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Last year, Anacostia residents made one thing very clear to ARCH Development Corporation: They did not want another social service office to open on Good Hope Road SE.
When the nonprofit organization announced in June that it planned to rent the space that formerly housed its training center at 1231 Good Hope Road SE, it attracted interest from social service agencies, charter schools, and vocational programs. “But the community basically wanted to see something else there,” says the nonprofit’s CEO, Duane Gautier. In meetings between ARCH and area residents, it became clear that locals were fed up with social services sucking up space on the commercial strip—-especially after last year’s blowup surrounding Calvary Women’s Services’ deeply controversial entrée into the neighborhood.
So another approach was needed. Working with D.C.’s Office of Planning, ARCH came up with the idea for the Anacostia Arts Center, a 10,000 square foot, multipurpose gallery, café, and theater space that is now slated to open May 1.
The idea is to concentrate creative spaces in Anacostia to make the neighborhood an arts destination, says Gautier. ARCH has been pushing that boulder up a hill for a while now: It helped bring the forthcoming Anacostia Playhouse (formerly H Street Playhouse) to the neighborhood; it runs nearby galleries Honfleur and The Gallery at Vivid Solutions; and it was a chief organizer of last year’s three-month-long LUMEN8 Anacostia arts festival.
Much of Anacostia Arts Center will be for rent. A pop-up gallery space will be available for short-term rentals, and three other gallery rooms can be rented for six or more months at a time (and split between rotating occupants, if necessary). All spaces will be available at an affordable flat rate, says Gautier, and they include 24-hour access, utilities, and free Wi-Fi.
A café space is being built, as well as a black box theater, a space for reading and classes (called The American Poetry Museum Reading Room), and two “boutique/wellness center” rental spaces. ARCH has put out a request for proposals to find someone to run the café, and he says Capital Fringe has signed on to design lighting for the 40-to-50-capacity theater. The building will also include a 1,000 square foot lounge in front. The arts center will sit directly above The Hive 2.0, one of ARCH’s two business incubators.
If you take a look at the space now, it’s not pretty, says Gautier. “It looks like an ongoing construction site,” he says. It’s kind of “nasty-looking at the moment.” But the company is working with the District’s Historic Preservation Office to redo the storefront and, he hopes, make the Anacostia Arts Center an attractive addition to what could become a bustling arts community on Good Hope Road SE.