DCentric » Slideshow http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU Can A Party Change Perceptions Of Anacostia? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/can-a-party-change-perceptions-of-anacostia/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/can-a-party-change-perceptions-of-anacostia/#comments Tue, 24 Apr 2012 21:15:35 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15567 Continue reading ]]>

Nahal Tavangar / @NahalTav

About 1,200 people attended the fourth annual Cherry Blast party in Anacostia.

Trapeze artists hovered above a crowd. A band played electronic music as green lasers flashed through the room. Nearby, people created silk-screened T-shirts, a video installation played against the wall and the crowd tossed a large, clear plastic bubble filled with pink balloons in the air.

The annual Cherry Blast event on Saturday night was in many ways a creative, warehouse party. It pulled together all sorts of artistic and musical spectacles that attracted a racially diverse crowd of 1,200 willing to pay $10 a ticket to enter.

But this party didn’t happen in Northwest or near gentrifying H Street NE. Cherry Blast, produced by The Pink Line Project, took place in a vacant police evidence warehouse in Anacostia, and drew attendees largely from other parts of town, many of whom were young and white.

Anacostia has a rich history, but in recent years the neighborhood has developed a reputation as dangerous and poor, a perception that local activists have been battling. It’s a mostly black neighborhood that doesn’t typically attract many white people.

Cherry Blast comes on the heels of Lumen8Anacostia, a weekend of art events and pop-ups held throughout the neighborhood. These events have given people, who normally don’t trek east of the Anacostia River, a reason to visit the neighborhood. But in doing so, they’ve raised questions about race and class.

Pink Line founder Philippa Hughes and her team organized the Cherry Blast event, the fourth in a series that’s taken place in various parts of the city, including its first year in Anacostia.

“I’ve really been interested in Anacostia in the sense that I feel like it’s on the cusp of becoming something, a place where people want to go,” Hughes said. “I like being in places that are changing, and becoming better.”

Cherry Blast differed from Lumen8Anacostia, which Pink Line was also a part of. Lumen8 was “very diverse and a more community-oriented event,” Hughes said, while Cherry Blast gets widely promoted, drawing people “who don’t have any idea of what Anacostia is about.”

But Hughes didn’t throw Cherry Blast in order to put Anacostia on the map. “That’s one thing, and an important thing,” she said. “But what it’s about for me is showing that D.C. is more than politicians and lawyers. It also has a thriving arts and culture scene. Some of it is happening in Anacostia, and some of it [in other parts] of the city.”

There’s also a practical aspect to hold the event in Anacostia — D.C. has few, large spaces that can be converted for such uses.

The crowd at Cherry Blast keeps balloons afloat with the aid of a giant sheet. Performance artists and dancers entertained the crowd at Cherry Blast. Cherry Blast was held at 2235 Shannon Place SE. About 1,200 people attended the fourth annual Cherry Blast party in Anacostia. Attendees snap photos of the sweeping view of D.C. from the 4th floor of the warehouse Cherry Blast was held in an Anacostia warehouse, which offered sweeping views of the city. Margot MacDonald performs inside of a fort-like art installation on the 4th floor of an Anacostia warehouse. Cherry Blast party goers could create silk screened shirts. Yellow school buses transported people from Dupont Circle and H Street NE to the Anacostia warehouse. A trapeze artist balances above the crowd at Cherry Blast. Busboys and Poets set up a "pop-up" cafe inside of Cherry Blast. Cherry Blast attendees could edit photos using interactive projections.

Holding such an event in Anacostia can entail challenges. Most cities have lines, places where people are told not to go unless they’re from the area. As development and demographics shift in D.C., so do those lines. And perhaps art events and parties like Cherry Blast can help change those lines, too.

To make it easier to get across the river, Pink Line charted yellow school buses running from Dupont Circle and the H Street corridor. Taking a bus that drops you off directly in front of a party in a warehouse doesn’t provide many opportunities for interaction with the people and businesses in the neighborhood. But some who attended Cherry Blast forsook the charted buses in favor of the Metro, including first-timers to the area, who walked approximately half a mile from the Anacostia Metro station to the warehouse.

