BloomBars, the unconventional art space in Columbia Heights, not only hosts eclectic events for adults, but also is a place for children to soak up culture.
“I think we are offering something that’s a little different, that includes peace education,” says founder John Chambers, who was inspired to start children’s programming at the space (3222 11th St. NW) when his daughter, Ava Maya, was born nearly six years ago.
Children can learn French ballet on a Tuesday (ages 3-7), pick up some Bollywood moves on a Thursday (ages 4-8) and on Sunday get in a little yoga in the family class, which is for all ages. The suggested donation is $7 to $15.
On most mornings starting at 10, chubby-legged toddlers can be found crawling around or wobbling across a purple-and-gold mat. On a recent Friday during the hour-long Songs, Stories & Puppetsclass, a BloomBars volunteer strummed a guitar while belting out the alphabet and then used hand puppets to tell a story of a boy who is taught by a bear to give his mom a bear hug.
Harambee, which means “all pull together” in Swahili, is the name of one of the longest-running and popular classes at BloomBars. It’s taught by veteran BloomBars artist Baba Ras D three days a week. He rhythmically bangs on a drum and sings into a microphone for almost an hour. His young audience members often try to join by hitting smaller drums.
Lawyer Betsy Strauss, 65, takes her 14-month-old granddaughter, Ada, to Harambee every Monday to hear Baba Ras D. She first took her now 4-year-old grandson, Micah, to Harambee before he reached school age.
“Baba Ras D seems to live the ideas in his songs,” Strauss said. “He sings about peace, making friends and letting your light shine through, and I think that’s what makes him so effective with children and adults.”
Veronica Jimenez’s 2-year-old son, Santiago, likes to play drums next to Baba Ras D and Chambers during Harambee. Jimenez, 41, brings her 4-year-old daughter to ballet classes, and Santiago frequents Harambee and the Friday puppet show.
When Latin Grammy-nominated children’s musician 123 Andrés moved away as his career took off, Jimenez approached Chambers about filling the void. For about a year, she has taught Canta Conmigo, which consists of Spanish-language singalongs and puppets.
“Bubbles are my secret weapon,” she said about her young fans.