identity as a creative person in D.C. has been bolstered by photographing [openings],” Gallegos says. “I feel like it is really welcoming. For new people who are coming to D.C. I’d say the best way to get involved is to not be shy, and bring a camera.”

Gallegos has made dozens of friends by snapping their photos at openings (disclosure: including me) and even met his girlfriend and now business partner, Dawn Anderson, at a Pink Line event. Now, he’s set off on his own creative enterprise as a freelance photographer, blogger, and graphic designer, and his newly-founded VGDA Design has leveraged many of his art-crowd networking connections as clients. In addition to his personal blog, he also contributes regularly to ReadysetDC, Borderstan, and the Pink Line Project. But photography skills aren’t a prerequisite for meeting other art enthusiasts. Start by checking out listings of openings through City Paper (naturally), the Washington Post’s Going Out Gurus, Brightest Young Things, and arts group the Pink Line Project, which runs a fairly robust events calendar including artist talks and other special events. And don’t forget special events like the Hirshhorn’s After Hours, the Phillips Collection’s Phillips After Five, and the Corcoran’s young benefactors group, the 1869 Society.

“The scene is not that big,” said Philippa Hughes, founder of the Pink Line Project. “So if you show up all the time, you get recognized and all of a sudden, you’re a part of it.”

While showing up to every event with or without a camera will get you noticed, some galleries are less intimidating than others. Hughes cited Civilian Art Projects, the Fridge, and Hamiltonian galleries as a place to be social.

Even though the art scene is smaller and more mysterious than other groups in the District—say, the kickball or charity-fundraiser scenes—it isn’t snooty, says Jacqueline Ionita, director of Hamiltonian Gallery.

“There is no reason to be intimidated, because nine out of 10 people are going to be excited to talk to you and invite you to their space or their studio to have coffee and talk about their work,” she said. “It’s very approachable.”

And perhaps more so, if a camera around your neck signifies that you belong.

“I appreciate the people I’ve met through the art world,” says Gallegos. “It’s made my professional life richer as a designer, and I see inspiration everywhere, especially at art openings. I never expected people to enjoy my photos…but I started sharing, and people came to me.”