Derwin Dubose is standing off to the side in the large main room at Open Studio DC, a screenprinting studio and workshop in Ivy City. Several young men who live in the neighborhood are taping a screen onto a stencil, preparing to print T-shirts with the hashtag #therealivycity in thick, red lettering. The hashtag is the driving motto behind Saturday’s gathering, the guys are laughing but working methodically on the stack of tees.
Antwan Williams, like the other participants from the neighborhood, has never screenprinted anything before. “This is my first time,” he said, laughing. “I’m anxious.”
“Nineteen- to 24-year-old black men who aren’t in college—we don’t have any programming for them,” Dubose says. He hopes to change that, though, as cofounder and managing partner of New Majority Community Labs, a community-organizing venture that uses data collection and analysis to create local jobs.
New Majority has hired seven Ivy City residents, called “community designers,” to collect information on the community, work in the neighborhood, and eventually launch a small business. In Ivy City, the organization plans to use the results of those surveys to help create a mobile financial services company, where neighborhood residents who don’t have access to traditional banking can cash checks and pay bills. The ultimate plan is for the people involved at New Majority to create jobs and a safety net for themselves and the community.
New Majority’s role in the process is to provide funds, organization, and training to the community designers. “They’ve been going through five weeks of training on D.C. government, D.C. civics, how data works,” Dubose says of the Ivy City residents he’s been working with. “They’ve designed their own survey in the community, and so starting today they’re going to be going around collecting data from their neighbors.”
“The event today is like a celebration of training’s over, now we’re actually gonna start working,” says Dubose. The community members he’s working with, he says, are “going to create their shirts to give themselves identity.”
Williams is one of the Ivy City residents involved with New Majority. “I think the biggest benefit for us is doing something positive,” he said of #therealivycity initiative. “Coming from a predominantly black neighborhood that’s been known for its negative more than its positive, I think that we’re trying to use the positive to create some change in the community.”
Since establishing themselves in the District, New Majority has teamed up with Empower DC, the longstanding local advocacy group that has been active in the city for over a decade. Their work is focused on the people who have lived there for years, the ones often “forgotten” in the image of new businesses and refurbished condos.
In many ways, Open Studio DC, the host of Saturday’s event, acts as a gathering point in the changing community.
“We’re a little bit unusual,” says Carolyn Hartmann, the print studio’s owner and operator. “Most screenprinting studios that you hear about, they’re a commercial space and they’re taking orders from businesses to print a lot of shirts or posters. We’re not set up that way particularly. We rent space to artists, who come here and use our equipment and that kind of thing, and just come here and work as artists.”
Open Studio hopes to act as a community resource while continuing its embrace of the D.C. arts scene. Last December, they hosted “SHOW POSTERS,” an exhibition of local artists who make fliers for local concerts and events. Later this spring, they’re hosting an art show as part of Damaged City Fest. They also hold regular screenprinting classes and workshops open to the public.
Peter Hartmann, Carolyn’s son, works as outreach and events coordinator for the studio. “If you ever want to set something up,” Peter told the small crowd before the printing began on Saturday, “just get in touch with us. We want to just be here for whatever you all need, since we’re in your neighborhood.”
Their involvement in the community puts Open Studio in a unique position to work with people like Dubose and Empower DC and residents who live a few blocks away. “For things like this, we love doing it,” Carolyn says. “It’s a smaller run, it’s an issue that we care about, so we’ll take on jobs like that, that are a little more unusual.”
Photographs by Quinn Myers.