Dancing, laughter and applause filled Lincoln Theatre at 215 U Street NW, on the evening of Sept. 28 at the 38th Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards. Outside, nominees, presenters and attendees crossed a red carpet donned to the “Born Bold” theme as a brass band played and revolving lights filled the sky.
“Seeing the mayor and all the locals mixed together with the politicians and the move-makers and the shakers in the city in one night is so amazing,” Red Carpet host Justin Stewart said, “especially that I get to see them as they go in, see the outfits, see the makeup, see the hair and compliment them and just feel the love coming back.”
Stewart said his favorite part of the “Born Bold” theme was seeing thought-out looks that expressed what makes a person who they are. “I lived in New York for four years and it was nothing like home, Stewart said. “I was always here [in DC],” for the food, the networking, the bars, the clubs and to just be around people who had their own unique style. Being celebrated is what I’m all about and that’s exactly what this event is about.”
Beyond the Lincoln Theatre doors was a photo booth, a live painter and showgirls adorned in feathers and jewels.
Karla Styles, an artist local to the District, spent the four-hour event painting the facade of the Lincoln Theatre with her own creative flare. “Because the theme of the night is bold and my art and everything about me is always bold, I wanted to put my own spin on it given where we are,” Styles said. “By the time I’m done, you’re going to see the architecture of the Lincoln Theatre, but with graffiti all on top.”
Styles said the event puts an important spotlight on people who “don’t usually get a chance to have the spotlight.” She said it also has a unique way of informing the public of the creativity happening across the city.
At 7 p.m., the program began, and 14 awards were handed out to creatives across all media.
Mayor Muriel Bowser presented the Mayor’s Arts Award for Distinguished Honor to Jan Du Plain. The winner is the founder of Du Plain Global Enterprises Inc., a public relations firm that offers training programs aimed at enhancing cultural, culinary and fashion diplomacy.
Gabrielle Loftin won the Award for Excellence in Youth Creativity; Mario Sessions won the Award for Excellence in Visual Arts; Jhon “CrazyLegz” Pearson won the Award for Visionary Leadership; Step Afrika! won the Award for Excellence in Performing Arts; Shawn Townsend won the Award for Excellence in The Nightlife Economy; The Media Prince won the Award for Excellence in Media Arts; Marjuan Canady won the Larry Neal Writers’ Award; the KRoussaw Foundation won the Award for Excellence in the Humanities; Caressa Jennings won the Emerging Creative Award; Artechouse won the Award for Excellence in the Creative Industries; Herb Scott won the Award for Excellence as a Community Arts Advocate; Vernon Martin won the Award for Excellence in Fashion and Beauty Industries; Brian Bailey won the Award for Excellence in Arts Education.
Between award presentations, opera singer Fairouz Foty, DC Black Broadway, the band Scream, Princess Mhoon Dance Institute and 14-year-old harpist Sarah Mari got their own chance in the spotlight. Mari strummed while a slideshow played honoring creatives who died in the year since the last Mayor’s Arts Awards. The awards ceremony ended with a go-go performance by the Backyard Band and the aisles filled with dancing.
“Everyone here has a backstory of who they are and how they got here,” presenter Ashley Jaye Williams said. “I’m most impressed that everyone is so optimistic ‒ like everyone is pursuing this thing that isn’t necessarily aligned with capitalism. Creative arts can be, but a lot of times not.”
Williams said the arts awards are a welcome reminder that as an artist she is not alone or unsupported. “Everyone’s feeling the pain of the economy. It’s easy to feel like you’re just going to die alone in the gutter,” Williams said. “It’s nice to see there are institutions that are supporting local arts and are going to help catch us if we fall.”