Southeast DC’s burgeoning status as an arts district has been in the news recently. Now, for the first time, an award has been established to recognize an artist working east of the river whose achievements have “enriched the arts in Washington, DC.” The East of the River Distinguished Artist Award, established by the ARCH Development Corporation and the Gautier family, will go to the artist born Bryant Keith Adams but better known as BK ADAMS•I AM ART, in an award ceremony on September 7 at Anacostia’s Honfleur Gallery.
Adams, a multidisciplinary artist who’s known around Washington for his vibrant public installations, has long been a part of the local arts scene—he had a solo show at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum last year featuring more than 50 of his works. In 2010, Worn Magazine followed him around his neighborhood and into his Jackson Pollock-esque paint-spattered studio. Adams’s work puts everyday objects into unusual surroundings, such as a bright blue chair placed on a stack of books called “Sitting on Knowledge 1.” He says he’ll unveil his newest work, “The City Mountain,” created at this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival, at the awards ceremony.
Adams says he started out as an artist when he realized life and art are one and the same. “Once I realized I was doing [art] all my life, I realized I might as well do it full time,” he says. “Initially, I had different businesses, and I realized the way I drove, the way I prepared my food, from the utensils to the colorations of all the different food I put together . . . everything I was doing was basically a blueprint of some type of canvas. I realized I might as well start painting everything on a canvas or put it in a sculpture.”
Adams grew up in Brookland near Catholic University before taking off to explore the world. After going “cross-country on [his] Harley and then in a Volkswagen,” he found himself in Central America en route to Paris when he got a call from his brother, who was getting married in Washington. Adams came back for the ceremony. Ten years later, he’s still living in Anacostia.
Duane Gautier, who helped fund ARCH and this particular award, says Adams epitomizes the spirit of it. “He’s a very good artist,” Gautier says. “He’s also eclectic in what he does. And he also has contributed tremendously to the avant-garde scene here, east of the river.”
The award gives Adams the prize of $5,000, and will be offered again to artists in various different disciplines—from literature to dance—in future years. Adams hopes it might encourage other artists to establish themselves in the area, although he has no plans to leave any time soon. “DC just has this hold on you, man,” he says. “They never want to let you go. Gotta burn a bridge to get out of here.”