Sparkplug for DC Artists

Curatorial Initiative for Curators




Adi Segal is a multi-disciplinary artist working at the intersection of visual art and community. Adi investigates cultural identity and context through screenprinting and mixed media. Her art practice also includes illuminated window installations which use text and color to engage in current civic discourse. She recently completed her Masters in Social Work from Fordham University, holds a BFA from SUNY Purchase, and a BA in Education Studies and the History of Art and Architecture from Brown University. Adi has worked as an artist, art teacher, and community art facilitator in many different communities around the world including central Washington state; Cork, Ireland; and Lilongwe, Malawi. Adi currently lives in DC, has a studio at Red Dirt Studios, Mt Rainier, MD, and is a Screenprint Associate at Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center in Hyattsville, MD.



Alex L. Porter is a Washington D.C. based artist creating ink works on paper. He studied landscape drawing and painting from a young age and as a DC area local —born and raised— he has always had a passion for experiencing and depicting the natural landscapes of the region. Though practicing extensively in a variety of traditional media, he gravitated steadily toward producing ink and watercolor images. After graduating from the Corcoran College of Art + Design he continued to develop his style of landscape illustration toward the current body of work. He has exhibited both regionally and nationally, including solo area exhibitions at BlackRock Center for the Arts, Politics and Prose, and Hillyer Art Space.




Canadian-American artist Caroline MacKinnon creates gouache paintings, ink drawings and hand-built ceramic sculptures that are inspired by the natural world. In 2011, Caroline moved from Mexico City, where she worked as a journalist and translator, to the Washington D.C. area, shifting her focus to ceramics and painting. She also currently teaches art to children and adults. In 2019, Caroline had her first show at Rhizome DC where she exhibited her ceramic sculptures and a participatory installation with found natural objects. Since then, she has shown her artwork in regional exhibitions including a solo show of her vivid gouache landscapes in the fall of 2021 at the Montpellier Art Center in Laurel, Maryland.



Gayle Friedman is a largely self-taught mixed media artist who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Her art frequently zeros in on inherited, collected and found objects in search of their messages and meaning. Friedman is the recipient of several Artist Fellowship Grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. In 2018, her first solo show, Measuring the Weight of Longing, opened at International Arts and Artists at Hillyer Gallery, Washington, DC. In 2020, she presented her second solo show, The Dangerous Playground, at Red Dirt Studio, Mt. Rainier, MD, where she was an Artist in Residence. In addition to her individual studio practice, Friedman is a contemporary jeweler. She lives and works in the Metro DC area.



After the birth of her first child, Kanchan Balsé began painting as a way to release intense postpartum feelings, and to contest the unrealistic and harmful expectations society places on mothers. She uses iconography to explore the interchange between memory, imagination and self-concept. Through layering expressive figures, familiar objects and vibrant colors she explores themes of identity, power, boundaries, safety, and resilience at home and in communities. Influenced by folk and outsider art, she works intuitively to create personal narratives that spark dialogue about women’s mental health.

Kanchan has worked as an educator, curriculum developer, and teaching artist. She holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from The New School for Social Research and has shown her work in solo and group shows in the DC area including Studio Gallery, Dumbarton Concert Gallery, and doris-mae. She lives and works in Takoma Park, MD. 

Louisa Neill is a multi-disciplinary artist ​with a special affinity for ceramics, optics, and object making. She enjoys constructive problem solving and digging into questions that arise from lived experience. Within her meditations on purpose, the future, and choices that matter, she believes that small individual actions count. ​Combining her drive for communication of concepts through sculpture and the interaction inherent to functional work is a primary interest in her art. ​Regarding education as an important avenue toward meaningful societal growth, Louisa has also guided adolescents toward their own art practices since 2004. Louisa is a graduate of both Alfred University College of Ceramics and Maryland Institute College of Art. She lives in NE Washington D.C.

Maggie Gourlay is an artist and arts educator. Her work includes both installation and two-dimensional work that explores the intersection of the natural world and domestic space, with an emphasis on the ecological ramifications of human activities. Exhibits include the 2020 ICA Flatfiles Exhibit, Baltimore, From Plates to Plants, at the LES Ecology Center, NY, Crossing Boundaries & Breaking Borders: DMV Printmaking, at the American University Katzen Arts Center, Adaptation/Migration in the Anthropocene, a solo exhibit inside CULTURALDC’s mobile gallery/shipping container at the National Zoo, Wash, DC; and Not a Sunday Morning, part of Arlington Arts Center SOLOS 2016. Gourlay teaches art at Towson University and Montgomery College. A graduate of Georgetown University, she received her MFA in studio art from Towson University. 


