Originality is encouraged at Michael Clements’ ‘Paint and Sip’ business, ArtJamz.
Paint splatters the walls of the Dupont Circle art studio, ArtJamz. Pop songs pound the air and cocktails are served to visitors carrying brushes on their way to creating an original work of art. Professional artists dubbed “creative enablers” are on hand with words of encouragement and expert tips. Quotes from famous painters on the walls provide inspiration: “Art is either plagiarism or revolution” (Paul Gauguin), “To create one’s own world takes courage” (Georgia O’Keeffe).
That’s the scene at ArtJamz, hardly a typical “Paint and Sip” spot. When Michael Clements left his job as executive editor of Washington Life to open ArtJamz in 2012, most people had never heard of a concept quite like it. “You’re leaving your cushy job to start a paint party?” his wife asked. Fast forward five years and Paint and Sip parties are now one of the fastest growing entertainment sectors in the country. And ArtJamz, once based out of a truck, now has three locations — Dupont Circle, Brookland and Crystal City.
When you hear about Clements’ career, you see the boldness of an entrepreneur, a dream-chaser who’s never been afraid to take risks. Born in Florida, he attended graduate school for international communications at American University and then moved to Asia for seven years to work as an actor, writer, editor and artist in Japan and Hong Kong.
It was in Hong Kong that the seed for ArtJamz took root. An art gallery owner he knew would let her friends come in and paint after hours; they’d bring the drinks and she’d provide the space and supplies. When Clements moved to Los Angeles to work as an actor and then back to the District, he never forgot the fun he had painting with friends in Hong Kong. While attempting to recreate the concept in a friend’s Columbia Heights attic, the idea for ArtJamz crystallized.
“The Corcoran allowed me to use one of their studios,” he remembers. “We picked a name and did a weekend where you could come and paint.” It sold out and people kept asking for more. The first two years was “a roving pop-up party,” something Clements did on the side as he juggled duties at Washington Life. When he was offered a great deal on a one-year lease on Connecticut Avenue near Dupont Circle in 2012, he decided to take the leap, make ArtJamz a full-time gig and open up its first brick-and-mortar location. He no longer works out of his car but says he still lives “the life of a nomad” traveling between his three studios.
“The competition is real,” Clements admits when asked about the growing popularity of franchise paint and sip shops. But the competition has only made him focus more on what sets ArtJamz apart.
“Our uniqueness relies on the fact that we encourage original artwork and creativity; that we have a living, breathing art studio,” he explains. “It sounds silly, but we let you paint on the walls, and we’re the only one that still does that. I feel that ArtJamz is the most authentic art experience out there.” Where would Picasso want to paint? he asks. Certainly not in one of those paint-by-numbers shops in the back of a bar.
In addition to the artistic authenticity, Clements says ArtJamz stands out for its commitment to nurture artists. They are hired as staff, not independent contractors, a “key differentiator” in the industry and one that goes along with the company’s mission.
“My greatest joy is to be able to have a place that has generated an entire new employment sector for artists,” Clements says. “Our mission is to make the world a more creative place.”
This story appears in the April 2017 issue of Washington Life.