A fixture of the Washington, DC scene becomes its newest contemporary art museum

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The Arlington Arts Center, an ambitious non-profit space founded in 1974 by a group of contemporary artists in Arlington, Virginia and only a short metro ride from the White House, will reopen on 1 October as the Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington. The organisation’s board of directors approved the name change in part “to reflect its position as a premiere hub for contemporary art and artists and as the only art museum in Arlington County”, according to an announcement. The new name, leaders at the museum say, more closely matches its function as a non-collection, kunsthalle-like space.

“The word ‘centre’ didn’t necessarily convey to the general public what happens inside the building,” Catherine Anchin, the museum’s executive director, says. “We’re in a National Register of Historic Places building that, looking at it from the street, you might not know this is a place with nine galleries, two classrooms and an artist residency programme. And so being able to communicate and connect our name to serve our larger goals was really the priority.”

The museum will reopen with programming that suits its new name, including a new national biennial exhibition, Assembly 2022: Time and Attention (1 October-18 December), which was organised by the museum’s curator of exhibitions, Blair Murphy. Based on nominations of artists by curators at peer organisations across the United States, the show includes 12 artists from nine states. It builds on a previous biennial the institution organised, in 2019, which focused on artists from the mid-Atlantic region.

“As we started talking about the name change, and the biennial came around again, Catherine and I had a lot of conversations and made the decision to make it a national biennial,” Murphy says. “In the arts in general, one of the things that seems to be missing is having these opportunities to connect across geographic boundaries, and being in the nation’s capital, what better place really to do it than here? And especially having the opportunities for emerging and mid-career artists from all across the country to show here and connect with each other.”

Lex Marie, Red Bandit Riding Dirty, 2022 Photo courtesy of Luke Walter

The museum’s other inaugural exhibition, a solo project by resident artist Lex Marie, focuses on the space of the playground as a way to consider Black childhood and the many issues related to race and equity that shape these sites of joy and play. The project with Marie—who is from neighbouring Maryland and based in the DC area—is emblematic of the type of programming Moca Arlington wants to pursue.

“We recognise that artists have careers, and within that career there are many different steps, and we want to be the place where the emerging to mid-career artists can have their first or second or third show, and then move on to the Hirshhorn,” says Anchin. “We don’t see ourselves as competing with anyone, we see ourselves as complementing all the other activities here. Our programming is museum-quality, so the name just better reflects our commitment to that quality.”

The launch of Moca Arlington on 1 October kicks off a busy month in the DC art community, which will see the opening of another institution, the Rubell Museum DC, at the end of the month.

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