A vid sneaker collector Ian Callender loved his hobby so much, in 2005 he threw a sneaker party for his 23th birthday at Eyebar nightclub.
“The concept of the party was to make it a free event for people to come and experience this subculture,” he says. “[It] was my way of sharing that love and that passion that I had for sneakers with the general public.”
A decade later, he’s still producing community events. But now he’s sharing a love of art instead of athletic shoes as the vice president of Blind Whino . This nonprofit group promotes art throughout the District and manages a visually striking event venue in Southwest Washington.
The former Friendship Baptist Church (700 Delaware Ave. SW), constructed in 1886, had been vacant for more than 20 years when Atlanta artist Alex Brewer painted a colorful mural over the exterior in October 2012. He used huge patches of pinks, blues, oranges, yellows and greens.
Three months later, Callender saw the result and immediately wanted to transform the building into a cultural center. He got Heineken to sponsor a mural project on interior walls, as well as four outdoor walls in sections of the city.
On Aug. 26, 2013, Callender and his co-founder, Shane Pomajambo, held their first Blind Whino event. The name draws from Pomajambo’s Art Whino gallery and the term “blind pig,” slang for speakeasy.
They’ve been hosting festivities ever since. At first, they planned to do one thing: produce art programming. By mid-2014, they repositioned the building as “a private rental facility, but still programming art and having that community concept,” Callender says.
Part of the ground floor has white walls for artists’ shows, which are open to the public on Sundays. Vibrant hues cover the walls of other event space.
Robyn Dixon of “The Real Housewives of Potomac” recently hosted a launch party for a wig line for her hair stylist Shirley Gordon at Blind Whino.
“I had no clue what I was venturing into when I heard the name. I was pleasantly surprised what a cool space it is,” says attendee Sari Karson Kurland, a lawyer. “It is not one of those sterile, boring, conventional, painful event spaces. It’s got personality.”
Blind Whino is celebrating its third anniversary. The party began Aug. 28 and continues Sept. 4 from noon to 6 p.m., with free live music, a moon bounce, barbecue and more.
Events there have included weddings, fundraisers, a yoga festival, a Smithsonian at 8 Folklife Festival Peruvian dance party, a Rock the Vote White House correspondents’ dinner pre-party and Callender’s annual Kicks for Kids shoe drive. Base prices for rentals start at $1,500 and can go to $6,000. Discounts are available for nonprofits.
Youth arts education is a Blind Whino priority.
“Aesthetically, it’s just cool and hip and appealing to young people,” says Tendani Mpulubusi El, founder of the nonprofit Ward 8 Arts and Culture Council.
He led workshops there on graffiti, fine art and technical production this summer.
“The cool thing about Blind Whino and what it has presented is opportunity,” says Callender, who still owns about 300 pairs of sneakers. “I want to inspire youth on how they can take their wildest hobby and turn it into a profession that they love.”