Iris Ho, Lan Nguyen and Michelle Wang rode Metro to Cherry Blast. On their walk to the warehouse, someone in a car rolled down his window and said to them, “Aren’t you guys scared? You’re in the hood.” Nguyen, of Columbia Heights, laughed, saying, “Well, I wasn’t.”

The trio said they recognized that they may seem out of place in the neighborhood.

Abigail Williams of Adams Morgan admitted that she “was a little nervous” coming to Anacostia at night.

“But once you’ve been somewhere, then you feel a lot better,” she said. Now she’s planning to return to the neighborhood during the day so she can check out the remodeled Anacostia Library.

“There is such a psychological barrier. That barrier is broken for a brief bit with these events.”

People really only go places because they have a reason, whether it’s work, friends or attractions. Nikki Palmer of Bloomingdale made her first visit to Anacostia to attend Cherry Blast. She said that she and others she knows don’t typically come east of the river because nothing has drawn them there yet. She’s heard for years to avoid Anacostia, but it’s “a stigma that I’m losing now.”

Such perceptions are something that Michael Shank of Anacostia tries to tackle. A towering white man, he moved to the neighborhood 2 years ago, partially “to challenge myself both with the race and class issues that D.C. has not resolved,” he said. He’s found an incredible sense of community in the process. Shank now tries to get his friends to visit, but it’s not easy.

“There is such a psychological barrier,” Shank said over a DJ playing blaring music at Cherry Blast. “That barrier is broken for a brief bit with these events.”

Getting that barrier to come down more permanently is another, and more complicated, undertaking, he added.

Sense of place?

Rishi Chakrabarty of Mount Pleasant comes to Anacostia regularly for soccer practice. “You can’t get a sense of Anacostia by being here,” he said of Cherry Blast. Nearby, a singer performed from inside of a massive art installation.

“I feel ambivalent about it being in Anacostia,” Nguyen said. “It’s not that people from around here are all coming to this event.”

“It’s the yuppies in D.C.,” added Wang.

There were some Anacostia locals were in the crowd. Anacostia resident Willy Hamlett, who assisted with the event, said that such happenings are ways to “open the neighborhood up to different types of people.”

Although it’s good that Cherry Blast brought newcomers to the neighborhood, more importantly for resident (and Congress Heights on the Rise blogger) Nikki Peele is what the event offered Anacostia residents.

“The real win is it brings people who are from the neighborhood and gives them something to do,” she said. “… It makes no sense and it concerns me when myself and my neighbors have to get in a car or take the Metro to go across town in order to do the things we want to do.”

In the beginning of the night, all-female Brazilian drumming group Batalá Washington performed. Shank said a number of kids he recognized from the neighborhood showed up and danced along to the music.

“Here’s an opportunity for engagement, for interacting with the community. Let’s build on that,” he said. “It’s a starter.”

Images courtesy of Nahal Tavangar (@NahalTav).
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Photos: What Won’t You Stand For? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/photos-what-wont-you-stand-for/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/photos-what-wont-you-stand-for/#comments Tue, 28 Feb 2012 21:07:02 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14413 Continue reading ]]> Want to end racism? Why not start with putting it on a T-shirt.

Until 8 p.m. today, a pop-up booth will be in Farrguat Square where people can create T-shirts with customized messages. It’s part of USA Network’s Characters Unite campaign to bring awareness to hate and discrimination.

Passersby can stamp T-shirts that read “I won’t stand for…” with a number of words, including discrimination, intolerance, homophobia, racism, sexism and hate. Some individuals, including D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, told DCentric about what they chose to stand against. Is there anything you won’t stand for? Why?


