Paint The Town: The Aura Of Ora

What makes someone leave the cozy confines of law to start a hybrid live music, art, and all around multi-creative venue? The Dunes LLC founder explains.
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Ora Nwabueze. (Photo by Jocelyn Weiss)

Michael M. Clements: The Dunes is a bit of a hybrid; part gallery and part music venue. Why the diverse focus?

Ora Nwabueze: The Dunes really is a reflection of the people in the collaborative. We do things we love and they are diverse, so are the people. There was not a “business plan” to be a diverse array; we just are stubbornly true to our diverse selves.

MC: You are a lawyer by trade. What made you want to open an art venue? I’m guessing the pay is better in law.

ON: I never wanted to open an art venue; to honest, I have never considered the venue an art space or gallery. It’s an unscripted convergence of passion with extreme professionalism and execution. By the way, I believe everyone has a different relationship with the money thing. I’m happy with the forecast.

MC: Why Columbia Heights?

ON: Columbia Heights is to me what Brooklyn was when I was living in my hometown, NYC. There isn’t this “strip” mentality like in other neighborhoods; no 18th, M, U, or H street. It’s truly mixed commercial-residential, so there are nooks. I like people who hunt for nooks; I hope and think people who hunt for nooks like us too.

MC: What was the biggest challenge in getting The Dunes up and running?

ON: Just finding a balance in my life. There are so many demands coming from different places.

MC: The D.C. creative economy has always been about established: art galleries, theatres, and live music venues. Do you feel you can stake out a new niche?

ON: To be honest, I don’t think established galleries etc. ever participated in the creative economy. Sort of like the 1% versus 99% movement. I have my opinions about that whole thing, but the fact is people like a lot of different things: music, fashion, photography, film, food, cocktails, etc. The niche, in my view, was and is the “established” gallery. I think what we’re doing is closer to the 99% in that analogy.

MC: Has the “creative establishment” been kind of snotty about your concept?

ON: a) no or b) I’ve been too busy to notice.

MC: What’s the Dunes crowd like? PBR swilling hipsters?

ON: Labels just don’t fit here; you have to be here to see it. Every night it’s just a mix of people who I can’t and have no interest in defining, but for the most part they are wonderful.

MC: Have you had any transcendent moments during your events? Do tell.

ON: Of course, but too many to tell. The commonality is when the magic of the creative exhibition moves the crowd in a way you can almost feel in your bones.

MC: You do a lot of live recordings at The Dunes. What do the musicians tell you about performing in this format? Has anyone ever yelled “Free Bird” during a recording?

ON: No “Free Bird” requests in my recollection. I feel very strongly that proper documentation of live performance is essential to a band’s trajectory. It’s what gets you gigs; what makes you better when you hear and see it etc. Virtually all bands that play here truly “get it”, and I believe are drawn to the venue in part for that.

MC: What do you have in the works for 2012?

ON: More forms of performing arts definitely; maybe a new venue or two or three.

MC: It’s a tough economy out there. Can the D.C. creative scene continue to evolve in this climate of uncertainty?

ON: The “creative scene” possibly; the “creative economy” TOTALLY! I see the “commercial creative” sector as one of the highest growth industries in the DMV. People live here now. They don’t just spend two years working for free and eating cheap garbage meals to leave. They are staying, buying houses and demanding that there are quality venues and artists of all kinds where they have made these investments. Where there is demand, well you know that story.

The Dunes is a mixed media venue, owned by The Dunes Fund LLC, located in the center of Columbia Heights. The Dunes morphs easily from art gallery to: concert venue, retail pop-up shop, cocktail lounge, or private event space.

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