svetlana | Jeff Martin | May 3, 2016
Washington D.C. (which we, it goes without saying, LOVE) is many things but “a safe haven for creative careers” is probably not at the top of the list. The army of makers and artists that live in it often hold down 9-to-5 jobs in order to be able to afford it, and the struggle for finding a space to work in (that is not your tiny dining nook in your tiny apartment) is a constant one. And, as much as more traditional small businesses turn to coworking spaces, so do the artists and artisans. A month or so ago we launchedRooms Of Their Own, where we visit and explore collaborative work environments inhabited by women.
We kicked things off with a visit to Brewmaster Studios in Dupont, our second stop was at The Lemon Bowl, on Georgia Ave studio, and now we head to Brookland and Wild Hand Workspace , the shared studio and multi-use art space of photographer/curator Victoria Milko and A Creative DC’s / Panda Head Morgan Hungerford West. The bright space also hosts many events, exhibitions and collaborations. Come on in and meet Morgan and Victoria, and get ready for some major workspace and life decisions envy AND inspiration.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you make?
Morgan: I’m Morgan Hungerford West, and I primarily focus on visual content creation + creative marketing strategies for clients across the food, fashion, and lifestyle realms. If I’m not narrowing it down, I’m all about hands-on visuals and creative lifestyle, and I’m a consultant, photographer, and founder/director of A Creative DC. I’m also an artist specializing in site-specific decor + installations: most recently I combined a ton of spraypaint, lava lamps, and an unheard of number of ceramic cats to transform a restaurant at The Saguaro Palm Springs into a psychedelic-desert-dreamland. The installation projects are a little fewer and further between, and you can mostly find me working online or on my phone, behind a camera, or just generally behind-the-scenes.
Victoria: My name is Victoria Milko and I am an independent multimedia photojournalist. While you’ll typically find me with a camera in my hand, I also do a fair amount of writing too.
How long have you been at Wild Hand?
Morgan & Victoria: Three years this August!
Before Wild Hand Workspace, where did you work / what can you tell us about the experience?
Morgan: When we first got the studio I was heavily focused on large-scale textile installations, and I was working out of a warehouse in Anacostia – my family had a printing business and there was a ton of space and really high ceilings over there, which made it possible for me to say YES to a lot of projects that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to take on. So when my Dad retired and the warehouse was no longer an option, I had to move operations to my Adams Morgan apartment, and there was about six months of spray-painting and structural testing going on the alley behind my place. It was mostly terrible: I was just starting out and wasn’t even at the point where I knew that I had to price my work in a way that supported the space it took to actually get the work done. Now that most of my projects are consulting-based it’s easier for me to camp out at home from time to time, and I’m far enough along in my career that I appreciate (at least the pretense of) work-life separation by way of address in ways I couldn’t a few years ago!
Victoria: My work has really only evolved into what it is today in the last year or so. I’ve been doing photography, curating shows and organizing large-scale art events for years—each time using a nonconventional space. For years I used coffee shops, warehouses and private properties to do work.Having the studio has provided me a creative home-base and place to always come back to. Simply walking in the door given me a sense of creative calm and helps me feel better connected to the D.C.’s incredible creative community.
How did you stumble upon / settle into Wild Hand?
Morgan: The stumbling-upon part was all Victoria! Once we knew about the opportunity – CulturalDCwas working with the Monroe Street Market to fill 27 studio spaces on an as-yet-built Arts Walk in Brookland – the simple fact that this was advertised as Metro-accessible, ground-floor, AFFORDABLE space was kind of all we needed to hear. Was it scary? YES. I’d been working for myself for less than two years and the thought of taking on a lease literally/actually kept me up at night. I was still working like four part-time jobs to make up for what I wasn’t making in my creative career. But going in on it with someone else made the decision a lot easier – Victoria is an amazing collaborator, and I mean that in every sense of the word. Financial collaboration is maybe the least-talked about partnership in the realms of art and creativity but ultimately it can help accelerate the results of both hard and good work.
Victoria: I have Cory Oberndorfer and PhilippaHughes to thank for tipping me off about the studio. During lunch at Philippa’s one afternoon Cory mentioned that artists had been invited to take a hardhat tour of the construction site. Later that night I hopped on my bike and peddled over to Brookland. There was a gap in the fence, so I slipped through (I’ve been begging for forgiveness rather than asking for permission for YEARS now) and took a walk around the construction site. Even when it studio nothing by cement and steel beams, I knew I had found something with incredible potential.I found myself, at 23, I was getting ready to sign a lease for my first small business space and I knew that I needed someone reliable, creative and flexible to share the space with. Morgan was the first person I thought of and texted. I feel incredibly lucky that she was willing to take the plunge with me.