Mayor Vincent Gray linked his T-shirt message to the fight for D.C. statehood. The District doesn’t have a voting member in Congress.  “We live with injustice every day in the District,” Mayor Gray said. “We live in a city where we can’t even approve our own budget with money we raised on our own. That, to me, is an injustice.” Rebecca McClay, 34 of D.C. said she wouldn’t stand for hate crimes against any variety. “It’s something that’s really appalling,” she said. “It seems to be in the news a lot lately and it seems to be very difficult to stop.” Charles King, 42, lives in Virginia. He said discrimination stood out to him. “I have dealt with it myself, my dad has, going back generations,” he said. “In this millennium, something like that shouldn’t exist.” Cary Hatch, 55, owns an advertising agency near Farragut Square and brought her employees to the booth. “Hate in any form really doesn’t fit in today’s society,” she said. “Whether I see discrimination or just people being marginalized, it’s all a form of hate.” Kennethia Simmons said she wouldn’t stand for violence. “People are getting killed every day over something dumb,” she said. The 20-year-old D.C. resident said her brother was killed last year. Tanya Moore, 36 of Oklahoma, works in a soup kitchen and food pantry. She chose injustice because “it fits pretty much everything we see and deal with on a daily basis.” Erica Hunter, 33 of Maryland said, “I don’t deal well with individuals who can’t tolerate others on any level.” Lanie Liem, 22 and an intern temporarily living in D.C, is originally from California, says she’s an advocate for LGBT, or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. “In California, we had the whole vote on Proposition 8,” she said, referring to a referendum that would outlaw gay marriage. “It’s stressful that we have a vote on our rights.” Althea Edwards, 50 of D.C., said she wouldn’t stand for injustice, particularly as it relates to homelessness and healthcare. “There’s a lot of injustice in America and if we don’t pull together we’re not going to get out of this mess,” she said. ]]>
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Black History Through D.C. Murals (Photos) http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/black-history-through-d-c-murals-photos/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/black-history-through-d-c-murals-photos/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2012 19:28:55 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14235 Continue reading ]]> From Northwest to Southeast, D.C.’s public murals help tell the story of black history. Take a look at our gallery below, showcasing some of these public artworks.

Notable figures depicted in the murals include: Carter G. Woodson, considered “the father of black history;” activist and leader Malcolm X; abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass; and poet Langston Hughes.

Some of the murals are funded by the District government, while others are privately-commissioned. There are also a few that are quite new, while others will soon disappear due to development. The gallery presents a snapshot of D.C. murals relating to black history, so feel free to post photos of other such murals in the comments section.

This mural on 7th Street NW in Shaw depicts historian Carter G. Woodson, considered the "father of black history." Woodson lived in D.C. Poet Langston Hughes and historian Carter G. Woodson, both once Shaw residents, are depicted in the Shaw Community Mural on 9th Street NW. The Shiloh Baptist Church is also shown in the mural, a black church that played an important role in Shaw's community life. Frederick Douglass is the centerpiece of this mural on Bread for the City's building on Good Hope Road SE. Douglass lived in a home nearby. Malcolm X is included in a mural on the building housed by Sankofa Cafe and Bookstore on Georgia Ave NW. The image comes from a famous poster that shows Malcolm X wiedling a rifle and looking outside of a window, underneath the words "By any means necessary." This relatively new mural off of U Street NW includes imagery evoking the 1963 March on Washington, which was originally called "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." Duke Ellington is one of Washington's native sons. This mural on U Street NW was originally near the U Street Metro Station but was dismantled and moved a few blocks down to the True Reformer Building. This Duke Ellington mural was just completed in late 2011, and was painted on a building on Ward Place NW near where the jazz legend was born. This mural off of New York Avenue NE pays homage to some of D.C.'s great music legends, including Marvin Gaye. The Black Family Reunion mural shows a collage of an anonymous family through the years. Originally commissioned by the National Black McDonald's Operators Association, the 18-year-old mural on 14th Street NW will soon be replaced by development. ]]>
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Photos: D.C.’s Chinese New Year Parade http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/01/photos-d-c-s-chinese-new-year-parade/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/01/photos-d-c-s-chinese-new-year-parade/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2012 13:52:48 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=13783 Continue reading ]]> Thousands attended D.C.’s Chinese New Year parade on Sunday to celebrate the start of the year of the dragon. Organizers aimed to hold a bigger event this year, despite downtown seeing its Chinese American population decline.

“We know there have been a lot of changes in our city in recent years,” Mayor Vincent Gray told the crowd, reports Chinese Radio International, “but what hasn’t changed and will hopefully not change is the presence of Chinatown as an important cultural center here in the District of Columbia.”

