On September 14, 2014, Juanita Britton, owner of the Anacostia Gallery and Boutique, led a community procession through the streets of Fort Stanton to officially relocate the gallery’s cherished ancestral garden. Britton had sold her gallery which was located on Bruce Street next to Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum, as well as several adjoining parcels of land to a developer. Presently, Rocketship Rise Academy Public Charter School occupies some of the land she once owned.
However, Britton had no intention of leaving the area. As she put it, “I live East of the River and I still own other property here.”
A dynamic entrepreneur, Britton owns and operates stores in several area airports. Prior to the pandemic, Britton split her time between her home in DC and her seaside residence in Fort Lauderdale, Florida while traveling around the globe. She is especially fond of travelling to support local artisans. “I visit people in indigenous communities from around the world to source their art which I sell in the boutique.” Proceeds from the sales provide living wages to artisans who live in developing economies.
In the last 40 years, Britton has travelled extensively throughout Africa and has visited 39 countries. However, she is especially close to Ghana, where she is enstooled as a queen mother in the village of Timber Junction, population 500, located an hour outside the capital of Accra.
As the pandemic brought travel to a halt, Britton’s life changed in an instant. She almost got stuck in Ghana as quarantines were ordered and flights were grounded. Her airport businesses closed since no one was allowed to travel. An event space she had started in Miami was shuttered. A restaurant start-up in Istanbul, Turkey, had to be shelved.
Turning to DC where Britton landed during the pandemic, she began to envision how her property at 119 Raleigh Street SE, which she affectionately calls “an Airbnb for artists,” could help resident artists sell their work. This led to the rebirth of the Anacostia Art Gallery and Boutique or as Britton explains: “The artists who were staying there had an idea for people to come by and buy art and spend money on Black businesses and to support artists and artisans during the pandemic.”
By making the best of this new situation and by working together with local makers and artists, Britton ultimately continued doing what she loves—offering handmade items created by local, national and global artists. “It wasn’t just for artists but a mental pivot for me because the airport businesses were closed.”
As word of the gallery’s reopening spread, local small businesses sought out Britton and asked to work with her. In turn, they introduced other crafters, artisans and artists. “I partnered with several businesses and carried their products.” Britton explains. “Now, the boutique and market has regular hours. People need to shop. People want to spend money with local business and with black businesses.”
She now works with over 75 creators at any given time and rotates the work of the artists frequently. To comply with the initial COVID restrictions, she created an outdoor marketplace with five separate booths offering products from new vendors daily. While initiated to comply with physical distancing practices, the outdoor marketplace concept stuck
Britton hopes that her boutique and outdoor marketplace can introduce the concept of buying local and buying Black to a wider audience. “Black businesses have the things you need. It can be a greeting card, it can be a bowtie. It doesn’t have to be culturally Black; you’re buying something from a Black business.”
In addition, the fine art she exhibits is, as she calls it “a big deal,” as she consigns the work of important local artists like Marvin Sin and national artists like Woodrow Nash, Deborah Shedrick, Lydell Martin and Larry Poncho Brown (Baltimore Artists’ Collective partnership) among many others.
She also offers work from designer and crafters who produce jewelry, textiles, clothing, candles, self-care products and other home goods such as furniture and carpets. She carries the crafts of Demali Afrikanware, Shukri Goldsmiths, the designs of Cynthia Williams, Ms. Hubbard’s Babies which are specialty dolls and Kuumba Kollectibles which produce greeting cards & cultural products. In addition she has partnered with “brick & mortar” businesses Ida’s Idea and I’m So DC!
Mixed in with locally sourced products, the boutique sells work from international artisans hailing from as far away as Nigeria, Mali, Ghana and South Africa. Britton also offers a number of singular antique African artifacts for specialty collectors.
During the 12 days before Christmas, Britton will extend shopping hours for her annual holiday market. Following a three-decade long tradition, the “BZB Shop Till Ya Drop” holiday market shopping bazaar extravaganza will transform 119 Raleigh Street with an even greater selection of arts and crafts to gift to loved ones. From Dec. 14 – 24, to accommodate the annual holiday market, Anacostia Art Gallery and Boutique will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Anacostia Art Gallery and Boutique
Regular Hours: Friday, Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Tuesday, December 14-Friday, December24 Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Anacostia Art Gallery and Boutique is located at 119 Raleigh Street SE, WDC 20032. Call the gallery at 202.550.7060, visit the gallery online at www.anacostiaartgallery.com or email BusyBee@anacostiaartgallery.com for more information.
Phil Hutinet is the publisher of East City Art, DC’s alternative art source. For more information visit www.eastcityart.com.