Del Ray Artisans, founded in 1992, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote art for the benefit of artists and the community.
The purposes for which DRA is organized are (i) to support new and emerging artists and artisans, (ii) to develop and foster community based arts activities, events and organizations, (iii) to develop and promote the arts as a resource for community outreach and (iv) to make more available and accessible to the general public the full range of creative expression and artistic endeavors in the visual, performing and applied arts.
DRA supports the development of artists at all levels. It serves as a center for thriving artistic activity in the Del Ray community. Through effective leadership and wise management of its resources, DRA continues to expand the scope of its services to artists and its outreach to the greater community.
25 Years of Creating Opportunity Through Art
A Brief History
Sixteen founding members (including 23 individuals, 1 business sponsor and 2 public organizational sponsors) began Del Ray Artisans after Peter Smirniotopoulos had an epiphany to join the artists and craftspeople living in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria into a collective. The dogs belonging to founding members were central to getting to know the Del Ray neighborhood, and the Arts Resource Foundation (ARF) was formed in 1992 and incorporated in November of that year. Del Ray Artisans (DRA) became the “doing business as” name for the Arts Resource Foundation, Inc. in 1997. As stated in Peter’s 2017 treatise on “The Meaning of Place”:
“At its core, the concept was to both change the public perception of Del Ray and also imbue Mt. Vernon Avenue with new life, while simultaneously allowing me to promote the kind of three-dimensional artistic endeavors I found so compelling, like contemporary furniture design, sculpture, ceramics, and fiber art.” –Peter Smirniotopoulos
During the first five years, DRA hosted exhibits, classes, workshops, and receptions while introducing Del Ray to fine and functional art, in 5 different locations on Mt Vernon Avenue. In 1997 the Colasanto Center at 2704 Mount Vernon Avenue, owned by the City of Alexandria, became available upon the expansion of the Mount Vernon Recreation Center by the City. Now in 2017 passing the 25th Anniversary of DRA, the organization continues to be a presence on Mount Vernon Avenue that provides not just changing gallery exhibits 10 months of the year, but workshops open to the public, two weekly youth art camps in the summer, and December holiday markets, as well as social occasions for the public with receptions for the opening of each exhibit.
Creating an Inclusive Thriving Art Community
Offers came to move out of Del Ray or to locations not on Mount Vernon Avenue, but the group believed that it had a commitment to this neighborhood. Del Ray Artisans has been instrumental in the rebuilding of the Avenue—part of the “economic engine” that made Mount Vernon Avenue and Del Ray the enviable commercial and residential neighborhood that it is today.
“The beneficial economic and cultural impact of the arts on our community, cannot be overstated. Organizations like Del Ray Artisans that seek to make art more accessible to the community-at-large and that provide exhibition space to student and emerging artists have my particular support. The arts help to qualify the vibrancy, diversity and culture contained in Alexandria, and in a broader sense in cities all across our Nation. The arts bestow an identity to communities; one that is truly and meaningful to their respective residents.” –Former Mayor Bill Euille
As the organization has continued to grow and prosper, so has the Del Ray neighborhood.
Building Confidence and Inspiring Greatness
DRA emphasizes support for emerging artists. Its focus on inclusiveness has attracted artisans with many skills, and the Del Ray neighborhood has gained a reputation of being highly supportive of the arts. DRA is committed to the development of the local commercial district. Show patrons and visitors to the gallery frequent the many area restaurants and shops. DRA, both as an organization and as represented by its individual members, is a strong presence at Art on the Avenue (founded in 1995), one of Alexandria’s biggest annual festivals dedicated to the arts. The event typically attracts over 50,000 art lovers to the Del Ray neighborhood in early October each year.
“DRA early on became an art space and then gallery where many local artists both displayed and sold their art for the very first time! I have had so many conversations with artists who were elated by the encouragement and opportunity to take the bold steps needed to share their art with the public.” –Co-founder Kathryn Brown
Encouraging Collaboration and Volunteerism
DRA has collaborated with well-known art organizations, businesses, and local schools to reach common goals. Among these are Washington Woodworkers Guild, Virginia Tech’s Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center, The Art League, The Choreographers Collaboration Project, City of Alexandria Public Schools, Mount Vernon Recreation Center, the Live Poets Society, Quilters Unlimited, and the City of Alexandria Office on Women, as well as a not-so-local organization in Mississippi called The Arts, Hancock County, hosting a Show for their artists post-Hurricane Katrina.
With only part-time paid staff, DRA’s activities are primarily designed, developed and implemented with thousands of hours of volunteer time.
Information collected from the DRA Board Handbook, the DRA Curators Manual, and recollections by founder Peter Smirniotopoulos, and co-founders Kathryn A. Brown and Marlin G. Lord. Written and edited by Brandy Lellou and updated October 2017 by Kathryn A. Brown, Dawn Wyse Hurto, and Rita Schooley.