Perched on a promontory in the Ward 8 neighborhood of Washington Highlands, The Overlook at Oxon Run, an apartment complex developed by the nonprofit Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC), towers over its namesake creek. CPDC is a regional nonprofit real estate developer that manages over 80 communities in the Midatlantic region including The Overlook. While CPDC performs all the functions expected from a traditional for-profit developer, it also seeks to “invest in helping communities grow and thrive.” Specifically, the organization provides “comprehensive resident services aimed primarily at youth and seniors.”
Pamela Lyons, senior vice president for community impact strategies at CPDC, partnered with NonStop Art, an arts consultancy organization run by Nehemiah Dixon III. The organizations jointly conducted a series of community meetings with Overlook residents to inquire what programs might be of interest. The residents overwhelmingly responded that they sought a place where they could sew and acquire related skills.
Subsequent to the community meetings, a number of visits were organized to tour “maker spaces” throughout the region, with CPDC and NonStop Art staff, to observe what was possible at The Overlook. Based on the group’s observations, NonStop Art formulated a series of programs CPDC could implement and provide the community with a sewing room, a computer lab, visual arts classes, 3-D printing and other activities that fall under the rubric of a “maker space.” A grant from Capital One Financial Corporation helped fund the project. By June 2017, three spaces were established and equipped for Overlook residents.
In accordance with the residents’ initial desire, the sewing room included a fabric course with instructor Charlene Wallace, who had already been teaching sewing at other CPDC properties. The room also provides fabric, tools and sewing machines.
Adjacent to the sewing room, several large touch-screen Microsoft-Pro computers sit neatly on top of sleek desks. Thomas Stanley operates the digital media space, called the Funk Lab, which offers the opportunity to engage with computer-based programs designed to create two-dimensional art using Corel Draw and Corel Paint.
During my visit, several senior residents sat quietly in front of the oversized screens, using digital pens to “color” a template, similar to what you would find in a traditional coloring book. Dixon explains that these activities, in many instances, provide senior residents with the first engagement they’ve had with computer technology. Coloring digitally also provides a soothing and therapeutic way to pass the time. One of the residents showed me a birthday card she was creating for her grandson. Having created the template from a series of patterns and having selected the colors on her own, she beamed with pride over her one-of-a-kind creation.
Down the hall from the Funk Lab and the sewing room, a much larger room has been dedicated to functioning as a multimedia space offering access to a 3-D printer, a CNC printer (which uses a subtractive process), screen printing equipment and a host of art supplies. NonStop Art has hired an entire staff of artists specialized in various disciplines who provide everything from basic drawing skills and painting and sculpting as well as technological assistance.
CPDC, in partnership with NonStop Art, offers Overlook residents a wide range of programming and equipment. However, Dixon is quick to point out that the idea is to encourage residents to become fluent in various forms of making. “We are encouraging people to be project-oriented,” explains Dixon. “People come in with an interest, and our staff will help them develop it.” Many of the skills learned by residents have workforce applications. For example, one of the residents used the 3-D printer to create a replacement part to repair his electric drill. Another resident worked with NonStop Art staff to create a logo and marketing swag for a business venture.
Now that the needs of residents are being met and the pilot programs have yielded permanent programming, Dixon is ready to open the maker space, which he envisions as “a library more than an art school,” to the community at large. Dixon also hopes to expand the offerings through partnerships with regional arts organizations and large institutions and to provide additional resources for experiential learning or even exhibiting.
The Community Membership Plan, for $65 per month, gives access to all of the resources in the maker space and workshops and to the highly trained staff. To arrange a tour of the space, contact Nehemiah Dixon III by email at Nehemiah@nonstopartllc.com.
Phil Hutinet is the publisher of East City Art, DC’s alternative art source. For more information visit www.eastcityart.com.