CHAW Celebrates 40th Anniversary with 40 Free Events in 40 Days.

By Editorial Team on December 22, 2011
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop 40th Anniverary 40 free art events in 40 days washington dc
Stephen Johnson and Regina Van Horne performing in CHAW’s “Backyard Circus” (photo credit: CHAW archives)



Capitol Hill Arts Workshop 40th Anniverary 40 free art events in 40 days washington dc  | EVENTS |


The Capitol Hill Arts Workshop will be hosting 40 free events over the course of 40 days beginning January 4, 2012 to celebrate their 40th anniversary.

For a complete list of events and to register online go to:


Written by CHAW’s Megan Cheek and published in the October 2011 Hill Rag,  this article traces the history of CHAW and the profound impact it has had on the community over the last four decades:

In 1972, Sally Crowell (dancer and dramatist), Jean Kling Lewton (art curator), and Marianna Gasteyer (local artist and teacher), responding to requests from Capitol Hill residents, created three informal art and movement classes. The trio held their classes at Christ Church, twenty-four students enrolled, and the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW) was born.

Since then, CHAW has seen temporary homes in the Lincoln Park United Methodist Church, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and the Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church.  In 1977, CHAW’s board of directors  petitioned the DC government for a  long term, low cost lease for the long abandoned B.B. French School at the corner of 7th and G Streets, SE.   After much negotiation, fundraising, and downright sweat and labor, in 1979 CHAW took up residence in the B.B. French School, where it continues to flourish today.

This year (October 2011-October 2012), the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop commemorates 40 years of celebrating its mission of “building community through the arts.” Beginning with its ArtSmash party on October 1, 2011, CHAW hosted an array of festivities including a logo contest, 40 free events during the month of January 2012, a February 2012 choral concert, and other events to be unveiled throughout the year.

In conjunction with the year-long festivities, CHAW presents its 40th Anniversary Project, a collection of 40 interviews with people who have been or are currently connected to the Capitol Hill community and to CHAW. “In preparing for our 40th  year, it seemed like a great idea, and an obvious way to celebrate, to delve a bit deeper into the stories that make up CHAW’s rich history and to honor those who built the organization,” says Jill Strachan, CHAW’s Executive Director.

CHAW sought out past and current students, employees, board members, neighborhood residents, parents, and more to compile the interviews. The result is over 60 hours of recorded video, interview transcripts, and a brochure highlighting the project and a few of the interviewees.

“To me CHAW’s history is best conveyed as a series of anecdotes,”  says Strachan. “I often meet people who, when they fi nd out where I work, offer a story about CHAW – something about their own childhood days at CHAW or an observation about a teaching artist or a connection made.  I can’t necessarily certify the facts of these stories, but I can always connect  with their spirit.”

Troughout the 40 interviews, Strachan says people described the community they found and nurtured on Capitol Hill, and manifested to  some degree in CHAW, with enthusiasm. They credit the community as life-transforming.

“To be able to have lived here in the early 70s, to see kids grow up here and move back to have their own families is a remarkable, different thing,” says Parker Jayne, a former CHAW board member and founder of the Capitol Hill Chorale. He says that what is most special to him is the multigenerational aspect of CHAW, with people from four to 70, contributing as equals in all sorts of ways.

Reuven Goren is a former CHAW student who says having an easily accessible arts center contributed to his sense of community. “It wasn’t about just going to a gallery and looking at a painting, but making a painting,”  says Goren. “It wasn’t just about going to the theater and seeing a play, but being in a play.”

Local NBC anchor Jim Vance, who moved to Capitol Hill in 1970, is a former CHAW parent. “I think back now and I cannot imagine Capitol Hill without CHAW,” says Vance. “CHAW was like a glue that held a lot of good things together.  One of the reasons I was happy my kids were in there is because in those workshops were children of the maid, the sanitation worker, the aide of the chief counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee, a developer who built a museum downtown. Wonderfully diverse.”

Ward 6 DC Council Member Tommy Wells says that CHAW is a part of one of the most amenity-rich neighborhoods in the country and is a “special place that helps create a cultured, civilized neighborhood.”

The interviewees also talk about the direct impact CHAW has had on fostering individual growth, creativity, and a sense of community. Several of the interviewees had taken classes as children and have returned either as students in  adult classes or parents of students.

Denise Johnson-Petway is a former student who grew up at CHAW taking dance classes in the early 1970s. “CHAW taught involvement in community, higher self-esteem, character building, individual growth, self-discipline, self-worth,” says Johnson-Petway.  “To come back to CHAW felt like going home.”

“CHAW is a safe place to express yourself,” says Julia Robey Christian, a former CHAW student and staff member who is currently the Executive Director of CHAMPS- Capitol Hill’s Chamber of Commerce.  “Background, age, race, class didn’t matter when you walked in the door since you were there to share in the creative element.  I felt like I had the world’s biggest family and I still believe that.”

“The Workshop was always, is always, a good idea,” says Jeffery Watson, a former Executive Director and teaching artist.  “It combines the best of what it means to live in a community environment.  there are only a handful of organizations like this in the country- every discipline, every age, education, and performance/exhibitions.”

“What we’ve learned through the interviews is CHAW’s commitment to is community is its anchor,” says Strachan.  “In its 40 years, CHAW has become a community center rich with connections to its Capitol Hill history.  The mix of arts-disciplines and people- children and adults – is unique and creates a vibrant spirit of community energy.”

Look for more information about CHAW’s 40 years at in the coming weeks, including a living history of CHAW in the words of many more of those 40 interviews.  Copies of the brochure are free and available at CHAW after October 1, 2011.

The 40th Anniversary Project is funded in part by the DC Community Heritage Project.  Funds for the DC Community Heritage Project are provided by a partnership of the Humanities Council of Washington, DC and the DC Historic Preservation Office, which supports peoples who want to tell stories of their neighborhoods and communities by providing information, training, and financial resources.

Written by Megan Cheek and originally posted in the October 2011 Hill Rag