Beyond the Big Chair

New galleries and community spaces pop up east of the river

June 27, 2012

The Gallery at Vivid Solutions is just one part of Anacostia's blooming arts scene.

Washington’s newest arts enclave isn’t tucked away in Georgetown, or even on burgeoning H Street. It’s east of the river, in Anacostia. The area — once known as Nacotchtank, after the first Native American settlers of the region — has a long history of creative expression. Go-go music was born here; graffiti by street artists such as BK Adams (the man behind all those I AM ART wheatpasted posters around the city) dot the walls of buildings. But unlike Shaw, with its recently reopened Howard Theatre, or H Street, anchored by the refurbished Atlas Performing Arts Center, Anacostia has lacked the arts infrastructure to draw visitors.

That is changing. In the past five years or so, a handful of small-but-vibrant galleries have sprung up, complemented by a smattering of new public art pieces and festivals celebrating a homegrown arts scene. LUMEN8Anacostia, a wide-ranging fest that ran over three months this spring, brought dozens of artists, performers and temporary arts spaces together and received encouraging media coverage.

“Anacostia is emerging as a cultural hub,” says Josef Palermo, who works with the Pink Line Project, a group that organizes events promoting local arts across D.C. Palermo moved to Anacostia in 2008. “At the time, there were not a lot of restaurants, really no nightlife to speak of,” he recalls. “Now, a revitalization is taking place.”

That energy comes, in part, from a flurry of investment by groups such as the ARCH Development Corporation. The organization, founded in 1991 to help the area’s homeless, has increasingly put resources into local arts to infuse new life into the neighborhood. It sponsors three closely clustered galleries — Honfleur Gallery, Vivid Solutions and Blank Space SE — along with HIVE, a shared workspace for freelancers. “We want to draw on local and international resources,” says Phil Hutinet, chief operating officer of ARCH. “We want to showcase what will really become the future arts district of the city.”

That means highlighting works by artists such as Amber Robles-Gordon, a sculptor and mixed-media artist. Robles-Gordon has lived in Anacostia for 15 years. “For me, there’s an energy that I get from the area,” she says. When she paints on her porch, children scurry up and ask what she’s doing. Every once in awhile, she scours her neighborhood for old fliers and scrap paper, pieces she recycles into her own work.

Not long ago, Robles-Gordon — who’s shown at several international galleries — had to travel to Northwest or even into Maryland to show her work locally and connect with other artists. With galleries such as Honfleur as an anchor, that’s shifting. “Now, more of us know about each other,” she says. “You have a working-class group of people more like a creative class. It’s about us coming together and finding each other.”

Behind the Scenes at the Anacostia Community Museum
Though the Anacostia Community Museum is undergoing renovations until July 29, it is still offering public programs — such as a behind-the-scenes tour. Guides will focus on the 45-year-old museum’s evolving role in the community. Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, 1901 Fort Place SE; July 13, 10 a.m., free; 202-633-4820. (Anacostia)

Citified: Arts and Creativity East of the Anacostia River
The creative history of Anacostia gets spotlighted at this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival with a full schedule of events. African dancers and drummers, church choirs, hip-hop artists and go-go bands will perform, and storytellers will tell neighborhood tales. Tattoo artists will demonstrate their craft, as will members of a multigenerational quilting guild. National Mall; through July 8, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., free; 202-633-1000, Festival.si.edu. (Smithsonian)

Public Art East of the River Walking Tour
Explore the history of Anacostia’s public and street art with Deidra Bell, as she leads a walking tour of neighborhood gems includ-ing Martha Jackson-Jarvis’ river-themed mosaics and Uzikee Nelson’s quirky metal sculptures, left. Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, 1901 Fort Place, SE; July 10, 10 a.m., free; 202-633-4820. (Anacostia)

Inside Outside
The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with more than 5 million Americans in prison. In Washington, the numbers are even more stark: Three out of four young black men will serve time in prison. Artist Gabriela Bulisova, whose work is pictured below, chronicles the experience of the incarcerated through photography. The Gallery at Vivid Solutions, 2208 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE; July 13-Sept. 28, free; 202-365-8392. (Anacostia)

East of the River Exhibit
From July 13 through Sept. 8, Honfleur Gallery will host its sixth annual local juried show, a great primer to the neighborhood’s hottest artists — with key pieces that explore the neighborhood’s social, environmental and historical challenges. Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Road SE; July 13-Sept. 8, free; 202-365-8392. (Anacostia)

Amanda Erickson is deputy editor of PostEverything.
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