New public art project connects Anacostia historic district to river
On Friday, Sept. 29, a ribbon-cutting ceremony inaugurated a new public art installation at the Good Hope Road SE underpass, with the aim of connecting historic Anacostia to its river, both separated by Interstate 295 for over four decades. Building Bridges Across the River and ARCH Development Corporation, with the support of the Kresge Foundation, Pepco, and City First Bank, worked collaboratively for over 22 months to realize the project.
A 2014 study by a group of Virginia Tech students, who led a three-month “walkability and accessibility study,” according to Building Bridges Across the River, suggested the use of art as a means of reconnecting the Anacostia neighborhood to its riverfront. A partnership between Building Bridges Across the River and ARCH Development Corporation ensued to implement the study’s findings.
Duane Gautier, president of ARCH Development Corporation, drew up plans for a series of panels based on a similar installation he saw while traveling in Europe. ARCH’s staff then constructed and installed the panels. The public art “mural” consists of six sets of triptychs for a total of 18 panels. Each of the triptychs is illuminated from the edge of the panels and not from the rear as with other similar installations.
The selection of artist Bruce McNeil’s series “A Boat Tour Down the Anacostia River” dovetails seamlessly with the aim of connecting historic Anacostia with its river through public art panels under I-295. McNeil has documented the Anacostia River for over 20 years through a visual narrative of his personal connection to the waterway. He partnered with artist Michael Platt to print largescale images for the public art panels.
At the public inauguration ceremony, Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray stated, “I’m proud that internationally acclaimed artist and Ward 7 resident Bruce McNeil helped create the environmental art for the lighted 295 underpass art installation connecting east-end neighborhoods to Anacostia Park, the river, and the future Bridge Park.”
“A Boat Tour Down the Anacostia River” documents the passage of the river from its headwaters in Maryland to its confluence with the Potomac River at Poplar Point. Each of the triptychs shows the journey, including points along the way like the Eastern Power Boat Club, the Navy Yard, and one of the river’s ubiquitous residents, a great blue heron.
Further examination of McNeil’s iconic images of the Anacostia for this public art series reveals the artist’s desire to see a return of the river to a more pristine environmental state while remembering its history.
Anacostia Playhouse Welcomes Two Productions in November
Brave Soul Collective’s “WTF Happened to Baby Sister?” returns to the Anacostia Playhouse for a three-night limited engagement. Inspired by Michael Sainte-Andress and James Foster Jr., and written and directed by Thembi Duncan, the popular production pays homage to Hollywood divas of a bygone era as well as R&B music. Audiences should prepare themselves for a riotous combination of drag performances, bondage, comedy, vendettas, and even murder! Actors Jared Shamberger and Monte J. Wolfe play the Fabulous Jenkins Sisters, two “glamourous drag ball icons” according to the press release, who have fallen on hard times. Cast members Aleta C. Dunn and Jivon Lee Jackson round out the production.
“WTF Happened to Baby Sister?” runs on Nov. 16 and Nov. 18 (all shows at 8 p.m.).
Restoration Stage Presents the premiere of “The Very Last Days of the First Colored Circus.” Written by Steven A. Butler Jr., an Arena Stage/Playwright’s Fellow, and directed by Courtney Baker-Oliver, a graduate of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, “The Very Last Days of the First Colored Circus” retraces the footsteps of Butler’s great-grandparents Ollie Thomas and Ruby Dyson, who lived in LaPlata, Md.
With the 1927 Charles County Fair as the backdrop, “The Very Last Days of the First Colored Circus” revisits forgotten black history by recounting the plight of black circus performers of the period. Butler’s drama examines love, family, and loss from an almost personal, genealogical perspective. Courtney Baker-Oliver and Christopher John have composed original music for the play while interweaving period music. The musical director is Wilkie Ferguson and the choreographer is Raquis Petree. Producers include Courtney Baker-Oliver, Steven Butler Jr., Suli Myrie, and Rikki Howie Lacewell. Desire Dubose is the assistant director.
“The Very Last Days of the First Colored Circus” runs from Oct. 19 to Nov. 12. The Anacostia Playhouse is located at 2020 Shannon Place SE. For tickets call 202-290-2328 or visit www.anacostiaplayhouse.com.
Anacostia Community Museum
In November, the Anacostia Community Museum offers two events free of charge to the public: a performance by the Alon Nechushtan Ensemble and a screening and discussion of “I Am Not Your Negro.”
The Alon Nechushtan Ensemble, made up of Alon Nechushtan (piano), Matt Aronoff (bass), Ronen Itzik (drums), Theljohn Allen (trumpet), Derrick Michaels (tenor), and Russel Kirk (alto sax), with special guests Todd Marcus (clarinet and bass clarinet) and Delandria Mills (flute), will perform the “Dark Side of Monk,” a tribute concert to Thelonius Monk, on Nov. 11, from 2 to 4 p.m., to honor the musician’s 100th birthday. The ensemble has performed in jazz festivals in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and Asia and has recorded extensively on European label Enja Records.
When James Baldwin died in 1987, he had just begun writing a personal account of the assassination of Medgar Evers, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King Jr., all of whom were close friends of the writer. Baldwin would title his project “Remember This House” but left behind only 30 pages posthumously. Set in a documentary format and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, PBS-produced “I Am Not Your Negro” imagines what Baldwin would have written had he finished his work.
Nominated for an Oscar for best documentary, the film critically examines race in the United States from Baldwin’s era to the present day. A question-and-answer moderated by Tyechia L. Thompson will follow the screening. Thompson is the author of “Mapping City Limits: Post 1960s Paris and the Writings of James Baldwin, James Emanuel and Jake Lamar.” Thompson lectures in the Department of English at Howard University.
The screening and discussion are scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 16, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Both events are free but an RSVP is requested: call 202-633-4844 or visit www.anacostia.si.edu. The Anacostia Community Museum is located at 1901 Fort Place SE.
Phil Hutinet is the publisher of East City Art, dedicated to DC’s visual arts. For more information visit www.eastcityart.com.