Check out these Flickr photos of the parade by local photographers Glyn Lowe, Victoria Pickering and Russell Brammer: 

D.C.'s Chinese New Year Parade took place on Sunday, one week after the start of the new year. Thousands attended the annual parade in D.C.'s Chinatown. Members of Anacostia High School's marching band participated in the parade. Flags wave near Chinatown's "Friendship Archway" on 7th and H streets NW. The parade celebrated the start of the year of the dragon. The parade marched through Chinatown, one of D.C.'s busiest commercial districts.


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Rare Photos Capture 1968 D.C. Riots http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/11/rare-photos-capture-1968-d-c-riots/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/11/rare-photos-capture-1968-d-c-riots/#comments Wed, 02 Nov 2011 19:01:46 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=11957 Continue reading ]]> The D.C. riots that erupted in the wake of the 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination resulted in more than 1,000 burned down buildings, dramatically changing the District’s landscape. Such damage altered the course of the city’s development, and the riots are still brought up in current discussions over gentrification and revitalization.

But exactly how did the city look during the four days of rioting? Yale University has released a collection of rare negatives documenting the riots and the government response. They were taken by part-time Associated Press photographer Alexander Lmanian, and the images he captured show soldiers mobilizing in D.C. streets, people looting and damaged storefronts. See our gallery below:

Rioters, soldiers, and damaged buildings during the riots. Cityscapes during the riots in the vicinity of H Street NE between 7th Street NE and 13th Street NE. Rioters, soldiers, and damaged buildings during the riots. United States Army helicopter used to spot rioters Rioters, soldiers, and damaged buildings during the riots. Damage in the aftermath of the riots. Rioters, soldiers, and damaged buildings during the riots. Rioters, soldiers, and damaged buildings during the riots. Police helicopters and emergency troops in the Capitol District during the riots, 11:00-11:30 a.m. Damage in the aftermath of the riots Luther Place Memorial Church, and cityscapes that show the aftermath of the 1968 riots. Rioters, soldiers, and damaged buildings during the riots. ]]>
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‘We’re a Culture, Not a Costume’ Raises Halloween Debate (Poll) http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/10/we-are-a-culture-not-a-costume-questions-halloween/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/10/we-are-a-culture-not-a-costume-questions-halloween/#comments Fri, 28 Oct 2011 11:00:56 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=11828 Continue reading ]]> Ohio University's Students Teaching About Racism in Society has released these posters as part of a Halloween awareness campaign. Ohio University's Students Teaching About Racism in Society has released these posters as part of a Halloween awareness campaign. Ohio University's Students Teaching About Racism in Society has released these posters as part of a Halloween awareness campaign. Ohio University's Students Teaching About Racism in Society has released these posters as part of a Halloween awareness campaign. Ohio University's Students Teaching About Racism in Society has released these posters as part of a Halloween awareness campaign.

Is it racist to dress up as a Mexican for Halloween? Yes, according to a group of Ohio University students who launched the “We’re a culture, not a costume” campaign now gaining national attention.

Sarah Williams, president of the Ohio student group STARS, said on CNN: “During Halloween, we see offensive costumes. We don’t like it, we don’t appreciate it… The best way to get rid of stereotypes and racism is to have a discussion and raise awareness, which is what we want to do with this campaign.”

Why is it problematic to dress up as a Mexican for Halloween? Jelani Cobb, African studies professor at Rutgers University, explains to CNN:

“To treat a character like Batman or Superman as a Halloween costume is one thing, but to treat an entire ethnicity as a costume is something else. It suggests that people conflate the actual broad diversity of a culture with caricatures and characters.

But not everyone agrees; negative comments flooded Melissa Sipin’s blog, which first reported about the campaign on Sunday before national media took note. Critics feel the campaign is a hyper-sensitive reaction to people who simply want to have fun on Halloween, a time to relax and check all the seriousness at the door. Sipin responds to such critics:

This poster campaign isn’t about being overly sensitive to costume choices, it’s about perpetuati­ng prejudices and negative stereotype­s through these choices. All we’re asking people is to stop perpetuating those prejudices and to realize that you’re crossing a line when you strap fake bombs to your chest to portray a Middle Eastern man or if you paint your face black.

