Monday, July 21, 2014

So about last night's Yelp! event in Anacostia...

Consider this a little post script to my earlier post.

Last night, as I was looking around the Yelp! event and appreciating all of the people of so many different backgrounds enjoying themselves IN ANACOSTIA I had a thought, "what could we do if we (ARCH) had more support and funding?"
The Yelp! 10th Anniversary Party drew over 1200 people to Anacostia -- on a Sunday! 
Because contrary to what some may think ARCH Development Corporation is a very, very small nonprofit organization. We have limited funds and a very small staff who work a lot of hours (you should see our timesheets).  The buildout of the Anacostia Arts Center (or The HIVE 2.0) wasn't cheap. We didn't receive any government funds or a Great Streets grant to do it (nonprofits are ineligible for that grant BTW). To be honest, considering all of the work we do at ARCH we receive very little (if any) funding to do it. We aren't unique in that. Nonprofits all over are filling the gap in more ways than one. East of the river nonprofits more than most.

For those who don't understand what ARCH does and why we do it (you can read our strategic plan here) I wish they could see the benefits of places like the Anacostia Arts Center (which is free and open to the public). To some, it may seem like just a cool place with art. In reality it is home to a collection of small and minority-owned businesses -- each providing a service and amenity to a community long underserved. Each small business contributes to the economic success of the Anacostia neighborhood and east of the river. Community revitalization is tied directly to job creation and small business development and that happens everyday at the Anacostia Arts Center (and the small businesses that call it home), and at The HIVE 2.0 which I manage.

Amir, owner of HOMME, a men's clothing and shaving boutique.
Now open inside of the Anacostia Arts Center!
Yelp! attendees perusing the merchandise at Nubian Hueman, an eclectic boutique inside of the Anacostia Arts Center.
Nubian Hueman is owned and operated by Anika Hobbs.

Every event we host in Anacostia is another opportunity for people unfamiliar with Anacostia to appreciate Anacostia. Of course we can't discount the job opportunities that come out of having more small businesses and attractions in Anacostia and customers to support them. I look around and see first hand the Ward 7 and Ward 8 residents that have a job because of these facilities. That is important. That is priceless. Every good memory combats every negative perception. I got a kick out of reading the Yelp! reviews on last night's event. Most of them were really positive about Anacostia (of course you can't eliminate overnight all of the "unease" some people feel about venturing east of the river). I am looking forward to last night's attendees spreading the good word about Anacostia -- a place we already know is great. :)

Most of the projects you see ARCH do are self-funded -- at least initially. We do it for the benefit of the community -- not the bottom line -- but even that comes with limitations. Sometimes I look around the city and I see funding being awarded for this project or that project -- most in very "hot" neighborhoods and I wonder why does it feel like "we" (east of the river) always have to beg for the most minor of support? Why do we have to make do with less, and not just the funding but the support in general? You would think that if there was a real commitment to communities east of the river the few organizations that are here now, that are working here now, would be first in line for support -- not last.  You would think someone would be trying to partner with the great work that is being done by groups such as THEARC (and their partners), Far Southeast Strengthening Collaborative, etc.

So I suppose I would say my experience last night was bittersweet. Extreme happiness at another great event but the realization that tomorrow comes with a new batch of challenges, a new set of "asks" and a new collection of reasons why Anacostia nonprofits and small businesses aren't really considered as important as shiny new tech firms and supposed "silver bullet" development projects. And because of that, many organizations (like the one I am lucky enough to work for) are really having to make some difficult decisions and aren't going to be able to do everything we really want to do. Because at the end of the day, I am not really sure who is advocating for us.

I suppose if it was easy, everyone would do it. :)

P.S. Please join ARCH for our next Community Update Meeting on Wed, July 30th at 6:30pm at the Anacostia Arts Center. This is an opportunity for all members of the community to learn about current ARCH projects, provide feedback, and to help us plan for future projects. To encourage attendance ARCH will be raffling off TWO $100 cash prizes! Please spread the word and bring your neighbors!


Anonymous said...

For what its worth: Keep up the good work. I am a regular patron of the Arts Center- Nourish especially. I didn't know about the Yelp event until it was underway (and I had eaten). But, I drove by and was impressed by the line! The Arts Center is a great, unpretentious place that I see continuing to thrive- I mean who doesn't like it once they've been there? So, keep advocating; the fruits of your labor are already showing. Since it looks like I will finally be closing on my condo at Sheridan Station this week (the light at the end of the tunnel)I will be patronizing more ARCH events, and (hopefully) dragging some of my friends along.

Anika said...

Thank you so much for this piece. It's definitely important to share what is actually happening not only in the Anacostia Arts Center but here in SE DC. Bittersweet but not forgotten...this is truly a win for the area. Exposure is a great portion of the battle.