Sparkplug for DC Artists

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Curatorial Initiative for Curators


In meeting with artists while selecting exhibitions for the gallery, DCAC’s Visual Arts Committee found that many artists were working in a vacuum. The camaraderie, friendly criticism, and community they experienced in art school were no longer available. We decided to try to create a structure in which artists could work as a collective and perhaps regain, or even experience for the first time, a support network that would stimulate their work and give them access to artists of like minds.

In 2007, Sparkplug was launched as DCAC’s artists collective.

Every two years, participants are sought from all communities in the Washington, DC area to bring together artists from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences in order to foster their development as individuals and as a group. About 10 members participate for 2 years, meeting on a monthly basis to critique each other’s work, discuss exhibitions around the area, and visit each other’s studios. Through this process they try to find common ground and further their practice.

DC Arts Center offers members of Sparkplug a place to meet, helps to organize studio visits, provides opportunities to hone presentation skills, and make connections with arts professionals such as curators, collectors, and established artists. In addition, DCAC organizes two curated Sparkplug exhibitions: one each year.


Tom Greaves
Sarah J. Hull
Shana Kohnstamm
Alanna Reeves
Azadeh Sahraeian
Elizabeth H. Sampson
Alexandra Silverthorne
Sarah Stefana Smith
Madeline A. Stratton
Steve Wanna


Tom Greaves is a graduate of The Art Institute of Pittsburgh with a degree Visual Communication. He has completed The Corcoran School of the Arts and Design curriculum for Advanced Figure Sculpture and Advanced Metal Sculpture. Greaves has been living and working in Washington, D.C. since 1984. He employs a range of digital, conceptual, and traditional artistic media to create 2- and 3-dimensional artwork from his studio on Capitol Hill. Greaves has exhibited his work internationally at Salzlandmuseum, Schönebeck, Germany and domestically at ArtHelix, Brooklyn, New York, Katzen Arts Center, Washington, DC, and The American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, MD. His controversial 2007 installation “The Compliment Machine,” created for the show SiteProjects DC, received national and international media coverage, including an appearance on the Today Show. His work has been included into private collections across the globe.


Sarah J. Hull is a Washington, D.C. based artist who is a graduate of Wellesley College with a B.A. majoring in Architecture (pertinent, required coursework performed at M.I.T). Working with traditional embroidery techniques in a contemporary form, she creates a dialogue between the materials, the hand, and the underlying grids that reappear throughout her work. Currently, she is enrolled in the Royal School of Needlework’s Certificate & Diploma program and is a member of the UK based Society for Embroidered Work (S.E.W.). Counterpoint, her first solo exhibition opened at District of Columbia Arts Center in March 2017.


Shana Kohnstamm is a visual artist from Nashville, Tennessee now living and working in Bethesda, MD. Departing from a formal arts education, Shana pursued a variety of creative careers, including stained glass design and fabrication, bead and jewelry making, theatrical painting and even briefly apprenticed as an ocularist before turning her attention once again to fine art making. Her fascination with sculptural felting began in 2010. Soon after, her work was featured in fiber arts magazines, juried and invitational exhibitions and has garnered several awards in regional art exhibitions. Her love of the craft was actualized in October 2015 when, as curator, Shana hosted the critically acclaimed international soft sculpture exhibit “Touched” in Nashville, Tennessee. Since then, she has been twice invited to teach Sculptural Felting at Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts.


Alanna Reeves is a multidisciplinary artist and writer from Washington, DC. She is a recent graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design where she earned a BFA in Illustration and Concentration in History of Art and Visual Culture. This study and subsequent travel resulted in an interest in language, cultural perception, and origins, with a particular focus on the displaced identity’s pursuit and idealization of the homeland. These themes are reflected through a means of handcraft, narrative, painting, and oftentimes food.


Azadeh Sahraeian was born in 1979 in Omidiyeh, Iran and got her M.A. in architecture from Azad university of Shiraz. Her artworks which remains strongly rooted in design, focuses on the relationship between formation, growth and time. Being influenced by the architect and philosopher, Christopher Alexander, she approaches design as the art of creating living entities in different disciplines. Azadeh and her husband, Arash, have received several awards for their unique approach in architectural designs. Their works and papers have been published in many magazines including IKE conference in Los Vegas and Shiraz contemporary architects annual book. In 2012, while working for a prestigious architectural firm in Shiraz, Iran, she decided to examine her knowledge in a different medium, meticulous ink drawing on paper. Azadeh and her husband moved to the United States in 2013 and they are living in North Bethesda, Maryland.