What do you think of the question raised by the posters? Take our poll:

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A Look Back: Lincoln Theatre and Black Broadway http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/10/a-look-back-lincoln-theatre-and-black-broadway/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/10/a-look-back-lincoln-theatre-and-black-broadway/#comments Fri, 14 Oct 2011 12:00:45 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=11445 Continue reading ]]> By Mary-Alice Farina

The Lincoln Theatre is approaching its 90th anniversary as a cultural beacon of the U Street district. But impending closure threatens to break an important chain in D.C. history.

The theater opened in 1922 at 12th and U Streets, at the height of the racial ghettoization of D.C. Although the District outlawed Jim Crow laws in 1917, segregation became a reality in D.C. Racially restrictive housing covenants and Depression-era laws ended up restricting housing and services to non-whites in certain neighborhoods.

618nl0010383-01bp.tif Atermath of 1968 race riots. Poster for Cab Calloway performance at the Lincoln Theatre's ballroom.

In the face of this, U Street evolved into Black Broadway, an inimitable nexus of businesses, civil institutions, entertainment venues and homes. The area first experienced a boom after the Civil War, as thousands of new residents moved from the south. Between 1900 and 1948, U Street proved a vital epicenter for those suffering under the legacy of slavery.

The Lincoln Theatre was a luminous cornerstone in the grim shadow of segregation, a place where those ostracized by much of the country had a bright future. Tennis star Arthur Ashe recalled the 1940s on U Street: “The cream of black society and everybody else passed through there… You always had the sense that something big was about to happen.” As Teresa Wiltz put it in her evocative 2006 Washington Post article, “With U Street, black D.C. could lay claim to a world that was, to borrow a phrase of the hip-hop generation, ‘for us, by us.’”

The theater was one of a number of such venues built in D.C. by two ill-fated white entrepreneurs. The Lincoln thrived when it opened, first as a first-run silent film and vaudeville house, then in 1927, when it became a luxurious cinema venue with a ballroom downstairs. Proprietor Abe Lichtman brought huge names to the theater including Count Basie, Eleanor Roosevelt and Bess Truman, which eventually paved the way for the likes of Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn.

For forty years the Lincoln reigned as an institution of U Street nightlife. That changed on April 4, 1968, the day of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. As the devastating news spread, crowds formed on the streets of downtown D.C., with outrage and sadness gradually twisting into violence and rioting. D.C.’s landscape would be radically altered for the next 30 years a result of the damage from the riots. U Street businesses were hit hard and wealthy and middle class people fled to the suburbs. Likewise, the Lincoln fell into disrepair and disuse, finally shutting its doors in 1981.

Then in 1989, the theater received $4 million in federal money toward its $9 million restoration. The Lincoln reopened in 1994, marking a turning point for the Columbia Heights, Shaw and U Street districts, which have undergone revitalization in recent years. These areas were back in business, with the Lincoln once again at the forefront.

But the Lincoln has been plagued by financial woes in recent years. It almost closed due to low funds in 2007, the year it became a historic landmark and property of the city. The city gave it $1.5 million for capital improvements to fix the roof and plumbing. But it once again faces closure. Without at a boost of at least $500,000, the theater will close by the end of the year.

Mary-Alice Farina is a writer for 365DC. Read her in-depth Lincoln Theatre history here and follow her on twitter at @mafalicious.

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Finding Space to Create in Pricey D.C. http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/finding-space-to-create-in-pricey-d-c/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/finding-space-to-create-in-pricey-d-c/#comments Wed, 28 Sep 2011 14:59:49 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=10227 Continue reading ]]>

Courtesy of Bora Chung

Aaron Martin (left), Brandon Moses (middle) and Michael Andrew Harris (right) practice in Gold Leaf Studios.

Brandon Moses and Michael Andrew Harris, members of the band Laughing Man, met up at their studio space in a worn warehouse on a recent Thursday evening. Moses strummed his guitar and sang into the mic. Aaron Martin, who shares the studio with the band, joined in on his saxophone for an impromptu jam session.

Seemingly neglected, the vacant warehouse has been repurposed for just this sort of activity — for artists to create without concern of disturbing neighbors. Harris rapidly hit his snare drum without constraint. The music went through open window and spilled onto the Mt. Vernon street below.

