There’s a new restaurant in Shirlington with a unique connection to visual art: it’s not just on the walls, but created in front of you while you watch and dine.
Palette 22 opened February 22 with three Art League artists as part of its first class of resident painters, printmakers, and mixed media artists: Lizzy Lunday, Andrea Cybyk, and Jennifer Schmidt. They each spend time each week working with the restaurant as their studio and gallery. We chatted with the restaurant’s art director, Cara Leepson, about the execution of this concept:
What’s involved in being an art director for a restaurant? Is this something you’ve done at other restaurants?
Cara Leepson: As the Art Director for Palette 22, I’ve developed the Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program, worked with a small internal committee to select an inaugural group of featured artists, and curated the artwork on display throughout the restaurant. I also coordinated the selection of the mural artists to create site-specific, commissioned artworks, which will be replaced by something new after about a year. I have not ever done anything like this in other restaurants, as my experience and background are in the commercial gallery and institutional contemporary art museum world.
What’s your background in art?
I graduated from Georgetown University with an MA in Art and Museum Studies and went on to work at Hillyer Art Space, a non-profit contemporary art gallery in Dupont Circle. I then moved on to Glenstone in Potomac MD, a private collection of contemporary art, where I worked for over two years. This is my first “restaurant” job and my first position outside of the more traditional art world setting.
Plenty of restaurants display art for sale — what’s different about Palette 22?
Art in restaurants is certainly not a new idea, however, bringing art to the forefront of the dining experience like we’re doing at Palette 22, truly is. In addition to the original artwork on the walls, we have artists working in the space, eager to engage the guests in their creative process. Artwork covers every corner of the restaurant, including the bathrooms. As a guest, it’s impossible not to be engaged with artwork during your time in Palette 22.
Can artists still apply for future residencies? Are there any restrictions on what kind of art can be created live in the space?
At the moment, we are not accepting any applications or submissions for consideration, but we will re-open the call for submissions at the end of March for the next AIR iteration. We generally encourage artists working in all media to apply, however, because it is a restaurant space first, and there is food and drink preparation happening, we cannot allow toxic materials, work that requires power tools, or work that otherwise requires safety equipment or protection of the artist. This still leaves a lot of room for different types of work, in both 2-dimensions, wall-mountable 3-dimensional small scale sculptures, and freestanding small-to-medium sized sculptures for our display shelving.