The year was 2004, and Jesse Cohen was angry with Washington D.C. It wasn’t about politics or terrible traffic or hoards of school children everywhere. Cohen was fed up with the D.C. art scene.

During that time, Cohen was leading a double life. He spent his days as a research assistant at Georgetown University in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and in his spare time, he was a photographer who wanted to show his work in his hometown of D.C. However, he couldn’t find a way in.

“There is a tremendous cache of art here. Our museums are unbelievable. We are surrounded by amazing art that is free to see. Yet it’s so unbelievably unattainable,” Cohen said.

When he took his work to a local gallery, he was told, if they looked at his work, they would have to look at everyone’s. The rejection only fueled his anger, but it also fueled his desire to do something.

Cohen wasn’t the only angry D.C. artist. In March of 2004, a group of artists met in response to a Craigslist post by area artist Antoinette Wysocki. They discussed changes they wanted to make in the art scene. That night, Cohen went home and created, a networking site for artists, galleries and collectors.

Through grassroots activism, Cohen made a name for artdc. What started as a Web site  morphed into pop-up shows, a studio project, and most recently a gallery. This spring, after a funding-related layoff at Georgetown, Cohen made the leap to a full-time art career. Besides managing the frame shop, L’Eclat de Verre, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, he still finds time to run the artdc gallery in Hyattsville, Maryland, update, and work on his photography.

“Jesse has this giant personality of an art dealer and gallery owner, coupled with a very nice quality to be able to work with everyone. His energy submerges to the entire group,” Cheryl Edwards wrote in an e-mail. Edwards is a D.C. artist and an advisory board member for the artdc gallery.

Although his parents were creative types — his mom has an MFA in art and his dad is a musician and a photographer — Cohen didn’t start taking photos until his junior year at Virginia Tech. Even then, he had no plans of abandoning microbiology.

“Growing up, there was a huge parental push for creativity and expression. There was also a push to have a job,” Cohen said, laughing. “The parental view was, you have to get a degree in something you can use.

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