Congress Heights Neighborhood Welcomes New Arts & Culture Center

By Phil Hutinet on October 28, 2015
The Congress Heights Arts & Culture Center.  Credit: Photo by Phil Hutinet for East City Art
The Congress Heights Arts & Culture Center. Photo by Phil Hutinet for East City Art

On Friday, July 31, the Congress Heights Arts & Culture Center opened its doors for the first time to the community after which it was named. Located at 3200 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, across the street from DC’s landmark Engine 25 fire station, the multi-level, foursquare home turned cultural center lies in the heart of Ward 8.

Phinis Jones, a long-time ward 8 resident and avid art collector himself, originally intended to donate the space, which he owns, to exhibit his extensive art collection. However, upon further refection, Jones expanded his vision from showcasing his artwork to creating a neighborhood cultural center and gathering place. Those familiar with the neighborhood will recognize the 3200 MLK, Jr. Avenue SE address as the former headquarters of Capitol Services Management, Inc., an organization run by Jones.

The center’s opening comes on the heels of a number of other east-of-the-river art related development, notably in Ward 8, such as the opening of the Anacostia Playhouse and the Anacostia Arts Center in 2013. By late 2016 or early 2017, Curtis-Four Points will open a series of street-level artist-work live spaces further anchoring historic Anacostia as an arts destination.

However, amidst all of the new development in historic Anacostia over the past three years, the Anacostia Art Gallery and Boutique, a neighborhood mainstay for local residents and located across from the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, closed its doors permanently on December 31, 2014. Its closure left a powerful vacuum in Ward 8 as the surrounding community lost a favorite meeting place, cultural center and marketplace.

Executive Director Keyonna Jones-Lindsay at the Congress Heights Arts & Culture Center.  Photo by Phil Hutinet for East City Art.
Executive Director Keyonna Jones-Lindsay at the Congress Heights Arts & Culture Center. Photo by Phil Hutinet for East City Art.

As fate would have it, the opening of the Congress Heights Arts & Culture Center could not have come at a better time. Much like the Anacostia Art Gallery and Boutique, the CHACC is located in a residence, immediately putting visitors at ease. The center has even more spaces to showcase concurring exhibitions as well as areas dedicated to the sale of local crafts, books and other items, a format reminiscent of what one would have found at the Anacostia Art Gallery and Boutique. Even the Anacostia Art Gallery and Boutique’s curator, Barry Blackman, has landed at the CHACC to collaborate and program a number of upcoming exhibitions. He has already begun populate the center with a variety of objets d’art—as he did at the Anacostia Art Gallery and Boutique—which he discovers during his global travels.

Blackman sees the Congress Heights Arts & Culture Center as “an empowerment zone” where members of the community can “feel at home.” The new center will afford Blackman the opportunity to continue his extensive curatorial work on the African Diaspora ensuring its important cultural influence finds an anchor and a proper voice in the Washington, DC art world.

Congress Heights Arts & Culture Center Executive Director Keyonna Jones-Lindsay has ambitious plans for the space. She plans to establish a series of programs which extend beyond the visual arts to include the culinary, the literary and the performing arts. In addition, as part of the center’s offerings, Jones-Lindsay will include wellness courses, money management classes and other programming that will benefit local residents.

First and foremost, Jones-Lindsay sees the Congress Heights Arts & Culture Center as a gathering place to actively involve the community in outreach and education. For Jones-Lindsay, “The CHACC’s goal is to inspire, educate and expose the community, especially our youth, to arts, not only in our history but in our own community.” Jones-Lindsay further states that, “There is an immense history of Washington, DC, specifically in Southeast that will be highlighted.”

And the center is already having an impact on the community. Blackman recalls seeing a young man enter the center during one of the early workshop sessions. “He did not appear to be the kind of person you would normally think would be interested in art.” As it turns out, he was. Now the center provides him with a safe and nurturing place to learn new skills and techniques. This experience exemplifies the spirit of what Jones-Lindsay hopes to accomplish with the center’s educational programs.

As far as the art exhibitions are concerned, Jones-Lindsey has already established a rigorous programming schedule for 2015 which, last month, included a retrospective of Ted Ellis’ work to inaugurate the center’s gallery. In October, the center will open group exhibition The Black Doll Show featuring renowned lifelong doll artists Betty Baines, Gwendolyn Aqui Brooks, Francine Haskins, Jeri Hubbard and Paula Whaley. In November, Malia Shalaam and Keisha Carroll will present concurrent solo exhibitions. Lastly, in December, look for a major retrospective by Lois Mailou Jones which will include a number of pieces from private collections.

The Congress Heights Arts and Cultural Center is looking for community involvement and volunteers. To contact the center, call 202-563.5033