New Hemphill Fine Arts Installation Signals Emergence of NOMA Business District

What impact can the installation of new artwork  have in an emerging business district?  Can it signal the beginning of critical mass in the realization of a new neighborhood?

NOMA BID on East City Art M Street View

Looking East on M Street NE toward the Elevated New York Avenue – Florida Avenue – Galludet Metro Station

The NoMa (North Of Massachusetts Avenue) BID (Business Improvement District), north of Capitol Hill and  just off the H Street corridor, has been undergoing a major facelift these past few years.  Originally settled by Irish Immigrants in the 1850’s, the area was known as “Swampoodle”.  It is believed that Swampoodle is a concatenation of the words “swamp” and “puddle”  referring to the Tiber creek that once flowed freely in the area and often flooded,  forming large puddles after heavy rains.   Swampoodle eventually grew into one of Washington’s  industrial neighborhoods thanks to its strategic location along the marshaling yards north of Union Station.  Until recently, many of the building and lots lay derelict and abandoned in this part of northeast Washington.

NOMA BID on East City Art First Street View

Looking North On First Street NE along the new row of restaurants and a grocery store scheduled to open in November and December of 2010. Photo by Phil Hutinet for East City Art.


Since the opening of the in-fill  New York Avenue-Florida Avenue-Galludet University Metro on the Red Line in 2004,  many federal agencies and other organizations have begun relocating to the area.  Cranes and construction pits have dominated the landscape from 2005 to the present but the construction dust appears to be settling at a few intersections and a distinct district is taking shape.

Tomas Ashcaft Hemphill Fine Arts on East City Art

Hemphill Fine Arts artist Tomas Ashcraft’s latest installation in the lobby of 1200 First Street NE. Photo by Phil Hutinet for East City Art.

At one such intersection on the corner of First and M streets NE, we visited a sculpture installation by Tom Ashcraft in the building lobby of 1200 First Street NE.  The project was coordinated by Hemphill Fine Arts who represents Ashcraft.    Ashcraft, an Associate Professor at George Mason University,  has participated many large-scale public art installations.  Of note to East City Art readers, Ashcraft collaborated with David Chung to help design and produce a number of street improvements and sculptures in Mount Rainier known as the “Mount Rainer Public Artwork and Roundabout Streetscape Design”.  While the display at 1200 First Street NE is neither public nor anywhere near as large-scale as the Mount Rainer project, interestingly enough, the installation of Ashcraft’s work coincides with a pivotal moment for a neighborhood in transition.

Tomas Ashcaft Hemphill Fine Arts on East City Art

Additional View of Tomas Ashcraft’s work. Photo by Phil Hutinet for East City Art.

Installations of this type are quite common in many office buildings downtown like Washington Square, at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW, which offers rotating displays of sculpture installations.  However,  Ashcraft’s installation is among the first in NOMA.   While Hemphill Fine Arts and Ashcraft installed the wheel sculptures, across First Street, new shops opened or were getting ready to open.  On the East Side of the 1200 block of First Street NE, newly xeriscaped sidewalks feature generously sized rain gardens created by storm water runoff ironically reminiscent of the Tiber Creek floods that named Swampoodle.

xeriscape swampoodle on East City Art

Close-up of xeriscaped rain garden on the east side of the 1200 block of First Street NE. Photo by Phil Hutinet for East City Art.


1200 1st Street NE
Phil Hutinet
Authored by: Phil Hutinet

Phil Hutinet, a third generation Capitol Hill resident, is the publisher of East City Art, DC's Visual Arts publication of record, which he began in 2010. In 2012-2013, his consultancy work east of the river yielded the Anacostia Playhouse, Craig Kraft Studios, the Anacostia Arts Center and the 2012-2013 LUMEN8ANACOSTIA festivals. In 2015, 2018 and 2019 he acted as the Gateway Open Studio Tour coordinator. From 2013-2018, he produced EMULSION, East City Art's regional juried show and has curated over 150 local exhibitions in his career as a gallery owner and director of several local galleries. Currently, he oversees the ECA's Critical Arts Writing Program which produces an annual anthology titled CONFLUENCE: Two Rivers One City. Hutinet has been interviewed by or has made appearances on the BBC, Capital Community News, Euronews, Washingtonian Magazine, Washington City Paper, The Washington Post, WJLA ABC News Channel 7/Channel 8, WTOP and other local, national and international media.