Describe (each of you) what your typical work day looks like?
Morgan: At any given time I’ve got a handful of retainer clients and 2-3 major projects that I’m balancing, plus all things A Creative DC! Every day is different, but they start and end with social media. A typical day will see a few conference calls or IRL meetings, a ton of emailing, and usually a little bit of time gets set aside to attend or pay attention to something in the realm of DC creative community/creative economy. That can mean an art show or a site/shop visit, and I try to make time, also, to get inspired or learn something new: I’ll listen in on a grant-writing webinar or just catch up on podcasts or blog posts. Once or twice a week I’ll have a photo shoot and I’m usually con camera – iPhone or DSLR – so there’s a solid portion of the day spent in editing apps or software. A ton of admin + team meetings happen at Wild Hand, and if the weather is good the garage door is rolled up and Hailu Mergia is on Spotify.
Victoria: I spend part of every day out in the field, whether it be for an assignment or for a longer-term project. From day to day my work takes me across an incredible spectrum of places. One morning I’m photographing someone’s secret marijuana grow room in D.C.—the next day I’m interviewing an oyster farmer in Maryland.One thing people don’t typically see is the incredible amount of time I spend staring at a screen. Countless hours are dedicated to emailing with clients, researching topics, editing photos and video, writing and keeping my portfolio up to date. I’ve also been steadily applying for grants and scholarships, which can take quite some time.
On top of that, I’m also pursuing a Master’s degree, so two morning a week I am in class or out working on new skills I’ve learned from the week before.
Did you know each other before you moved in and how?
Morgan: YES! In DC years we have known each other forever, which is….what? Seven years, Victoria? We were both working at Urban Outfitters. We’ve gotten along tremendously since we first laid eyes on each other. Her work ethic is insane and I can’t imagine a better person to share space with.
Victoria: I met Morgan when I was 18 and we were working at Urban Outfitters. It didn’t take us long to realize that we both had an invested interest in D.C.’s creative scene.
Have there been any collaborations?
Morgan: We’ve worked together in a few different capacities on projects here and there – Victoria is an amazing photographer and content creator – and honestly I feel like the biggest collab we have is an ongoing level of support for each other’s projects. She’s in my corner and I’m in hers and we know the other one will pick up the phone if we need help/advice/love/support.
Victoria: I second Morgan on this one. While the majority of my work involves me working independently, I’ve received an incredible amount of support and advice from Morgan. Sometimes a simple out-of-the-blue text full of heart emojis can really be all a girl needs to lift her head off the desk and push through final edits late at night.
You host other artists and creatives in the space too – for gallery openings and more- any highlights, any amazing discoveries?
Morgan: I’ll let Victoria take this one!
Victoria: I’ve loved all the artists that we’ve had the pleasure of hosting in the space. Before Morgan and I moved in we spoke at length about the desire to provide an accessible location for artists looking to show their work. We lucked out with being given a beautiful wall, surrounded by windows and perched right next to a high-traffic metro stop.Every artist that comes into the space brings something different, and teaches us something as well. It’s interesting and informative to see your workspace through someone else’s eyes.
Creative space is at a premium in DC and we see sharing of the same more and more – what do you think are some of the benefits and disadvantages of working together?
Morgan: No disadvantages on my end, other than the closeness of sharing a space means that there’s, unfortunately, one more person in the universe privy to what a patented Morgan H. West low-blood-sugar-situation looks like.
We’re incredibly lucky to have known and trusted each other for a while – again, we met and became friends in a work environment. There was never any doubt on my end that this was a complete fit, on a friendship level and in the context of a business partnership.
I have so many thoughts on creative space in Washington DC, but to answer this question specifically – financial collaboration gives you a huge advantage. If you’re going at it alone, that means figuring out a way to reconcile the financial piece without taking away from your art/project/craft. If you’re going in with someone else, that’s a few more hours a week you can spend getting better at what it is you do. It took me eleven years to figure out how to get good enough at a handful of things so that I could make a decent living from a diversified income stream – and it took major shifts in the city’s creative economy that had NOTHING to do with me that helped me along the way. By sheer coincidence my skills were sharp + ready at a time when they became marketable in a way they’d long been in other places. A creative career takes patience no matter where you are, but artists need space, and while there’s a ton here that’s usable, very little of it is cost-accessible. Artists who choose to live in DC make a very real choice to make do with less than would be available to them in other cities. So yes – SHARE.