Pixie Alexander’s work is multidisciplinary with roots in painting, dance, photography, and video. Originally from the deep South, she spent many years working in book arts, film, and various wood and craft shops before returning to school to study painting at the New York Studio School. She would later study art history, urban studies, and economics at Hunter College, and then go on to receive a Masters in Urban Planning from Columbia University. In 2021, she earned her MFA from American University. Her current practice is rooted in an exploration of mark-making, figure-ground relationships, pattern, repetition, depth and surface tension, text, and abstraction. Ultimately, she sees her painting as a vehicle to explore movement, language and experience in the world.

Rebecca Perez is a Washington, DC-based artist. Born and raised in New York City of Puerto Rican heritage, she spent her youth studying painting at the Art Students League of New York and Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Rebecca holds an MS in Communications Design from Pratt Institute and a BFA in Illustration from Syracuse University. While obtaining her undergraduate degree she studied painting with Jerome Witkin and drawing with Marco Klee Fallani. Rebecca’s work has been included in various group shows, such as Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, which were juried by curators at the Guggenheim Museum and Philadelphia Museum of Art, respectively. She has also maintained a long-standing career in graphic design.



Shelley Picot is an artist working in sculpture, new media, and drawing. She received her bachelor’s in studio art from Mount Holyoke College and has since exhibited in the DC/Maryland area at Art Enables, Creative Alliance, Betty Mae Kramer Gallery, Willow Street Gallery, Kaplan Gallery of VisArts, and the District of Columbia Arts Center; in Philadelphia at AUTOMAT; and online at Big Toe Gallery; among others. Her honors include grants from the Maryland State Arts Council and Montgomery County Arts and Humanities Council, as well as a residency and grant from the Vermont Studio Center. She currently lives and works in Maryland.



Sparkplug was launched in 2007, as DC Arts Center’s artist collective. Approximately ten artists, from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences from the Washington DC area, are selected to come together to form each new group. Over the course of the two year program, Sparkplug members meet on a monthly basis to do critiques and socialize. The structure of the program creates opportunities for camaraderie, productive feedback, and professional development.

If selected to join Sparkplug, members are expected to actively participate in the program. Responsibilities include: continuing to actively create new artwork, attending in-person meetings, and giving constructive feedback to other artists. Being able to work with other members with diverse practices and personalities is critical. Each member is also responsible for hosting at least one meeting in a location within the DC, MD, VA area.

To facilitate the professional development of collective members, DCAC will organize studio visits, offer opportunities for artists to hone presentation skills, and provide resources for artistic enrichment. Sparkplug members are able to tap into a deep roster of alumni members, in addition, DCAC will help initiate new connections with local curators, collectors, and established artists. For each year of the program, DCAC organizes two curated Sparkplug exhibitions for the group in its main gallery.


Collective members agree to:

  • Meet monthly to participate in critiques, plan exhibitions, and discuss topics related to their art practice
  • Identify resources that will assist in their artistic development and communicate those needs to DCAC
  • Create new work during their two-year membership in Sparkplug
  • Provide artwork for Sparkplug shows and related projects, when 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
  • Maintain DCAC membership at the $60 membership level or above while in Sparkplug (membership includes 20% off all DCAC tickets and events; bimonthly calendar of events; FREE 2’x2′ square at 1460 Wallmountables; invitations to member meetings and events)

DCAC agrees to:

  • Provide an advisor who will coordinate monthly meetings and facilitate the planning process for Sparkplug exhibitions and events
  • Provide administrative support to Sparkplug—maintaining a roster of members, scheduling activities, and maintaining Sparkplug’s presence on the DCAC website and in the newsletter
  • Provide opportunities for artists to publicly present their work and helps artists hone their presentation skills
  • Organize a “Blitz Crit” event for Sparkplug members, bringing together a group of local curators for an evening of critiques
  • Make the gallery or theater available for monthly discussions and critiques
  • Work with Sparkplug artists to identify essential outside expertise (legal, technical, curatorial, etc.) and bring knowledgeable professionals to share information at meetings
  • Host two group shows of Sparkplug artists at DCAC and find curators to work with the artists for those exhibitions




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 Steinberg, 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.

Sparkplug 2022-2023: Adi Segal, Alex L. Porter, Caroline MacKinnon, Gayle Friedman, Kanchan Balsè, Louisa Neill, Maggie Gourlay, Pixie Alexander, Rebecca Perez, Shelley Picot


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.

2019: Light Liminal; Exhibition at DC Arts Center from February 22 – March 24, Artists’ Talk on March 24. Curated By Karen Joan Topping

2020: States of Being; Exhibition at DC Arts Center from October 14 – January 10, Virtual Artists’ Talk on December 10. Curated by Fabiola R. Delgado

2022: Human Nature; Exhibition at DC Arts Center from February 25 – April 3,  Artists’ Talk TBD. Curated by Eric Celarier.