Exploring the Possibilities of More Possibilities

Arts collaborative in Ward 7 work through challenges to enrich community

Light to moderate snow is in the forecast for a cold and dreary Saturday evening in February. It doesn’t stop a small group of artists from Ward 7 from gathering in a familiar creative environment. Utrecht Art Supplies plays host to the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative at their downtown location on I Street Northwest. It’s after hours at Utrecht and a “Shop and Mingle” is now in effect. It’s a first event of its kind for the collaborative put together by Utrecht’s Outreach Coordinator Annie Turner and Executive Director of the collaborative Wanda Aikens.

Assorted fruit and cookies are part of the refreshment spread. Wine produced by and for the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative is served. Aikens greets the gathering, explaining that this is a start to introducing the artists in the collaborative to each other, receive informative tips, especially in regards to applying for grants, and even shop at a discount rate for the evening for art supplies.

February’s Shop and Mingle is a success as artists emerge from the store encouraged to try for the next the grant cycle and are excited about their prizes and purchases. A smile graces Aikens’ face but she knows work still needs to be done to help support and expose the emerging and established artists within the collaborative. It’s one of the challenges Aikens is working through with the help of partnerships like Utrecht to hold more collaborative social events.

Established in 2006, the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative is a non-profit organization that serves as a support group for artists who reside in the Ward 7 and 8.

“We are an incubator. Our members take advantage of the collaboration as we uplift each other and provide marketing workshops,” says Aikens who is a third generational artist.

The organization’s directory easily boasts talent from across the board. Maurice Hill, an emerging artist with the collaborative, is listed as having multidisciplinary skills in drawing, painting, sculpting and music production. His most recent projects included producing and selling a music beat to well known hip-hop artist T-Pain and creating and drawing the concept for an oversize poster mural in honor of the pride in Ward 7, that was colored by local school children and featured during Nannie Helen Burroughs Day in Deanwood last Saturday.

Prelli Williams is also listed as a multidisciplinary talent with skills in fine and visual art, graphic design, murals and poetry. As a child he drew on any blank surface to which people noticed the strong presence of symbolism, prophecy and theology in his work. The former resident artist and curator of DC Sanctuary Art Gallery on H Street Northeast recently exhibited his work with the collaborative during the Deanwood Heritage Trail launch as part of the “Last Grass Roots Artists” exhibit.

The collaborative is over 40 members strong. The names and faces of the collaborative all have similar stories of various individuals, with various creative talents. Yet, the collaborative as a whole is faced with some of its challenges.

“One of the challenges we are faced with is that a lot of our artists don’t know how to apply for a grant. There is a wealth of talent in Ward 7 and we work with our members to help them understand that every art is entrepreneurial, where our thoughts become our actions, which is why we conduct the marketing workshops,” says Aikens.

Although an artist’s work is featured in an exhibit or part of the collaborative collection, if a buyer is interested the directory is way for the buyer to contact the artist and buy direct. The marketing workshops help the collaborative members to stay current with their resume as well as prepping them grant applications; through assessment to help categorize an artist, helping the artist identify the key words and components grant panels are looking for and drafting a mission statement and bio for grant applications.

Another challenge is receiving respect from the immediate community. In a partnership with the Ophelia Teen Center, the collaborative has worked with local youths on a planter box project; where planter boxes along the Minnesota Avenue corridor in downtown Ward 7 were decorated with colorful shells and beads.

People have been known to pluck off the beads, dig up the dirt to the plants and even urinate on the boxes. However, in a strong effort to not be discouraged the collaborative has come up with an improved way to preserving the beautification of the planter boxes. Teens from the Ophelia Center and members of the collaborative will paint on tiles that can cover an entire box and sprayed with a protective layer that will make it difficult for the artwork to be vandalized.

Being deterred or discouraged is not in the collaborative plans. Already the organization has played a major role in the community day honoring Nannie Helen Burroughs; where Deanwood residents were invited to their site to participate in the music and dance performances and given a chance to sit down and orally record their own history. There are talks of a new project with the Washington National Opera that will expose the organization citywide. Details were not available at press time.

Currently the collaborative is housed in the basement of the Dr. William Collins office building along Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue in Northeast; a spot that is often hard for the office staff to receive an internet signal and lanterns are use during rough thunder storms. Eventually, the organizations would like to see a permanent home, something modeled about The Arc in Southeast; with a performance theater, a recording studio and place where residents can take classes on creative writing.

“We will not be deterred. We are here to serve the community and preserve our local heritage,” says Aikens.

To learn more about the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative visit http://www.w7aconline.org or call (202) 399-1997.