Elizabeth Sampson is a painter and teaching artist currently living in DC and creating art in Baltimore. She completed her BFA in Painting at George Mason University in 2011, and received her Master’s in Art Education from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2015. Elizabeth’s paintings are inspired by her childhood in Pakistan as well as the ever-changing landscape. She works on large oil paintings as well as miniature works in gouache. When she’s not painting, she is involved in numerous community art organizations, including Hope House DC and Baltimore Refugee Youth Project. She currently teaches at Parkmont School, The Phillips Collection, and The National Gallery of Art.


Originally from Washington, DC, Alexandra Silverthorne graduated from Connecticut College with a major in Government and minors in Art and Philosophy and holds a Master of Fine Arts from Maine College of Art. She uses the camera as a means to understand and explore spatial environments and encounters while often times focusing on the mundane or overlooked elements. At the core of her studio practice, she asks questions about how we understand and use space and place. She works out of her studio at Jackson Arts Center in Georgetown and teaches photography at American University, Montgomery College, and the University of the District of Columbia.


Sarah Stefana Smith works predominately in photography and photo-based weavings, sculpture and installation. Her work use barrier materials—deer, bird, and safety netting, chicken wire and fishing line—to comment on boundaries between human and species, lines of demarcation around difference—race, gender, sexuality, and how modes of difference are used to constitute and congeal belonging. Smith has exhibited in spaces, including the Arlington Art Center, Borland Project Space (State College), Waller Gallery and Gallery CA (Baltimore), David Spectrum (Toronto), and Hammond House (Atlanta). She has been an artist-in-residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Feminist Art Conference, Vermont Studio Center, and 40th Street Artist in Residence. Smith holds a PhD in Social Justice Education from the University of Toronto and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art from Goddard College. She currently teaches in Critical Race, Gender, and Cultural Studies and the Art Department as the 2018-2020 Postdoctoral Fellow of Academic Diversity at American University.


Madeline A. Stratton was born in 1987 in Memphis, TN. She is a multidisciplinary artist and educator living and working in Washington, DC. In 2018, she completed her Multidisciplinary MFA in the Mount Royal School of Art at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), where she received a Merit Scholarship. She holds an MA in History of Art and the Art Market: Modern and Contemporary from Christie’s Education in New York, NY and a BA in Studio Art and History of Art from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. Stratton has experience working as a cataloguer of Prints & Multiples at Christie’s auction house in New York and as a cataloguer of American works on paper at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. She has exhibited in Nashville, New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, with upcoming shows in Alexandria, VA and Washington, DC. She recently completed the Keyholder Residency at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in Hyattsville, MD. In her work, she enjoys using paint, textiles, and printmaking to explore ideas of memory and the juxtaposition of presence and absence. Stratton currently teaches upper school art at St. Albans School and works as a Printshop Associate at Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center.


Steve Wanna is a multi-disciplinary sound and visual artist whose work includes music, sound design for dance collaborations, sculpture, installation, photography, and works for mixed media. Born and raised in Lebanon, he immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of 15, receiving a doctorate in Music Composition from the University of Maryland in 2004. His chief research and creative interest is the phenomenon of emergence. His works often incorporate electronics and interactive software to create pieces that exist in a state of becoming rather than being. In contexts both visual and sonic, the artist often relinquishes total control to become a contributing agent in a larger ecosystem that gives rise to the work. His compositions have received national and international performances and his artwork has been presented in galleries and venues across the United States. He has been teaching Sound Recording and Music Technology at the college level for the past decade.


In 2007 Sparkplug was launched as DCAC’s artists collective. Participants are sought from all communities in the Washington, DC area with the goal of bringing together artists and curators from wide range of backgrounds and experiences and are given an environment in which to foster their development as a group. Each year we feature an exhibition of the entire Sparkplug group.

Around 10 members participate for 2 years, meeting on a monthly basis to critique each other’s work, discuss exhibitions around the area, visit each other’s studios, and meet with arts professionals such as curators, collectors and established artists. Through this process they try to find common ground in their practice and work despite the diversity of their styles, mediums, background and education.

Applications are currently closed- check back in fall 2020!



Sparkplug Prototype; 2007: Djakarta Jacobs, Ian Jehle, Jennifer Foley, Lea-Ann Bigelow, Karen Joan Topping, and Laurel Hausler

Sparkplug 2007-2010: Blair Murphy, Deborah Anzinger, Karen Joan Topping, Kathryn McDonnell, Peter Gordon, Michael Matason, Lisa McCarty, Jenny Walton, Lea-Ann Bigelow, and Mark Planisek

Sparkplug 2010-2012: Chajana denHarder, Chandi Kelley, Dafna Sternberg, Matt Smith, Todd Gardner, Joseph Hale, and Blair Murphy

Sparkplug 2012-2014: Amy Hughes Braden, Lee Gainer, Piper Grosswendt, Michelle Lisa Herman, Rebecca Kallem, Corwin Levi, Rachel Schmidt, and Stephanie Williams

Sparkplug 2015-2016: Casey Snyder, Brendan Smith, Jerry Truong, Michael Booker, Megan Maher, DeLesslin George-Warren, Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin, David Ibata, and Jerome Skiscim.

