11:Eleven Gallery Showcases UK Art in DC

Nicola Charles, a British native and Founder of 11:Eleven gallery in Truxton Circle, didn’t always know her destiny was to open an art gallery, not to mention one in the United States. However, after a lot of soul searching and recognizing the need for a career change, she moved her life from London, England to Washington, DC in 2019 to start a new adventure.

A Lifetime Ago

Nicola worked as an expat tax accountant for many years in London, England. She managed a team, worked in a corporate office, and built a strong corporate career for herself. However, when her lease came up for renewal in December, she used it as an opportunity to reassess all areas of her life. December is an extremely busy time for an expat tax accountant. With anxiety levels racing, she knew it was time for some sort of change, but wasn’t sure what to do next.  Over the years, people suggested she was better suited for a creative industry but she had not put much thought into this yet.

The Turning Point

One of the first things Nicola did after deciding she needed a change was spend Christmas in Dubai with her sister. She came back feeling refreshed. It was the trip she needed to see things more clearly. When she returned to work, she realized her current role was too stressful and decided this career was no longer right for her. She resigned on the spot.

Quitting a job in England this way isn’t quite as dramatic as you might imagine in the US. Nicola provided 12 weeks notice at her current job which gave her some time to slowly transition out of the company. After finishing her notice period, she spent time traveling through Latin America and the Caribbean. She intended to look for a new role when she returned to the UK. Little did she know, life had other plans in the works. 

Photos provided by Nicola Charles

Inspired by Angel Numbers

Nicola had always had a good understanding of numerology. After traveling to Bali a few years ago, she became more inspired by the idea of synchronicity and angel numbers.  Seeing 11:11 and other repeated number sequences everywhere, she felt like the universe was trying to guide her toward the next step in her life.

One night in Cuba, she visited a gallery with a bar inside and was struck by the inviting space. When she entered the bar, she felt a strange feeling wash over her. In that moment, she knew she had to take the leap of faith to start her gallery. Looking back, she credits this moment as the major turning point. 

Shortly after, someone asked what she would name her new gallery. Without hesitation, she knew it would be 11:Eleven – inspired by the angel numbers. 

The Decision to Move to Washington, DC

Nicola also ended up visiting Washington, DC on her travels but it wasn’t her first choice for a vacation spot. However, she remembers as soon as she stepped off the bus, she knew this was the place to open the gallery. 

“I love the small town feeling,” she says, recalling the friendly people she has met over the last few years.  Nicola sometimes finds the art scene in DC to be exclusive and requires connections with the right people. But she doesn’t give up. 

“Now that I’ve been at it a while, I feel like I am connecting with the right people,” she says, “The less I worry about perfection, the more I meet people who are nice and willing to help.”

Adding to the Art Scene in DC

Nicola says the art scene in DC can be somewhat narrow. “You are either in vogue or you’re not,” she says, explaining that a greater acceptance of different artists and art forms could bring a lot to the DC art world. She notes that other major cities in the United States feature more international artists. As a result, they have much stronger art markets. Her goal is to add a more global art perspective to the DC area. She hopes this will help expand the international art market here. 

Nicola also explains that art mediums are different around the world. She tells me that people in DC are very interested in original art because they perceive originals to be much more valuable than prints. And rightfully so. However, prints Nicola has come across in the DC are often a different quality than what you would find internationally. She understands why people in DC would initially be put off by prints. However, she finds that people are always pleasantly surprised when they visit the gallery and see the quality of the prints.

Photos provided by Nicola Charles

Online Sales and COVID-19

While Nicola puts a lot of focus on the DC market and her physical storefront, she also had a focus on online sales from the beginning. She made works available online before she even opened the storefront.  The online shopping experience had to be good because her initial research showed the DC market wasn’t used to buying art online. Plus, she wanted to make sure she could reach a market beyond the DC metropolitan area. So when COVID-19 moved a lot of businesses online, Nicola did not have a lot of catching up to do. 

“People in DC weren’t buying art online but now there isn’t really a choice.  Also, people are home more looking at bare walls and social media, so they’re much more inclined to buy online now,” Nicola explains while discussing how business is going during COVID-19. “Business has definitely picked up a lot through the pandemic, even though I haven’t been able to meet my new collectors face to face.”

11:Eleven Gallery is also committed to ensuring that art is accessible to all. The gallery features pieces at a variety of price points so sales are not limited to high end buyers. 

The biggest challenge Nicola has faced during COVID-19 has been sourcing new artwork. 11:Eleven gallery specializes in UK contemporary and urban art and Nicola ensures quality by handing picking each pieces for the gallery.  However, this has been a lot more challenging with the current travel bans and quarantine.

What’s Next for 11:Eleven Gallery?

11:Eleven gallery strives to bridge the gap between the UK and US art markets. Even though recent COVID-19 travel restrictions have hindered that slightly, it has accelerated Nicola’s desire to work with more local artists.

The gallery in Truxton Circle reopened at the end of August 2020. Nicola plans to host a reflective show looking back at 2020.  She expects the focus to be primarily the artists’ take on COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter.  She hopes it will be a great opportunity for local and international artists to engage in conversation on these topics.  

Find 11:Eleven gallery at 10 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001 or visit online.  Keep up with Nicola on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @11eleven_gallery.

At a Glance

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