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Going to the kickoff of the three-month-long, multi-site art party known as Lumen8Anacostia on Saturday, thoughtfully previewed on Arts Desk, I thought of nothing so much as the idea that the neighborhood was trying on a costume: What would it feel like to have a bunch of young, mostly white folks concert hopping on Martin Luther King Avenue, drinking in warehouses, locking fixies on fences, shopping at vintage stores?
What would it feel like, in other words, to be Washington’s Williamsburg?
Obviously, there are a ton of differences between Anacostia and Brooklyn’s no-longer-affordable hipster haven. There isn’t a critical mass of artists west of the river being displaced by rising rents (those who are go to Arlington or Silver Spring). There aren’t blocks full of charismatic industrial buildings just waiting to be turned into lofts. The city can’t catalyze real estate investment simply by rezoning the whole area for mixed-use development.
But could the city attract people there by subsidizing the arts? That’s long been the theory of ARCH Development Corporation, which thus far has put on a pitter patter of gallery openings and events. So far, though, they’ve been easy for the young cultural class types to ignore. Something big, with an ad blitz around the city and the particular flash of the Pinkline crowd, could be the stimulus that would finally get their attention. Organizers even brought in a mini-Busboys and Poets to make the yuppies feel at home. And of course, while traveling to a neighborhood that still carries a reputation for blight and muggings, there’s safety in numbers.
Lumen8’s long-term impact will be measured my how many of those newbies, having learned that Anacostia’s not so scary after all, come back. It’s doubtful that they will, unless there’s something to attract them, like a critical mass of bars, or a great restaurant, or a music venue that plays shows on a consistent basis. Once those arrive, the cycle builds on itself: Gathering places complete the housing affordability equation.
Then, of course, you have to deal with the next problem: Housing un-affordability. At this point, though, that’s probably not something Anacostia has to worry about.
Photo by Lydia DePillis