But through that window, you could see the new high rises across the street, a sign of D.C.’s healthy real estate market. And soon, the warehouse — home to Gold Leaf Studios — will be replaced with a $57 million, 11-story mixed-used complex. About 30 artists who work out of 11 Gold Leaf studios will have to vacate by January 2012.

“Obviously they’re going to make a lot more money,” Harris, 31, said. “We’re just artists paying a couple of hundred dollars for the space.”

“It’s really bad for the synergy of the creative process,” Luke Stewart, 24, another band member, later said of having to move. “It puts momentum on hold in terms of what we’re working on.”

Gold Leaf Studios at 443 I St. NW has hosted artists since 1998, where they’ve come to create and hold events. Tenants include musicians, fashion designers and visual artists. Moses, 27, described it as “a safe space,” “a community center of sorts,” where artists of all stripes gather to create.

“Seeing other artists’ work inspires you to intensify to some degree, or it gives you some insight into yourself and your own artistic process,” Moses said.

Gold Leaf Studios is located at 443 I St. NW. Brandon Moses of Laughing Man says he's optimistic about the future, despite losing his studio to redevelopment. Michael Andrew Harris can play his drums as loud as he wants from Gold Leaf Studios, where he doesn't have to worry about disturbing neighbors. Aaron Martin (left), Brandon Moses (middle) and Michael Andrew Harris (right) practice in Gold Leaf Studios.

The studios were never intended to be permanent. Manager/self-proclaimed building “guru” Mike Abrams, who is also a sculptor and photographer, needed studio space. He asked the owners years ago if he could build simple studio spaces inside of the vacant warehouse and charge artists modest rents.

“I didn’t expect it to last more than 5 years,” Abrams said.

Equity Residential bought the space and an adjoining lot in spring 2011, signaling the end of Gold Leaf. The developer plans to build 162 apartments on the site.

For some, an alternative

Artists have to contend with D.C.’s increasingly expensive rents as they search for both living and working space. JR Russ, a dancer, actor and arts manager, said he wasn’t able to afford D.C. rents after he graduated the University of Maryland in 2006. So he moved in with his parents in Southwest as he pursued an arts-related career.

“Anything you do that’s not relevant takes away energy,” he said.

Then Russ got lucky — he was accepted into the Brookland Artscape Lofts, at 3305 8th Street N.E., a new $13 million, 41-unit artist-housing building offering below-market leases to artists who make between $25,866 and $43,500. A two-bedroom rents for about $1,200. The building is the result of a partnership between nonprofit developer ArtSpace and Dance Place, and the project received a mix of federal and local grant money.

“There has to be a lot of solutions, but this is a very good solution,” Deborah Riley, co-director of Dance Place said. “These particular apartments are quite a bit bigger than market rate apartments, so you get a lot more room. They’re designed to have your work right there in your apartment, so you don’t have to rent another space.”

Russ, who also works as a teacher, can choreograph and hold rehearsals in his large, two-bedroom unit or in the building’s studio while not having to stress about paying rent. But there isn’t room for any more artists at the moment — the building is at capacity.

Faced with a challenge? Get creative.

“I feel like there’s something learned about how to create community here that you can’t take away from the people of Gold Leaf.” – Brandon Moses

Musicians have an added challenge: noise complaints. Harris noted a studio space he once had near Eastern Market, in a neighborhood that became more populated and more expensive.

“When people move into a certain neighborhood and pay a lot of money for a space, they don’t want to hear bands playing at 9, 10 o’clock at night,” Harris said. “And that was always the good thing about Gold Leaf. You could play 24 hours a day and it was so big and there was nothing around and no one to complain. And it’s very hard to find that in the District.”

Despite such difficulties, Laughing Man plans to stay in the District even after January. D.C.’s high property values has “dramatically affected the potential creative output of this area, but I feel good about the future,” Moses said. “I feel like there’s something learned about how to create community here that you can’t take away from the people of Gold Leaf.”

Abrams also wants to open more Gold Leaf-like studios in D.C. Ideally, he’d like a developer to make permanent room for artists in building plans, but in the meantime, he’s looking for another vacant space to temporarily use. Abrams dismisses the notion that such spaces are nonexistent in the city.

