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Spotlight on Anacostia

Ward 8 arts initiative could be ‘transformational’ for neighborhood

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Andrea Hope and Tommie Adams look over prints he hopes to have exhibited in the Lumen8Anacostia festival in April. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

With the Smithsonian here and a host of other well-established galleries hosting exhibits — sometimes of national renown — it’s easy to get overlooked in the Washington art scene. But there’s a flourishing art community east of the Anacostia River, a handful of galleries and, come April, a bounty of opportunities for everyone to see them both in the established art houses there and in a bevy of abandoned buildings and warehouses.

Anacostia, just one of the Ward 8 D.C. Southeast neighborhoods east of the River, is changing. On April 14, residents there will launch Lumen8Anacostia, a three-month arts initiative that’s using a $250,000 grant the D.C. Office of Planning received from ArtPlace (a collaboration of nine of the country’s top foundations, eight federal agencies and six large banks that supports “creative placemaking” with grants and more) to be administered to four D.C. neighborhoods (the others are Brookland, Deanwood and the central 14th Street area N.W.) to create temporary art and culture spaces in “emerging” neighborhoods where vacant and/or underutilized storefronts and empty lots will be transformed into art knolls. Arch Development Corporation, which has been working since 1991 to revitalize historic Anacostia with several initiatives and economic development plans, is implementing Lumen8.

Though not an LGBT-specific initiative, one of the organizers, Jeffrey Herrell, is gay and his partner, Tommie Adams, is hoping to have his photography exhibited in one of the spaces. They moved to Anacostia in 2005, delighted at the amount of house and yard they could get for a fraction of the price they would have paid in Washington’s glitzier neighborhoods. Herrell says they love the neighborhood and are delighted to see its cultural side being tapped.

Lumen8 organizers from left are Beth Ferraro, Andrea Hope, Jeffrey Herrell, Nikki Peele and Phil Hutinet. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

“I’m a big ambassador for Anacostia,” Herrell says. “I’m always trying to get my friends to move here and I’ve succeeded a few times. I have great neighbors here. Yes, there have been some ups and downs … but I think [the neighborhood] has been stigmatized. … The neighbors are extremely close, really tight in terms of friendships and the neighborhood kind of brings you together. I really like living here.”

Herrell says he knows two artists who live on his street and has another neighbor who’s an actor/performance artist. His next-door neighbor is also gay, there’s a lesbian couple on his block and another he knows of a couple blocks over. He and Adams say gays in Dupont and Logan would be surprised to discover how easygoing most straight Anacostia residents are with their LGBT neighbors.

“People here really don’t care,” Adams says. “Sometimes the kids will say something at first, but people here don’t really care if there are differences. I guess they have worse issues to deal with.”

Anacostia does, of course, have its problems. About 94 percent black (Ward 7 is 96 percent), Ward 8 residents are plagued with the city’s highest unemployment rate — 35 percent according to the latest figures available from NeighborhoodInfo D.C., a partnership between the Urban Institute and the Washington D.C. Local Initiatives Support Corporation — and 20 violent crimes per 1,000 residents in 2010. Both, sadly, are the highest rates of D.C.’s eight wards (Ward 7’s unemployment rate is 19 percent for those 16 and older; Ward 3 has the lowest with just 3.4 percent of its 16-and-older residents out of work).

But those figures are part of the reason Lumen8 organizers say Anacostia needs some light, quite literally. In addition to the various exhibits planned, organizers plan to illuminate several Anacostia buildings for the festival. A portion of the grant money will go to Intelligent Lighting Company, which will project lights and images on several buildings there.

“We’re lighting it up literally as well as trying to shine an overall spotlight on the neighborhood,” Herrell says.

“So few people really know the location, they think Anacostia is everything east of the river,” says Nikki Peele, an Arch employee who lives in Congress Heights, another Ward 8 neighborhood. “Even lifelong D.C. residents sometimes think that. They’re not sure of the history here, what’s here to do. For too many people, the information they have is that this is a somewhat scary place, so for a project like this, especially on this scale, it has the opportunity to be a transformational moment and not just for the community but for the outside perception of it … it’s very much a family community with an almost village-like feel. … the name was chosen for a reason — to bring both light and understanding.”