Sparkplug 2017-2018: Héctor Cataño, Eric Celarier, Alexis Gomez, Sarah Jamison, Ashley Ja’nae, Zofie Lang, Kelly Posey, Katie Pumphrey, Renée Regan, Julie Wills

Sparkplug 2019-2020: Tom Greaves, Sarah J. Hull, Shana Kohnstamm, Alanna Reeves, Azadeh Sahraeian, Elizabeth H. Sampson, Alexandra Silverthorne, Sarah Stefana Smith, Madeline A. Stratton, Steve Wanna.


2007: Chamber Play; artDC International Art Fair in Washington, DC from April 27 to May 30. Curated by Lea-Ann Bigelow.

2008: DCAC’s Sparkplug; Exhibition at DC Arts Center from May 2 -11 with Artists’ Talk on May 10. Curated by Lea-Ann Bigelow.

2008: E32. Participation in slide presentation at 5C Cultural Center in New York City on September 16.

2009: Sparkplug: NEW WORK; Exhibition at Arlington Arts Center, Jenkins Community Gallery, Arlington, VA, from June 19 to August 22 with Artists’ Talk on July 22. Curated by Lea-Ann Bigelow and Blair Murphy.

2009: Findings; Exhibition at DC Arts Center from October 16 to November 15 with Artists’ Talk on November 8. Curated by Lea-Ann Bigelow and Blair Murphy.

2010: Facts and Fictions; Exhibition at DC Arts Center from June 18 to July 19 with Artists’ Talk on July 11. Curated by Blair Murphy.

2011: Something Other Than The Present; Exhibition at DC Arts Center from June 17 to July 17 with Artists’ Talk on July 16. Curated by Blair Murphy.

2012: Loose Ends; Exhibition at DC Arts Center from June 15 to July 15 with Artists’ Talk July 15. Curated by Deborah Anzinger.

2013: External Memory; Exhibition at DC Arts Center from June 7 to July 14 Artists’ Talk July 14. Curated by Chandi Kelley.

2014: (inter)Related; Exhibition at DC Arts Center from June 6 to July 13 with Artists’ Talk July 13. Curated by Allison Nance.

2015: Dis/Satisfaction: Permission to rewrite history, it’s personal; Exhibition at DC Arts Center from February 13th to March 15 with Artists’ Talk on March 15th. Curated by Kathryn McDonnell.

2016: Power (I Know It When…); Exhibition at DC Arts Center from October 21 to December 4 with Artists’ Talk on November 17. Curated by Lea-Ann Bigelow.

2017: Process & Practice; Exhibition at DC Arts Center from February 17 – March 19 with Artists’ Talk on March 12. Curated by Andrew Johnson.

2018: Heritage: Now; Exhibition at DC Arts Center from October 19 – November 25,Artists’ Talk on November 18. Curated by Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell.


  • Provides an advisor who will coordinate monthly meetings and facilitate the planning process for Sparkplug exhibitions and events;
  • Provides administrative support to Sparkplug—maintaining a roster of collective members, scheduling activities, developing and maintaining Sparkplug’s presence on the DCAC website and in the newsletter;
  • Provides opportunities for artists to publically present their work and helps artists hone their presentation skills;
  • Organizes a “Blitz Crit” event for Sparkplug members, bringing together a group of local curators for an evening of critiques;
  • Makes the gallery or theater available for monthly discussions and critiques;
  • Works with Sparkplug artists to identify essential outside expertise (legal, technical, curatorial, etc.) and brings knowledgeable professionals to share information at meetings;
  • Provides a section of the website for information about Sparkplug members and their work, including links to members’ websites and a section about alumni members;
  • Hosts two group shows of Sparkplug artists at DCAC and finds curators to work with the artists for those exhibitions.
  • Meet monthly to discuss their own and others’ work, plan exhibitions, and discuss topics related to professional practice;
  • Identify training and resources that will assist in their artistic development;
  • Maintain DCAC membership at the $60 membership level or above while in Sparkplug (membership includes 20% off all DCAC tickets and events; 15% off first five purchases at Utrecht Art Supplies; bimonthly calendar of events; FREE 2’x2′ square at 1460 Wall Mountables; invitations to member meetings and events);
  • Create new works during their two-year membership in Sparkplug;
  • Provide work for Sparkplug shows and related projects as requested;
  • Abide by the exhibition contracts for Sparkplug shows at DCAC;
  • Represent Sparkplug at DCAC events;
  • List their participation in Sparkplug in their professional materials (bio, website, blog, etc.) and provide a link to DCAC’s website,, on their own websites.