“A person has to be very motivated to kind of look in the nooks and crannies,” he said. “There’s a limited building stock, so sure, it’ll be more difficult. But I feel like if you want something badly enough, you’re going to make it work.”

Spoken like a true artist.

Photos courtesy of Bora Chung.

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Fiesta DC in Photos http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/fiesta-dc-in-photos/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/fiesta-dc-in-photos/#comments Mon, 26 Sep 2011 17:18:06 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=10895 Continue reading ]]> So much happened over the weekend in D.C. that you may have missed out on Sunday’s Fiesta DC. Luckily, local photographer Pablo Benavente was on the scene and captured these great images of the parade (see more here).

The annual event showcases cultures from all around Latin America. It took place in Mount Pleasant, one of the centers of D.C.’s Latino community. The District’s Latino population is growing, mostly due to an increased presence of Central Americans.

Dancers Viva La Virgen Applause Brazil Joy of Dancing Panama


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As Business Closes, Owner Looks Back at Decades on H Street http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/as-longtime-business-closes-looking-back-at-decades-on-h-street/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/as-longtime-business-closes-looking-back-at-decades-on-h-street/#comments Tue, 20 Sep 2011 14:08:10 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=10584 Continue reading ]]> George Butler, 73, will be closing his men's clothing store after 44 years on H Street NE. George's Place Ltd. will close in a few months. No word yet on what will take its place at 10th and H Streets, NE. An employee rings up a customer at the register. Butler says he has a particular eye for fashion and takes care to stock his store with items he knows customers will like. A sign on the front of George's Place reminds passersby how long it's been on the corridor. An employee sorts through items at George's Place. Owner George Butler says he's known for his selection of hats. George Butler speaks with longtime customers about his impending closure. A customer tries on shoes, hoping to take advantage of George's Place's going out of business sale.

George Butler is closing shop after nearly five decades. His men’s clothing store, George’s Place Ltd., is an H Street NE institution, one of the longest-running businesses on a corridor now synonymous with gentrification. But the recession, online competition and H Street streetcar construction led him to call it quits.

The 73-year-old managed clothing stores on the street in the 1950s before opening his store in 1968.

“I saw a future in H Street and my being in the neighborhood, I knew a lot of my customers,” he said while sitting in the back of his store on a recent afternoon. Hats and shoes lined the walls, along with 50 percent off signs.

Through it all, he’s had a front row seat to all the ups and downs of the corridor: from the heyday when  it was “it was like Connecticut Avenue, like downtown,” to the 1968 riots. “I’m a vet, and I saw things I never saw in the war,” he recalled of the riots. “The street was unreal. Fires were everywhere. It was just burning down.”

The riots marked the commercial decline of the street, beginning decades of empty storefronts. “People left and never came back,” Butler said.

In recent years, new restaurants and bars have opened up, breathing a new kind of life into the corridor. But he feels there’s little impetus to support black-owned businesses. He said they’re being pushed out to make room for upscale restaurants and bars catering to whites.

“It was like Connecticut Avenue, like downtown, all the way down to 15th Street.” – George Butler

He said that the streetcar construction, a project meant to improve the corridor, took a toll on sales.

“Customers couldn’t park. It basically forced me out of business.”

Assistance programs are available to businesses hurt by the streetscape project. Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells even called out George’s Place in a press release about tax relief for businesses affected by the construction. But, as Butler sees it, such help came too late.

Butler admitted other factors, a declining economy and competition from big box chain stores with low prices, also contributed to the closure. “And I’ve been in retail for 54 years. I’m tired.”

Butler then stood up to greet old customers, men he knows by name. “When are you closing up?” one asked. “Not for a few months,” he responded.

“I’m going to miss this place because it made me feel good to come here and see the things I like. I can walk from where I live,”  said Marc Humphries, 56. “I was down here a few weeks ago and we were talking about the changes on H Street. I felt like it was going to be any minute now.”

Some would say that Butler is hardly a victim of gentrification. His property is now listed at $1.4 million. (There are no buyers yet, he assured me). He agreed that he stands to make money in the end, but “I don’t look at the money in my situation. I look at how long I’ve been here.”

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