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When Fugazi, Quix*o*tic, and Shore play a benefit for the new Emmaus Community Center on July 31, the event should yield the customary “few thousand dollars,” predicts veteran Positive Force organizer Mark Andersen. Sounds like a lot of money for an ad hoc bunch of punk rockers to raise, but it will leave the project with almost $800,000 to go.
The price tag is so high because the proposed center will
be a veritable mothership of social service and positive-punk activities. Emmaus Services for the Aging, where Andersen works, intends to move its Farragut Square offices to 9th and
P Streets NW and possibly share the space with nonprofits
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such as the Washington Peace Center and D.C. Hunger Action. Emmaus’ daytime drop-in center will become a sort of alternative-culture performance space several nights a week. The structure’s top floor will become a dormitory for Positive Force members, who currently live in an Arlington group house.
The performance space will fulfill Andersen’s longtime wish for a noncommercial, alcohol-free venue for music, poetry, films, and socializing. “Our community has been captured by the club scene and the rock ‘n’ roll industry,” he laments. “Ever since
the passing of d.c. space, there’s been a need for an arts and performance space that exists outside business as usual.”
Andersen cautions that the new space will not be the reincarnation of d.c. space, the downtown arts-scene hangout that in fact served both food and alcohol. He expects the new performance space to function just two or three nights a week, and to offer only water, juice, and soft drinks.
The performance space will probably hold fewer than 100 people, Andersen says, and Positive Force will continue to organize benefit concerts in larger venues. “Fugazi will never perform in this space,” he notes.
Emmaus principals have signed a letter of agreement to purchase the mansard-roofed building for $220,000, and hope to buy a smaller, empty building next door that has been a neighborhood nuisance for years. Renovating the structures, Andersen estimates, will cost another $500,000.
Emmaus doesn’t propose to raise all that money from benefit concerts; it’s already received an anonymous $100,000 matching grant. The organizers should have enough money to start construction this fall and envision that the center will be ready for occupancy in about a year.
Andersen is aware that some in the community may be skeptical of the project, which needs to meet historic preservation standards and get zoning approval for the performance space. “I’m very serious about making sure this place is soundproofed,” he pledges. “I’m going to live there, so I want to make sure it’s a good neighbor.”—Mark Jenkins