A sense of community draws far and near to Anacostia: Residents and business owners reflect on impact of major art festival in Southeast
| By Mylon Medley |
On April 14, Historic Anacostia had a different vibe.
From noon until midnight, empty buildings spaces were transformed to galleries, local artists performed at The Big Chair, and local restaurant owners experienced a tremendous boost in their daily profits during the Lumen8Anacostia festival.
“We liked it, we loved it, we want more,” said Fatma Nayir, commonly known as ”Mama,” owner of Mama’s Kitchen, an eatery off Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.
A common theme among festival participants was a fascination with the sense of community felt throughout Anacostia.
Not only did local business owners enjoy a booming day of sales, they also had a chance to provide newcomers to the area a taste of the community.
This is especially true for Mama, who relocated from Bethesda to Anacostia to open her eatery. What drew her to this area was the unique bond shared by members of this neighborhood.
“I’m from Turkey. MLK(Avenue) reminds me of Turkey,” she said, referring to the sense of belonging.
“Everyone calls her ‘Mama,'” Eddie Staton, chef for Mama’s added. “It’s good to see people come in and speak to the owners [of businesses], people here aren’t stand-offish.”
The event also brought people who hadn’t frequently come to Anacostia, and have continued to visit since the festival.
“We’ve seen a lot of new faces” Staton said, and they’re not the only ones.
“A lot of people came (to Anacostia) for the first time,” Phil Hutinet, chief operations officer of Arch Development Corporations, one of the sponsors of Lumen 8 Anacostia said. “Some people traveled for an hour and a half to get here.”
According to Hutinet, approximately 2,000-3,500 attended the different venues of the festival. Although many people came out to the festival at different times of the day, Nicole Bracey, 26, a local resident, said she was a little disappointed with the turnout.
“I thought the streets would be flooded,” Bracey said. In spite of this, she added, “it was really exciting. There was graffiti, portraits … jazz bands, it was lovely.”
While Bracey focused on the art aspect, Moses Smith, 48, a local social worker, saw this as an opportunity for people outside of Anacostia to see the business potential of the area.
This provided “opportunities for businesses to say, ‘Hey this may be a point for progression,’ ” Smith said.
“We want to see more of this,” he continued. It’s not enough to just have a festival like Lumen8 for a limited time, Smith said. “If you’re gonna make money in this community, we want it to stay here. Bring the businesses here.”
A sense of community brings a dash of Ireland to Anacostia
At the heart of the festival of music, lights and art are the artists who participated in the preparation and actual event.
Click to listen to Tommie Adams, an artist who participated in Lumen8Anacostia describe his unique exhibit and discuss the artistic movement in Anacostia.
Johanna Leech and Lesley Cherry are two artists who were enrolled on the Art In Residency program of ARCH. These two women, however, were not locals in any sense. They traveled all the way from Belfast, Ireland to take part of this six-week program.
It wasn’t just their Irish accent that gave them away as “foreigners.” In a section of D.C., where whites only make up 3.3 percent of the population, according to Neighborhood Info DC, it is easy to pick them out of a crowd.
When Johanna Leech first settled in the community she couldn’t help but notice this statistic. “I’m the only white person,” she remembers thinking. “I’m not used to this.”
This evident reality didn’t deter them from being actively involved in the art development project.
“We were very visible in the community,” Lesley Cherry said. “People got used to us.”
This art residency was announced in the Golden Thread Gallery in partnership with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. These two artists were drawn to Anacostia for different, yet overlapping reasons.
Leech was attracted to the area’s rich history and likes to collect stories. During her temporary residence in Anacostia, she took particular interest in the signs throughout the area such as; ‘Thank you ladies and gentlemen for not using profanity.’ With these quotes, she created pins with these saying printed on them. During Lumen8Anacostia she gave the pins away for free, in exchange for a story.
“This is a really warm community,” Leech said.
Not only are community members willing to share their stories with the artists, they are also curious to hear their thoughts in regards to the community.
“Many people ask me, ‘What do you think of Anacostia?’” Leech said.
Cherry was drawn to this area because it reminded her of the area she grew up in and areas she has worked in, because of their socioeconomic struggles.
She is very passionate about establishing relationships with the members of the community. She isn’t a fan of “plop art”, which, according to Cherry, is when an artist comes and quickly does a project, leaving without much interaction with the community.
“The community is very open,” she said of Anacostia.
Click to listen to Chris Naoum, an attendee of Lumen8 also discuss “pop up” exhibits as he questions whether Lumen8Anacostia is good for the community.
Keeping it going
While April 14 marked the grand event, the arts initiative in Anacostia isn’t over, Hutinet said.
Since the launch of Lumen8Anacostia, there have been different arts events every Saturday. Organizers of the festival also held a community feedback forum May 2 to gauge the community’s reaction to the event.
Although the Art Residency program has ended and Cherry and Leech have returned to Belfast, their art has remained visible along Martin Luther King Jr. Ave, and Good Hope Road.
“It’s nice to be on the cusp of something,” Cherry said. “It’s been a long time coming.”