Editor’s Note: this article is published in partnership with Capital Community News and was featured in the August print edition of East of the River Magazine.
On Friday, July 24, 2015, Project Create officially celebrated the opening of their new home in Anacostia. Located just above Mama’s Pizza at 2028 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE and accessed via an entrance on “V” Street SE, the nonprofit transformed several small offices on the second floor of a historic clapboard building into an open teaching studio.
While project create began programming at its Anacostia location in February 2015, the long awaited ribbon cutting ceremony marked the rooting of the organization East of the River with founders, community partners, board members, donors, staff and press in attendance. The joyous occasion began with a reception, followed by remarks from keynote speakers.
Tarik Davis, an instructor at Project Create, who also goes by “Konshens the MC”, began the evening’s programming with a poem extolling the virtues of learning and pride in one self. Davis’ acapella-rapped poem broke the ice and lit-up the crowd. Davis then introduced Nick Maschari, Project Create Board President.
Maschari discussed how far Project Create had come from its humble beginnings in 1994 as an outreach program to operating its own space. Said Maschari about Project Create’s physical presence in Anacostia, “This is on mission and in line with what we want to do as an organization.”
Following his remarks, Maschari introduced Christie Walser, Founder and Executive Director of Project Create who told the audience that “a dream has been actualized” this year with the opening of Project Create’s new location. Walser also acknowledged Julie Jacobson of the Share Fund, in attendance, for the support the grant making organization provided in helping fund Project Create’s operations. After discussing the organization’s recent staff and programming expansion, a tearful Walser read Langston Hughes’ I Dream a World after which the audience rose in applause.
Walser intentionally sought an East of the River location to provide immediate access to populations the organization traditionally serves. Unlike many community-based arts organizations, Project Create actively seeks out and brings programming to youth and families in at-risk, underserved populations who live either at or below the poverty line. Many of the organization’s students and parents experience homelessness, transitional housing or alternate between fixed housing and homelessness.
Throughout its twenty year history, Project Create has worked in partnership with social service organizations such as So Others Might Eat (SOME), Community of Hope and Sasha Bruce Youthwork to ensure continuity of instruction with children and families whose housing status fluctuates.
Project Create never charges students for instruction and, “Envisions a community in which all young people have equitable access to high-quality arts education that contributes to their achievements and their communities.”
Project Create’s multidisciplinary arts-classes include visual arts such drawing & painting, photography, mixed media collage and sculpture; performing arts such as dance, theater, stand-up comedy, spoken word poetry; and digital media arts such as graphic design, marketing/branding, and videography. Weekly programming runs year-long, in a 3-semester school year format as follows: 10 weeks in the fall, 15 weeks in the spring and 6-8 weeks in the summer.
Project Create’s high-quality instruction derives in large part from the caliber of the working artists they employ. One such artist, Shaymar Higgs has worked extensively East of the River, participated in LUMEN8ANACOSTIA festival in 2012, and is also an accomplished chef and entrepreneur. Another teaching artist, Channel Compton, who lives in Anacostia, has exhibited extensively at commercial galleries and museums. She recently drew the acclaim of critics this spring with work in the group exhibition Transforming Anew: Reinterpreting Black Male Identity at the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center. Higgs and Compton not only provide instruction and mentorship to the youth they engage but serve as role models for the students. Furthermore, as adults who have made careers as artists, they have the ability to lead a new generation of artists, makers and creatives.
So how has the community reacted so far to Project Create’s programming and instruction? Eric, 16, says “It helps me get involved with the community and helps me explore my artistic ways.” Danessa , also 16, adds, “Project Create is fun. It brings me and my friends together.” Carlin, age 7 declares “I can make pretty much anything here…I never knew I could design anything. It’s awesome!”
Nianca, age 10 unequivocally states, “I like how Project Create lets you express yourself. You can be yourself here. You meet people who know a little more about art than you do, and you learn the things they know. That way you get better at being an artist.”
Lastly, Jamila, a parent whose son benefits from Project Create’s programs discussed her belief in art as a fundamental component of human growth. “I’m a huge believer in the arts’ impact upon the lives and culture of people. It is essential that expression and creativity be accessible to all people! Age, economic status – none of these should limit the means by which we learn and share and take part in culture with one another. I’ve been delighted that my son has been able to enjoy learning and creating such high-quality art and experiences with Project Create. It’s encouraging him to see the world in a broader – and more beautiful – way. Furthermore, it helps me as a parent to find ways to channel his interest in a positive and affirming way. I even like when he comes home paint-stained!”