Anacostia community addresses gun violence through art

Elizabeth Dukes viewing and talking about the artwork. (Kalahari Deprez/Howard University News Service)

By Kalahari Deprez

Red and white letters spelling ‘Laundromat’ are on the outside of the building, and graffiti and murals of waves and Tide detergent bottles decorate its walls.  

Located in the southeast region of Washington D.C., in the neighborhood of Anacostia, what was once an abandoned laundromat has become a pillar of creativity in the community, an art gallery.


The Capital Hill Boys Club Artist Gallery is a non-profit organization run by artists Mark Garett and Dietrich Williams. 

Garett, a native of southeast D.C. from Parkland, stated, “The neighborhood has adopted us [and] they see what we’re doing, it’s just good to have that type of reception and [being able to] identify and also represent.” 

“Since we’ve done live music performances and…we offer art, we’ve had people from the community come into the space, come get the food that we cater, [and] buy art. In the occasional sense, we employ them to do [little things]… but they want to be a part of it,” Garett said.

“There are budding families in this area that put their kids in here… and that makes the surrounding a little bit safer than it probably was, and that’s from the mouths of the people I know who are, ‘in control of that,’” Garett said. 

This space was created for local artists to have a place to showcase their artwork without having to leave their community. 

Primarily funded by donations and grants, The Capital Hill Boys Club (CHBC) invested thousands of dollars to bring the gallery space up to presentable standards. After nearly $30,000 in renovations, it has become a space for local artists to showcase their art free of charge. 

The current exhibition, “Knot the Gun,” features artwork by artists Naje Fields, professionally known as Nonie Dope and Ovi Gabriel.

The work addresses gun violence in the community, shedding light on its impact on the neighborhood through her artwork. 

Dope expresses her belief that her art serves to raise awareness,  particularly as a native of Anacostia who feels outsiders often mislabel the community and its residents who have experienced trauma. 

“I am ecstatic that people from other walks of life were able to experience what goes on within underserved communities through my art,” she said. “I’m sure my work puts a whole new spin on gun violence and how it is perceived.”

Addressing a sensitive topic through her art had Dope encountering a multitude of challenges… Last May, she had planned a gun violence-themed show at CHBC in partnership with another artist, Frank.  

“[He] would draw people who were victims of gun violence in the community to be an addition to the show. Frank was killed on Marion Barry Avenue (also known as Good Hope Road) the next month,” Dope revealed.

This was very hard for me because I’ve known Frank for years from the community and would see and speak to him often,” Dope said. 

Frank’s passing resulted in a long delay for the show.

“A couple weeks later, my son’s father was killed as well. I fell into a great depression and just became angry with the world for taking someone so close to me. I would walk past my tufting frame every day and just opted to lay down instead of continuing my art,” she said.

Wanting to cope with her emotions, Dope enrolled in therapy services to continue functioning and receive guidance on managing her anxiety, grief, and trauma after these events, in addition to adapting to her new norms. She expressed gratitude to Mark and Dietrich for allowing her time and motivating her to continue to create.

Dope describes her creative process, which typically involves visiting gallery exhibitions related to the themes of the pieces for inspiration. Then using Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or Procreate, she will create mockups for her designs. Her current mediums of choice are graphic art and rug tufting.

Ovid Gabriel, the other artist featured in the exhibition, said he started his art journey and creative process out of boredom when he was locked up as a teen.

“Art is a healing concept itself, so the artist is being healed by expressing themselves through the art, and people get to see whatever [they] went through, [in] their paintings,” Gabriel remarked.

Gabriel discussed community initiatives related to gun violence and other topics in his work, including his involvement with the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) in providing more resources to youth in DC. 

Reflecting on the exhibition’s impact on his artistic career, he notes that it made him take art seriously. “This opened my eyes to how much money I could get from these paintings,” he said.

“I got what I wanted out of it. I sold six paintings through there. I got some more connections, I’m ‘bout to be in some more art galleries coming up,” he concluded.


Elizabeth Dukes, also known as Blessings, is a visitor to the gallery.

 “A lot of people are bringing their children here now… [the gallery] has had a great impact … and I appreciate them. I wouldn’t take anything away… I prefer for people to bring people in… I just want all of us to stick together to try and build up this community for our young Black [members].”

Regarding the exhibition on gun violence, she shared, “There’s children getting killed out here, that’s why I’m glad they did this art gallery right here because this is where all of the killing is going [on].” 

“Lately, there ain’t been no shootings since they’ve been doing the artwork, I swear by my hand to God,” Dukes said.

Another part of The Capital Hill Boys Club’s commitment to the community is its art residency programs dedicated to local artists living in Wards 7 and 8. The club’s goal is to promote artists and give them the tools they need to fully embrace their creativity.

The exhibition has been on display since Feb. 5, featuring live jazz and the chance for attendees to engage with the artists. The exhibition will remain on display until March 18. For more information about The Capital Hill Boys Club Artist Gallery, check out their Instagram @chbcartgallery.