WASHINGTON – For years, Anacostia has struggled to shed its rough and tough image. Gallery openings, river cleanups and the new 11th Street Bridge have conspired to attract Washingtonians who might otherwise eschew the neighborhood for more desirable areas.
But the folks behind LUMEN8Anacostia hope to change Ward 8’s reputation among some by offering three months of high-brow culture.
“The idea is to take vacant storefronts in places like Anacostia … and turn them into vibrant shopping districts with a focus on art,” says Phil Hutinet, managing director of Honfleur Gallery and chief operating officer of Arch Development Corporation, a nonprofit that has been in the area for more than 20 years.
On Saturday, 100 artists and more than a dozen pop-up spaces will inaugurate a series of creative spaces in the commercial corridor of historic Anacostia. Storefronts, landmarks and murals will be lit up as a sign of the vibrancy that has come to characterize the area.
At the center of this renaissance is an old police evidence warehouse, now called the Lightbox. It will host a Busboys and Poets pop-up restaurant, food trucks, live music, installations, skateboarding and other performances.
This is all possible thanks to a $250,000 grant from ArtPlace, a collaboration of nine arts-related foundations. The grant has been split up among four neighborhoods — Anacostia, Brookland, Deanwood, and central 14th Street in Northwest — in order to repurpose empty storefronts and lots for creative use.
Hutinet feels this is exactly the kind of opportunity Ward 8 needs. He opened the neighborhood’s first art space — Honfleur Gallery — in 2007 and hasn’t stopped trying to revitalize the area since.
“Anacostia is an absolutely delightful neighborhood,” he says. “Although the neighborhood is poor, it is extremely rich in culture.”
The third-generation Washingtonian likens Ward 8 to a place like New Orleans, which is steeped in African and Caribbean traditions. For some, the history can be a turnoff. But for others, it just adds to the communal texture.
“A lot of people in the city are not aware of the great things that go on here,” says Nikki Peele, director of economic development and marketing for Arch and fellow Ward 8 resident. “We hear so many negative things about the Anacostia neighborhood, as well as a lot of people are just not familiar with the area at all.”
That is why Lumen8 is so important, she says.
“It’s actually going to illuminate people’s beliefs and concepts on the area,” she says. “It’s a great vehicle to bring people here, connect people and to give people a better understanding of what it’s like to live in Anacostia.”
Lumen8 opens Saturday at noon. For a complete list of events and directions, check out the full website.