Meet The New Arch

Non-Profit Developer Transforms Into Arts Funder

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Earlier this year, Washington Area Community Investment Fund (WACIF) acquired the Anacostia Arts Center from ARCH Development Corporation (ARCH).

The much-publicized transfer of ownership is the capstone of a series of ARCH property divestures dating to 2016. The nonprofit is employing the proceeds of these sales to transform itself from a nonprofit developer into an arts funding powerhouse both in Historic Anacostia and the region.

“To create, in partnership with artists and arts organizations, small businesses and stakeholders of the neighborhood, a home for small businesses, arts and culture in Historic Anacostia and promote the wealth and diversity of artistic talent that resides east of the Anacostia River,” is ARCH’s new mission.

ARCH will maintain ownership of its first art space, Honfleur Gallery, located at 1241 Good Hope Road SE. Honfleur will continue its regularly scheduled exhibitions, artist talks, performances and other programming. ARCH will continue technical assistance to traditional brick-and-mortars, startups and creative organizations residing in Wards 7 and 8. Most importantly, ARCH has aided many of its tenants in purchasing their locations through innovative public-private financing.

Combining Divestment and Empowerment
ARCH began its real estate divestment in 2016 with the sale of 2307 and 2309 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE to Intercity Services, a minority-owned company, which was its tenant in both properties. In 2019, the nonprofit sold The Anacostia Business Center (1227 Good Hope Rd. SE), to HEP, another tenant and minority-owned construction firm. That same year, Project Create, again an ARCH tenant, purchased 2208 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. from its landlord. Project Create is a nonprofit that provides free art classes to children and their families.

Project Create’s Executive Director Christie Walser describes how ARCH facilitated her nonprofit’s rapid expansion. Originally, the organization rented a large one room office above a restaurant on MLK Jr. Avenue SE, which served as a catch-all classroom.

“We started to grow and, in 2017 after we got a grant from DC’s Office of Cable Television to buy digital equipment, we needed more space to house it. So, we rented one of the studios behind Vivid Solutions [an earlier ARCH venture]. That [space] housed all of our music equipment and production facilities. Then, there was an opportunity in late 2018 and early 2019 to expand further. We ended up expanding into the entire lower level of the building,” recalls Walser.

ARCH Founders Duane Gautier and Sharon Hughes Gautier. Image courtesy Duane Guautier

Then, ARCH offered to sell Project Create the entire building. As Walser explains, “We couldn’t even imagine buying the building. However, we entered into a purchasing agreement with ARCH.” She launched a 25-year anniversary capital campaign. She applied for and received grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Facilities and Buildings Grant, The Philip Graham Foundation, Cafritz Foundation and Sharefund. As she recalls “ARCH was very patient as we were pulling the financing. The whole thing was somewhat miraculous!”

Project Create’s new purchase now houses a music studio, a photography studio, a videography studio, a dance studio, an art studio and a painting studio allowing multiple classes to take place at once. In addition, all of the organization’s staff is for the first time housed onsite in one location. Walser uses Vivid Solution’s former gallery to exhibit the work of Project Create’s students.

In 2020, ARCH tenant Check-It purchased three properties: 1918, 1920 and 1922 Martin Luther King, Jr, Avenue SE. Founder Ron Molten believes ARCH’s process of real estate divestment should serve as a “blueprint for how DC should do development.”

“Few people have sold to black businesses and this is sale is totally historic. This will help fight gentrification. We have a studio, a café, a radio station; everything is centered on the arts and doing things that empower our community,” he says. Moten’s organization has big plans for its three properties, which will expand Anacostia’s cultural footprint by housing a Walk of Fame and a Go-Go museum.

In 2022, ARCH sold 1706 16th Street SE, a residential four-unit property where it had housed residency artists, to The Douglass Community Land Trust and La Casa, a nonprofit housing organization. The organizations plan to continue to offer subsidized residential units and below-market rents to qualified tenants.

