The Anacostia Arts Center has thrived on the east side of the 11th Street Bridge, but Terence Nicholson, cultural programs assistant, still gets worried at times.
When considering new art pieces, on occasion he wonders how many people from other parts of the city might miss the work because Ward 8, where the center is located, still struggles with issues of poverty and crime.
“The center is too often called the city’s best-kept secret,” he says.
Still, there’s no denying Ward 8, which has long been a mixed-income area, is in the midst of transformation, fueled by both gentrification and homegrown ingenuity.
The Anacostia Art Center’s origins are rooted in community revitalization and opportunity, says Duane Gautier, president of Arch Development, which created the center. It opened in 2013.
In a short time, Gautier says, it has become an incubator for art and new businesses, with several in the center itself. Other small businesses are opening nearby. Capitol Hill Crab Cakes opened recently, and artist Craig Kraft relocated from Shaw last year.
“There is so much beauty in opportunity,” Gautier says.
Adds Nicholson: “Hard to say if this is causation or correlation, but we’d like to think that we’ve had something to do with it.”
The center (1231 Good Hope Rd. SE) has come to serve as an open “blank space” — as Gautier and staff call it — for aspiring artists of all kinds.
It is intended to be “rented, borrowed and filled” with artistic expression from around the world and Ward 8, says Amy Lokoff, the operations coordinator.
Lokoff says the 2016 exhibitions “explore the boundaries of urban landscapes” and investigate what can only be seen when one looks beyond blurred city lines and geography.
The shows opened this month with works by contemporary artists Lillian Hoover and Sol Hill. Hoover, a D.C. native, is featured in the nearby Honfleur Gallery. Hill, from California, is in the Vivid Solutions Gallery, which is in the center. The shows are up until March 11.
The center is also continuing its 26-week series “Live Saturdays,” a collection of performances and art showings featuring a new artist every Saturday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Lokoff calls the program a “meeting place” for diverse talent.
For Nicholson, that diverse talent should be enjoyed by as many people as possible. That’s also key for the area’s fast growth.
“I hope that the longtime natives of Anacostia are able to have a stake in the change,” he says.
Ward 8 residents Shawn Lightfoot, a chef, and Amanda Stephenson, an artist, are hoping to contribute to that. Their restaurant Art-drenaline partially opened in the center in December and planned to be fully operational this month.
“The Art-drenaline Cafe is a response to the health and income disparities in Anacostia and the greater Ward 8,” Stephenson wrote in an email. “The cafe features quality food in a community-inspired eatery that is ardent about serving fresh food options to area employees, locals and commuters while training and employing Ward 8 residents.”