The organization was cited for its program for young people called “Positive Directions Through Dance.” Barnes, a former dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, started the local company in 1987 with an emphasis on helping underserved communities.
“Positive Directions” is scheduled to be honored by First Lady Michelle Obama in an afternoon ceremony Wednesday at the White House. The First Family has crossed paths with DIW in the past as Sasha Obama took classes during the 2009-2010 school year.
The award-winning program was launched in 1999 with funding from the D.C. Housing Authority and the National Endowment for the Arts.
After three years, the DIW made it a permanent part of its outreach.
“We work with students using dance but also teaching lifeskills,” said Barnes. Right now 30 young people participate four times a week and have sessions with nutritionists, dietitians and financial advisers. “In addition to dance we are working on obesity prevention, financial literacy, conflict resolution.”
Some of the group’s programs are highlighted here:
Right now the program is receiving funding from the city’s Department of Employment Services.
But raising money for all of DIW’s community and professional outreach has been hard during the recession, said Barnes. “In 2006 we moved into our new building in Columbia Heights, we were excited and happy and then the economy tanked,” said Barnes. The professional company, Washington Reflections was put on hiatus and Barnes said he hoped to revive it in 2013. The staff, which was reduced by 50 percent, took paycuts and the budget went from a high of $1.2 million to the current $800,000.
Tfhe award is administered by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, along with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
One of Washington’s largest African American arts businesses, DIW is the only dance company among the awardees and the only local group.
“My hope is that because this is the nation’s highest honor for arts groups working with at-risk youth and underserved communities, the recognition will be looked at as a validation of the work we are doing in the community. That hopefully will make some potential supporters take notice,” said Barnes.