When it opens June 22, the Anacostia Arts Center will make a single square mile of historic Anacostia one of the most arts-centric districts in the city. The latest project from Arch Development—which also runs Honfleur Gallery, Gallery at Vivid Solutions, and business “incubators” Hive I and II—offers five new galleries, a black box theater, a rehearsal space and yoga studio, and a cafe and restaurant at the back, which will be run by the people behind Petworth’s Domku. “A lot of people asked us why we didn’t put the cafe up front,” says Arch founder and CEO Duane Gautier. “But part of our purpose is to bring people in, so they can see the art.”
Bringing people in is going to be key for Arch in 2013. This is a big year for Anacostia, with the opening of the Arts Center, the second Lumen8 arts festival (also run by Arch), and the opening of the Anacostia Playhouse, formerly known as the H Street Playhouse. Last year, the inaugural Lumen8 festival brought 3,500 people to the neighborhood, and Gautier estimates this year’s will be even bigger, with six weeks of music performances, film screenings, art installations, and more. The Anacostia Arts Center has also formed partnerships with U Street’s Twins Jazz, which will stage between 20 and 30 live jazz performances in the neighborhood over the next year, and with the American Poetry Museum, which will help present spoken-word performances, readings, and book signings in the venue.
Gautier himself admits to being somewhat floored by the pace of the neighborhood’s development. “If you’d have told me when we opened the first gallery here in 2007 that in 2013 we’d have almost the entire issue of the Washington City Paper about arts in Anacostia, I would have wondered what you were smoking,” he says. “We see the demographics changing here with performances, but we still haven’t lost the local flavor.” He estimates that at a recent jazz performance, 40 percent of spectators were “local” (by which he means from Wards 7 and 8) and 60 percent were from other parts of the city.
Arch is committed to making sure its efforts revitalize Anacostia for its residents, and hosts four community meetings a year to gauge what residents need and are interested in. “We could have taken the [Anacostia Arts Center] space and rented it out to a charter school or a social service agency, and covered over 100 percent of our administrative costs, but the community didn’t want that here,” Gautier says.
Instead, local residents get a welcoming, newly renovated space with sleek wooden floors, skylights that reflect natural light over two levels, and a large, sunny lobby with tables and chairs for dining and people-watching on Good Hope Road. Not surprisingly, Gautier is thrilled with both the new arts center and the recognition it’s getting from local press as well as people across the city.
“People say, ‘This is the way,’ and I say, ‘No, it’s a way to revitalize Anacostia.’ It’s compatible with everything else that’s happening here.”