An arts program in the Anacostia neighborhood is teaching students to embrace their creative capabilities and express them through art, the program’s deputy director said.
Arts on the Block is a nonprofit organization that offers teenagers and young adults educational guidance and practical arts experience. The group trains students in the Washington, D.C., area who hope to enter arts-related professions.
Deputy Director Clayton Evans said the organization has taught more than 350 students in the program’s 15 years of service.
“What Arts on the Block means to me is an opportunity for young people to have an impact in their own community,” Evans said.
A footprint in the neighborhood
Students in the program also create commission-based public art for Arts on the Block’s clients, including JP Morgan Chase Bank, Evans said. Their public art includes drawings, murals and tile mosaic houses.
“It’s not just about writing a check, it’s about creating relationships with our clients,” Evans said. “The students present their drawings to the client and eventually receive funding to recreate them as murals.”
Shantisa Brooks, a student in the program, considers art an opportunity for freedom of expression. She said the program has helped her differentiate her artistic style from that of other artists.
“The projects that we work on together are a form of unity,” Brooks said. “We all want more input from the community to make our public art the best that it can be.”
Many of the students’ murals represent stories from their communities, Brooks said. This year’s students are working on a mural called “Anacostia on MLK” that depicts people from different ethnicities holding hands to symbolize unity. The mural will be displayed on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue Southeast.
Jordan Robinson, another student, said she joined Arts on the Block because of her particular interest in abstract patterns and mosaics.
“As D.C. is becoming more gentrified, I believe that it is important for mosaics to be displayed because of their historic presence,” she said.
Robinson said the students’ mosaics represent a time before gentrification changed the infrastructure of neighborhoods like Anacostia.
Change in Anacostia
Some Arts on the Block students also participate in Project Create, an Anacostia nonprofit that teaches art to children living in poverty, Executive Director Christie Walser said. She said Project Create began in 1994 to provide art programs to affordable housing organizations.
“In 2015, we opened up this studio in Anacostia so that students could find our programs, no matter where they are,” Walser said.
Project Create plans to open a new tech studio in Anacostia soon, Walser said. The studio will offer programs in digital media arts, including 3D printing and graphic design.
These organizations have impacted Anacostia through their community involvement, Evans and Walser said. By teaching art to the neighborhood’s young people, Evans said the nonprofits give them a voice they never knew they had.
“Hopefully, for years to come these students can look back at their work and take pride in the fact that they had a positive and aesthetically pleasing effect in their community,” Evans said.