Housing Complex

Is Lumen8 Anacostia’s Future?

Occupy Big Chair.

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

  • er

    interesting that you say that artists go to silver spring. i hadn't heard that. i know of many that have gone to brentwood, hyattsville and mount ranier though, the "gateway arts district" as they fairly weakly tried to market it a few years ago. it's still a much stronger arts scene more concentrated there than anywhere in S.S. or arlington.

    when you say affordable housing, what does that cost? looking at real estate sites, much of east of the anacostia is relatively cheap, though not PG county cheap.

  • Cap City Records Panhandler

    Ana por vida

    But mos def a costume.

  • DCResident

    It was a great event! Anacostia is a jewel in DC. The event was even attended by Councilmember Muriel Bowser of Ward 4. I do not even recall seeing Marion Barry. I look forward to attending next year.

  • dad

    Art events to get people interested in neighborhoods that need change are great, but why are we always addressing how that 'forgotten' neighborhood looks from the outside, and not the impoverished people and the hardships of their lives that got the neighborhood to that point? DC is awash in PR. The realtors here are like Pokemon -- it seems they've all evolved in into Outreach and Communications managers. Stop building so many buildings -- stop putting artists in the service of improving the image of the city without dealing with real issues of urban poverty and affordable housing for everyone. the hype machine needs to grind to a halt.

  • Eric

    Silver Spring attracts people of all types. Artists are but one segment of its huge population.

    This should be good for Historic Anacostia. You're right in that there isn't much of an opportunity to redevelop large properties within this district, but certainly there are still plenty of vacant lots for the taking. While I think it will take a while for a critical mass to make its way over to EOTR (after all we still have H Street, Near Southeast the Southwest Waterfront, and Hill East to get through), a first step is to improve the neighborhood's basic reputation. A lot of people think Anacostia and crime are one and the same--two inseparable concepts. It's definitely time that people realize that the neighborhood is more than one-dimensional and that the opportunities and possibilities are virtually endless at this point.

  • lena

    But was the event successful? Were there crowds of hipsters on site like the Nuit Blanche or other DC gov't subsidized arts projects?

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman
  • Tiffany Potter

    Dear Lydia,
    I am a full time employed person who volunteered at Lumen8 last week, to show my contribution to the arts. I bartended and checked ID's at the door, to show the team of the Pink Line Project my appreciation for their immense dedication to an incredibly organized event. Your statement that this is "mostly white folks concert hopping, drinking in warehouses, shopping at vintage stores" is offensive to me. I served many nonalcoholic & alcoholic beverages to all types of people--old, young, black, white, and most were paying attention to the art. I wish you did too as opposed to contributing more propaganda that furthers the race divide. Sincerely, Tiffany Potter

  • free

    To Tiffany Potter-
    Liar. Liar.
    "I served many nonalcoholic & alcoholic beverages to all types of people--old, young, black, white,...."
    is just the sort of vague statement that screams it was mostly whites putting their feet up in other people's neighborhood.
    Shame on you for not being honest about who was there! Ward 7 and 8 is my hometown. How dare people like you come over as if no one is already here and talk about how an event with 80% "outsiders" was "mixed" and an article saying otherwise is racially divisive.

  • free

    Does anyone find it unsettling to have events and website to "discover" Anacostia and settle in it?
    Isn't this like discovering America or putting up posters encouraging white settlers to come into and cultivate "gold" rich territories?

    You do realize there are people already here whose only crime is that they don't see art galleries and more places to drink microbrewed beer and coffee as a priority.

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