The Hidden Treasures of Anacostia


March 5

All articles are written by YJDP Student Correspondents and edited by mentors from The Washington Post prior to publishing.

A porch waited with columns decorated and painted with African symbols and patterns. One could try to take a peek inside, but all the windows allowed you to see was the shelves aligned against the wall on the inside that held knick knacks and other art from all over the world.

Inside, Barry Blackman, curator at the Anacostia Art Gallery and Boutique said, “We have art work in this gallery ranging from $2 to $8,000.” Situated near the heart of Anacostia, the art gallery and boutique used to be the home of Juanita Britton, an entrepreneur who is now the Queen Mother Botwe Nana Adobea II of Konko Village in Ghana, West Africa. It is now home to artwork created by people of color from the United States, Brazil, South America, Colombia, Caribbean and Central America.

One can imagine that someone lived there before. The house is two floors. Upstairs there are three rooms, one used for management, and the other two filled with paintings and clothes and earrings. Downstairs, there is a kitchen, living room, and dining room. Every corner and wall space is decorated with something ready to be bought. Blackman explained that a resident artist used to live in the basement of the house and while Britton was out on work affairs, she came back to a house painted so many different colors, as well as a portrait of her on the wall, and she loved it.

Open all year long, summer and spring is when the gallery gets a lot of visitors. People come to listen to spoken word and watch films in the garden, as well as eat food from places all over Africa. They come to listen to the music that blares from the iPod and their speakers, which reminds visitors of a beautiful village in Africa.

The house is the same way it was when Juanita lived there. Blackman described the place as being almost like a “daycare” when Britton lived there. Children from the community would come to visit her and she would mentor them. She was sometimes called “the fairy godmother,” because she loved to give back to her community.

The art gallery is partnered with and next door to the Anacostia Community Museum. Myra Hines, museum docent said,“I’ve seen Washington, D.C., go through a cycle, working here helps me stay connected with my community and helps me teach my grandchildren” when explaining why she wanted to work at the museum.

While there are only two exhibits at the museum, “Separate and Unequaled:Black Baseball in the District of Columbia” and “Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and Art of Independence,” that doesn’t limit the museum from offering activities and workshops to the community. In honor of the beadwork exhibit, there are workshops offered to teach people how to beadwork like the Ubuhle women do. “Ubuhle” means beautiful. The Ubuhle women live in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The group was started in 1999 by Bev Gibson, master beader, who felt beadworking was a way to empower women and help them provide for their families through art.

While the Anacostia Community museum and art gallery has so much to show to the public, both places seem hidden and often times unknown. Hines says Smithsonian shuttles bring people to the museum during the summer, but it’s not enough.

Paul Perry, director of Education at the Anacostia Community Museum said, “We are a community-based museum, and we look at community issues in a very broad scope --issues that affect not only Southeast Washington but also issues that affect communities nationally and internationally and that’s what makes us very unique within the Smithsonian museum system.”

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