Monday, March 29th, 2010
“I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. There was nothing really extraordinary about my childhood. I played little league and ate Twinkies, Ho-Ho’s and Cheez Whiz. You know, typical stuff. I always had this urge, though, to leave Ohio. I went to college on the east coast and then went to teach English in Eastern Europe. After that, I went to law school and moved to Washington. When I was moving, everybody said, ‘You don’t want to live in Washington. It is dangerous.’ So, I joined all of the other young, white, upwardly mobile people and lived in my little enclave in Arlington, Virginia where I still am. But I have always worked in downtown Washington.
“My first job was practicing tax law, which I did for seven years. When I look back, it was worse than a bad marriage! Where did my life go for those seven years? I used to travel a lot to sustain myself and also spent a lot of time on the Internet. Without the Internet, I would have killed myself. I am a master of web surfing and minimizing the screen when your boss comes into the room. I used to joke with a colleague of mine that I have read every site on the Internet. During that time, I also started buying and selling art that I would buy on eBay and Craigslist and resell at auctions. I have always been into art and I also started getting into design. I didn’t even know what I was doing. I just started buying pieces that I liked.
“My first idea big idea on how to leave law was to open a wine bar in Washington. This was way back before they opened one up on every street corner. My business partner and I passed around the idea for five years, but things kept falling apart. We never found space and ultimately me and my business partner broke up. At the same time, art was becoming like a drug to me and I thought about opening a gallery. There was no one doing unique and museum quality 21st century functional art. I hate to call it furniture, but that is a simple way to describe some of the pieces.
“I put together a business plan and went to go and see the Cultural Development Corporation, who told me about this space above Conner Contemporary Gallery. I drove by last summer and my first thought was that I did not want to open a space in Trinidad. Last year, there were police blocking people from bringing guns into Trinidad because it had the highest homicide rate in the city. But I really liked the space and think that Conner Contemporary is one of the best galleries in the country. So, I decided to pursue it. I only told my family and a couple of friends about the gallery. With the wine bar, I told everyone under the sun and ultimately it got to be embarrassing because people thought I was all talk. With the gallery, I didn’t tell anyone until the lease was signed. People thought I was crazy for doing it in this economy and in Trinidad. But people’s second response was, ‘I am really proud of you. That’s amazing that you’re opening a gallery.’
“I found artists who were receptive and were very interested in Washington. No matter what you think about Barack Obama, he has brought a lot of energy to this city. My first artist was a guy named Shlomo Harush. When the show opened, my law firm sent out an email to every single lawyer, almost 250 lawyers, in my firm. Only three of them emailed me back to congratulate me! Even better, one of partners I work with daily to this day has never said a word about it. I was stunned, but it opened my eyes, too, that I made the right decision. Now, I am still doing two jobs, but the goal is obviously to transition into doing this full-time. Even if I lose everything, at least I can say that I did it. I did not want to have any regrets.
“So far, I have been getting a great response outside of Washington. But, in Washington, things have been slower to catch on. I always joke that Washington is ten years behind what is happening in New York. For example, this whole cupcake fad, come on! Wow, Congratu-fucking-lations Washington, you have cupcakes! New York had them ten years ago. We need to catch up with the rest of the nation. People in New York just think we must be a bunch of backwards hicks because we are so behind the times. I live here and love it, but I want to drag people, myself included, into the 21st century with my gallery. I want this gallery to have a national focus, but to also make it clear that Washington can be an important design resource.”
Craig Appelbaum is the owner of the Industry Gallery at 1358 Florida Avenue NE.