Marta Staudinger Speaks Up About DC's Comprehensive Cultural Plan

I was honored to share my voice in “Local Artists Respond to D.C.'s Comprehensive Cultural Plan: the District government has put forth a sweeping vision for promoting arts and culture in D.C., but some local artists aren’t sure it benefits them.” written by Stephanie Rudig and Matt Cohen for the Washington City Paper.

Photo of Marta Staudinger by Darrow Montgomery for the Washington City Paper

Photo of Marta Staudinger by Darrow Montgomery for the Washington City Paper


Marta Staudinger

Curator, director, and founder of Latela Art Consultants & Gallery

Latela is a consulting service for buyers and local artists at various stages of their careers, as well as a gallery and community space. When she opened the space on the Brookland Arts Walk in late 2015, founder Marta Staudinger had to decide between a few different types of gallery models. She could become a nonprofit, but, she says, “I felt like this city didn’t need another gallery like that. There are a lot of really great nonprofits that are doing a great job.” She could take on the risk of a large business loan to get a sizable space and subsidize the gallery’s profits by charging showcased artists a membership fee, or make the space double as an event venue. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” she says, “but the events come first, the art comes second. I also didn’t want to charge artists.” 

“I think about a city where there could be 10 to 12 small galleries like Latela all across town that don’t need to charge for artists’ rent, don’t need to apply to grants, and don’t need to cloud their vision with event planning, who can just be commercial art galleries representing the local arts. But our city is not allowing that,” she says.  

A lack of focus on the arts as their own standalone industry is one of Staudinger’s frustrations with the Cultural Plan. “In the Plan, the language does not separate creative economy from the arts. They should be treated somewhat differently,” she says. “Creative economy” is a fairly nebulous term that’s used throughout the Cultural Plan, and it can encompass anything from fine arts to cooking to commercial architects to social media, depending on who’s defining it. 

If it’s true that the arts are inextricable from the larger economic view, Staudinger would at least like to see fine artists like the ones she represents benefit from some of the economic windfall. “If there’s an initiative from the Mayor’s office to help the art community and the art economy—not creative economy as a whole—why are they not doing something that’s connecting, for example, all the lobbyists they work with every day to the arts?” she asks. “I want to see them having a work of one of these local artists in their home or in their office.” 

“When I think about a Cultural Plan, I want something that’s itemized,” Staudinger says. She desires concrete actions that could be quickly implemented, like creating one live-in artist studio in every new residential development.

She also suggests that when important cultural spaces are lost, the city should provide a plan “that is going to give us two times the amount of space throughout the city in the next five years,” a variation on the idea of planting two trees for each cut down. 

Her vision for how the city can better support the arts comes down to a simple overarching idea: “When I think of cultural planning, I think of looking at a grid of the city. Where does stuff already exist? Where’s stuff being built, and how can we infiltrate those areas with more arts to make a nice ratio? I don’t think it could be that hard. Just give me a map.”