Perched on a promontory in the Ward 8 neighborhood of Washington Highlands, The Overlook at Oxon Run, an apartment complex developed by the nonprofit Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC), towers over its namesake creek. The CPDC, a regional nonprofit real estate developer, manages over 80 communities in the Mid-Atlantic region including The Overlook. While CPDC performs all the functions one would expect from a traditional for-profit developer, the nonprofit also seeks to “invest in helping communities grow and thrive.” Specifically, the organization provides “comprehensive resident services aimed primarily at youth and seniors.”
Pamela Lyons, Senior Vice President for Community Impact Strategies at CPDC, partnered with NonStop Art, an arts consultancy organization run by Nehemiah Dixon III. The organizations jointly conducted a series of community meetings with Overlook residents to inquire what programs might be of interest. The residents overwhelmingly responded that they sought a place where they could sew and acquire those skills.
Subsequent to the community meetings, a number of visits were organized to tour “maker spaces” throughout the region with CPDC and NonStop Art staff to observe what was possible at The Overlook. Based on the group’s observations, NonStop Art formulated a series of programs CPDC could implement and to provide the community with a sewing room, a computer lab, visual arts classes, three dimensional printing and other activities that fall under the general rubric of a “maker space”. A grant from Capital One Financial Corporation helped fund the project. By June of 2017, three discrete spaces were established and equipped for Overlook residents.
In accordance with the residents’ initial desire to have a sewing space, the sewing room included a fabric course with instructor Charlene Wallace who had already been teaching sewing at other CPDC properties. The room also provides fabric, tools and sewing machines.
Adjacent to the sewing room, several large touch-screen Microsoft-Pro computers sit neatly on top of sleek desks. Called the “Funk Lab”, Dr. Thomas Stanley operates the digital media space which offers residents the opportunity to engage with computer-based programs designed to create two-dimensional art using Corel Draw and Corel Paint. During my visit, several senior residents sat quietly in front of the oversized screens using digital pens to “color” a template, similar to what would find in a traditional coloring book. Dixon explains that these activities, in many instances, provide senior residents with the first engagement they’ve had with computer technology. Coloring digitally also provides a soothing and therapeutic way for seniors to pass the time. One of the residents showed me a birthday card she was creating for her grandson using the technology. Having created the template from a series of patterns and having selected the colors on her own, she beamed with pride over her one-of-a-kind creation.
Down the hall from the Funk Lab and the sewing room a much larger room has been dedicated to functioning as a multi-media space where residents have access to a three-dimensional printer, a CNC printer (which uses a subtractive process), screen printing equipment and a host of art supplies. To meet the needs of residents, NonStop Art has hired an entire staff of artists specialized in various disciplines who provide everything from basic drawing skills, painting, sculpting as well as technological assistance to ensure the proper usage of the three dimensional and CNC printers.
Having originated with a community conversation about a space to sew, CPDC in partnership with NonStop Art offers Overlook residents a wide range of programming and equipment. However, Dixon is quick to point out that the idea is to encourage residents to become fluent in various forms of making. “We are encouraging people to be project oriented”, explains Dixon whose staff of artists develops residents skills, “people come in with an interest and our staff will help them develop it.” Many of the skills learned by residents have work-force applications. For example, one of the residents used the three-dimensional printer to create a replacement part to repair his electric drill. Another resident worked with NonStop Art staff to create a logo and marketing swag for a business venture over the course of six weeks.
Now that the needs of The Overlook residents are being met and that the pilot programs have yielded permanent programming, Dixon is ready to open the maker space, which he envisions more as “a library more than an art school”, to the community-at-large. Dixon also hopes to expand the space’s offerings through a series of partnerships with regional arts organizations and large institutions and to provide additional resources for experiential learning or even exhibiting.
For readers interested in the Community Membership Plan, for $65 per month, people can have access to all of the resources in the maker space, workshops and the highly trained staff.
To arrange a tour of the space, contact Nehemiah Dixon III by email at Nehemiah@nonstopartllc.com