Selling properties to tenants required finding supportive financing. ARCH worked closely to connect its buyers to a creative combination of public and private funders. “A number of District of Columbia Government agencies including Mayor Bowser, the District of Columbia Council under Chair Mendelson as well as City First Bank and the Cafritz Foundation provided substantial funding to make one or more of these purchases possible,” explains Duane Gautier, ARCH’s founder and president.

Selling The Crown Jewel
In December 2021, ARCH sold The Anacostia Arts Center at 1231 Good Hope Rd., to Washington Area Community Investment Fund (WACIF). The property, ARCH’s largest, houses The HIVE 2.0, a co-working space; a black box theater, a gallery and several small artisan retailers.

WACIF is not a former tenant. Rather, it is a regional nonprofit investment fund chartered in 1987 to “increase equity and economic opportunity in underserved communities…by investing knowledge, social, and financial capital in low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs.” WACIF’s mission is to foster “inclusive entrepreneurship, community wealth building and equitable economic development…by providing access to capital products and services, and capacity building technical assistance to low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs.”

WACIF’s CEO Harold Pettigrew is a native Washingtonian and Ward 7 resident, whose first home was on W Street SE. The Anacostia Arts Center is, in his view, “a broad community asset which fostered small business incubation and served as a community gathering point for the arts.” WACIF intends to “support the creative economy and keep all of the assets that are there,” Pettigrew says.

Kids get creative during the summer camp at Project Create. Image courtesy Project Create

For Pettigrew, WACIF’s commitment to Historic Anacostia is deeply personal. “This is where we’ve planted our flag. We are investing in communities where we can be the most impactful,” says Pettigrew. While the Anacostia Arts Center will continue to serve as an important neighborhood gathering space, it will also house WACIF technical assistance programs directed at supporting local entrepreneurs, particularly minority businesses.

Having assured a rosy future for its existing tenants and laid the groundwork for future East of the River entrepreneurs, ARCH is investing the proceeds of its real estate divestiture in the arts.

Meet The New ARCH
ARCH is reinvesting its real estate proceeds in the arts, say Gautier. The organization will continue to run high quality arts programs. It will also fund artists living and working East of the River. It will also promote Historic Anacostia as an arts destination, he adds.

Hosting a vigorous programming schedule. Honfleur Gallery, which opened its doors in 2007, remains the unchanged bellwether under direct ARCH ownership. The gallery, which has hosted an annual East of the River show, will continue to focus on underrepresented regional artists. Additionally, the gallery will continue exhibiting the work of national and international artists. Beginning in April 2022, Honfleur will open satellite gallery located within Maryland Art Place in downtown Baltimore.

ARCH also plans to continue its patronage of individual artists in Wards 7 and 8. Its current residency programs provide both a stipend and financial assistance. In addition, its fund established in loving memory of Sharon Hughes Gautier, one of the organization’s founders, is specifically directed at aiding women artists. The organization also plans a new program to support local artists participation in major US art fairs, as well as continuing to fund the web-based DC Artists East, a free listing of East of the River artists. Arch’s “East of the River Distinguished Artist Award” will continue to offer annual $5,000 awards.

Visual arts are only one of ARCH’s endeavors. The organization will continue to fund theater and spoken word programs through a series of grants. It also plans to support the programming of local theaters and performance spaces. Adele Robey, the former executive director of the Anacostia Playhouses, will lead this effort.

ARCH is also branching out in other avenues. It plans to launch “The Hut,” a meeting place for musicians and music lovers to convene in the “village of DC.” The new venue opens its doors to Jazz, Zydeco, Reggae and Blues musicians. ARCH plans to create a space for musicians to record videos. It also intends to continue its support of “Titled In the Pocket,” a podcast begun in 2021.  This conversational series, co-hosted by Terrence Nicholson and Paige Muller, explores the history of DC’s art, music and culture.

Having transformed its tenants into owners, welcomed financial powerhouse WACIF into the neighborhood and refocused its mission on the support of the arts, ARCH has ensured the place of Historic Anacostia as one of DC’s liveliest arts destinations.

For more information, on any of these programs, contact Duane Gautier at gautier.duane@gmail.com.

Phil Hutinet is the publisher of East City Art, DC’s alternative art source. For more information visit www.eastcityart.com.