Space costs money and it’s an investment – literally – in your art or your project. Getting a studio in your name means signing a lease and passing a credit check and calling State Farm and getting an insurance policy and a bunch of other shit that no one wants to do, but once you do it you’re really proud that you did, and then you start to think of yourself as a business person, and you speak a slightly different language than you did before. Artists and creatives MAKE THIS CITY BETTER. Space is empowering and everyone deserves empowerment. If you’ve got it, you’re in the privileged position of having been able to advocate for yourself along the way. Pay that forward.
We need to set multiple successful models for what being part of a creative space in DC looks like, and being supportive of your neighbor’s rights/hopes/dreams/needs to figure out what their own model looks like is vital. Want to work with a developer or larger entity? Get what’s yours. A 52 O Street or Union Artssort of situation more your bag? More power to you. Cutting through red tape and bureaucracy and starting a membership-based incubator like MOUSAi House, Ward 8 Arts & Culture Council, or Pleasant Plains Workshop? Thank you for putting in that work, because it benefits SO. MANY, and it helps build a foundation. Ultimately, the most important thing is that we all raise our voices to champion this community’s and this city’s need for affordable space. We’re DIY to the point that we’ll make it happen with nothing, but the cultural contributions of the creative economy are wayyyyy more than is quantifiable with numbers and metrics: quality of life is at stake here, and we need to start speaking the same language as the powers-that-be if we want them to give us more than, well, nothing.
Victoria: There have been countless benefits and not a single disadvantage. Whether it be bouncing ideas off Morgan, splitting rental costs, or just sitting in the same room hunched over our laptops deprived of real human interaction… I’m glad we have each other.
As the three year anniversary approaches – are there any shared co-creative lessons you learned, anything you’d like to celebrate?
Morgan: It’s been really amazing to see both of our careers change – Victoria’s had work featured everywhere from Food & Wine to the Washington Post this year and I am such a proud friend! Also,Wild Hand Workspace is just one studio out of twenty-seven – from our neighbor Cheryl Edwards to our guy-across-the-way Cedric Baker and a whole bunch of artists up the path, that community has been growing over the last three years and there’s a real sense of “we’re all in it together.” That’s worth celebrating.
Victoria: Since we moved into the space so much has happened in both of our careers. Morgan has launched A Creative DC as well as countless other projects—she blows me away every day with her dedication, passion and savvy ways.The larger creative community in DC has flourished, despite major setbacks such as affordable spaces and an inflated cost of living—if that’s not something to celebrate I don’t know what is.
And of course I’d like to celebrate and thank every person who has walked through our door, whether they be a visiting artist, neighbor, client or collaborator. Without them we wouldn’t be where we are today.
What is next for each of you? And what’s next for Wild Hand?
Morgan: I’m excited to have been working with Think Local First and the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development to help launch the Made in DC Program. It’s in place to promote and support the sector of the DC creative economy that M A K E S and having grown up in a family of DC printers/manufacturers, it’s super near to my heart. I’ve got so many other projects going on at the same time (in the very best way!) and next up on the calendar is this weekend’s Broccoli City Festival: my team and I are helming the pop-up marketplace and we’re working with over 70 amazing vendors!
Wild Hand-centric? We’re excited for the Historic Brookland Farmer’s Market to have kicked off earlier this month. Spring/Summer on the Arts Walk is the actual best.
Victoria: I’ve accepted a summer position as an entry-level photojournalist for a weekly news magazine in Myanmar, so between local assignments and meetings I’ve been listening to Burmese rap and trying to get a grasp on basic Burmese phrases.When I get back to D.C. in the Fall, I’ll have a couple months to work locally before heading to the Middle East where I’ll spend a month working on a photodocumentary about LGBTQ culture in orthodox communities thanks to a generous grant from A Wider Bridge.
Between assignments I will be continuing to pursue a Masters in Multiplatform Journalism (with a concentration on video storytelling) at the University of Maryland, and working on assignments with my local editors and clients. I also have two solo shows in the Fall and Winter, which I’ll be excited to share more about in a few months—stay tuned!