Organizers are selecting artists to have their work shown now from a pool of about 20 applicants who heard about the event through neighborhood listserves and word of mouth. After the April 14 kickoff, exhibitors will have to agree to have their gallery spaces open each Saturday and then six hours on another day during the week for the rest of April, May and June. Aside from the neighborhood’s existing three galleries, space such as a former police warehouse and several vacant storefronts on Martin Luther King Avenue and Good Hope Road will be converted into temporary exhibition space. Portions of the funds from the grant will be used to convert the various spaces and to give to the artists to realize their visions for their exhibits.

Herrell says it’s a good opportunity for both D.C. residents in general and also for the Anacostia artists, most amateurs, who’ve never had their work exhibited before.

“They may not be able to afford to open their own store, but this will give them a taste of what it’s like,” he says.

“It’s a very large-scale project,” says Phil Hutinet, Arch’s chief operating officer. “It’s going to be a huge benefit to the artistic community and to the neighborhood.”

 

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Theater

‘Amm(i)gone’ explores family, queerness, and faith

A ‘fully autobiographical’ work from out artist Adil Mansoor

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Adil Mansoor in ‘Amm(i)gone’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. (Photo by Kitoko Chargois)

‘Amm(i)gone’
Thorough May 12
Woolly Mammoth Theatre
641 D St., N.W. 
$60-$70
Woollymammoth.net

“Fully and utterly autobiographical.” That’s how Adil Mansoor describes “Amm(i)gone,” his one-man work currently playing at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. 

Both created and performed by out artist Mansoor, it’s his story about inviting his Pakistani mother to translate Sophocles’s Greek tragedy “Antigone” into Urdu. Throughout the journey, there’s an exploration of family, queerness, and faith,as well as references to teachings from the Quran, and audio conversations with his Muslim mother. 

Mansoor, 38, grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and is now based in Pittsburgh where he’s a busy theater maker. He’s also the founding member of Pittsburgh’s Hatch Arts Collective and the former artistic director of Dreams of Hope, an LGBTQ youth arts organization.

WASHINGTON BLADE: What spurred you to create “Amm(i)gone”? 

ADIL MANSOOR: I was reading a translation of “Antigone” a few years back and found myself emotionally overwhelmed. A Theban princess buries her brother knowing it will cost her, her own life. It’s about a person for whom all aspirations are in the afterlife. And what does that do to the living when all of your hopes and dreams have to be reserved for the afterlife?

I found grant funding to pay my mom to do the translation. I wanted to engage in learning. I wanted to share theater but especially this ancient tragedy. My mother appreciated the characters were struggling between loving one another and their beliefs. 

BLADE: Are you more director than actor?

MANSOOR: I’m primarily a director with an MFA in directing from Carnegie Mellon. I wrote, directed, and performed in this show, and had been working on it for four years. I’ve done different versions including Zoom. Woolly’s is a new production with the same team who’ve been involved since the beginning. 

I love solo performance. I’ve produced and now teach solo performance and believe in its power. And I definitely lean toward “performance” and I haven’t “acted” since I was in college. I feel good on stage. I was a tour guide and do a lot of public speaking. I enjoy the attention. 

BLADE: Describe your mom. 

MANSOOR: My mom is a wonderfully devout Muslim, single mother, social worker who discovered my queerness on Google. And she prays for me. 

She and I are similar, the way we look at things, the way we laugh. But different too. And those are among the questions I ask in this show. Our relationship is both beautiful and complicated.

BLADE: So, you weren’t exactly hiding your sexuality? 

MANSOOR: In my mid-20s, I took time to talk with friends about our being queer with relation to our careers. My sexuality is essential to the work. As the artistic director at Dreams of Hope, part of the work was to model what it means to be public. If I’m in a room with queer and trans teenagers, part of what I’m doing is modeling queer adulthood. The way they see me in the world is part of what I’m putting out there. And I want that to be expansive and full. 

So much of my work involves fundraising and being a face in schools. Being out is about making safe space for queer young folks.

BLADE: Have you encountered much Islamophobia? 

MANSOOR: When 9/11 happened, I was a sophomore in high school, so yes. I faced a lot then and now. I’ve been egged on the street in the last four months. I see it in the classroom. It shows up in all sorts of ways. 

BLADE: What prompted you to lead your creative life in Pittsburgh? 

MANSOOR: I’ve been here for 14 years. I breathe with ease in Pittsburgh. The hills and the valleys and the rust of the city do something to me. It’s beautiful, it’ affordable, and there is support for local artists. There’s a lot of opportunity. 

Still, the plan was to move to New York in September of 2020 but that was cancelled. Then the pandemic showed me that I could live in Pittsburgh and still have a nationally viable career. 

BLADE: What are you trying to achieve with “Amm(i)gone”? 

MANSOOR: What I’m sharing in the show is so very specific but I hear people from other backgrounds say I totally see my mom in that. My partner is Catholic and we share so much in relation to this. 

 I hope the work is embracing the fullness of queerness and how means so many things. And I hope the show makes audiences want to call their parents or squeeze their partners.

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Out & About

The Rare Book Fair is coming to D.C.

Over 35 antiquarian booksellers from across the country to attend

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The Capital Rare Book Fair arrives in May. (Photo by aramanda/Bigstock)

The Capital Rare Book Fair will bring more than 35 antiquarian booksellers from across the country to D.C. from Friday, May 3 to Sunday, May 5 at the historic University Club at 1135 16th St., N.W.

This year, the fair will take over two floors in the illustrious mansion on 16th Street and showcase thousands of beautiful, notable, and rare books, maps, and historic documents from around the globe. Exceptional examples that will be offered include leaf 27 of a 40-leaf xylographic Biblia pauperum, a picture Bible from 1465 for $85,000 from Bruce McKittrick Rare Books, among many other intriguing selections. 

Tickets are $50 and more information is available on the event’s website.

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Calendar

Calendar: April 19-25

LGBTQ events in the days to come

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Friday, April 19

Center Aging Friday Tea Time will be at 2 p.m. on Zoom. This is a social hour for older LGBTQ adults. Guests are encouraged to bring a beverage of choice. For more information, email [email protected]

Go Gay DC will host “Drag Pageant” at 8 p.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant. Net proceeds from this event will benefit EQUALITY NoVa, the local nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing equality in Northern Virginia. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

Saturday, April 20

LGBTQ People of Color Support Group will be at 1 p.m. on Zoom. This peer support group is an outlet for LGBTQ People of Color to come together and talk about anything affecting them in a space that strives to be safe and judgment free. For more details, ​​visit thedccenter.org/poc or facebook.com/centerpoc.

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Brunch” at 11 a.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant. This fun weekly event brings the DMV area LGBTQ community, including allies, together for delicious food and conversation. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

Sunday, April 21

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Dinner” at 7 p.m. at Federico Ristorante Italiano. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

AfroCode DC will be at 4 p.m. at Decades DC. This event will be an experience of non-stop music, dancing, and good vibes and a crossover of genres and a fusion of cultures. Tickets cost $40 and can be purchased on Eventbrite

Monday, April 22

Center Aging: Monday Coffee & Conversation will be at 10 a.m. on Zoom. This is a social hour for older LGBTQ adults. Guests are encouraged to bring a beverage of their choice. For more details, email [email protected]

Tuesday, April 23

Pride on the Patio Events will host “LGBTQ Social Mixer” at 5:30 p.m. at Showroom. Dress is casual, fancy, or comfortable. Guests are encouraged to bring their most authentic self to chat, laugh, and get a little crazy. Admission is free and more details are on Eventbrite.

Genderqueer DC will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. This is a support group for people who identify outside of the gender binary. Whether you’re bigender, agender, genderfluid, or just know that you’re not 100% cis. For more details, visit genderqueerdc.org or Facebook. 

Wednesday, April 24

Job Club will be at 6 p.m. on Zoom. This is a weekly job support program to help job entrants and seekers, including the long-term unemployed, improve self-confidence, motivation, resilience and productivity for effective job searches and networking — allowing participants to move away from being merely “applicants” toward being “candidates.” For more information, email [email protected] or visit [email protected].

Asexual and Aromantic Group will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. This is a space where people who are questioning this aspect of their identity or those who identify as asexual and/or aromantic can come together, share stories and experiences, and discuss various topics. For more details, email [email protected]

Thursday, April 25

The DC Center’s Fresh Produce Program will be held all day at the DC Center for the LGBT Community. People will be informed on Wednesday at 5:00 pm if they are picked to receive a produce box. No proof of residency or income is required. For more information, email [email protected] or call 202-682-2245. 

Virtual Yoga with Charles M. will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. This is a free weekly class focusing on yoga, breath work, and meditation. For more details, visit the DC Center for the LGBT Community’s website.

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