Monday, February 1, 2010

Duane on Anacostia's ARCH

"I first came to D.C. in 1961. I lived in Anacostia and worked as a summer intern for a Congressman from Reading, Pennsylvania. Back then, this was a thriving community. It was 50% white and 50% black. All of the stores were open and there were jazz clubs and restaurants here. Things changed after the riots. In 1980, I came back to D.C. I used to be the Director of Energy Conservation for the state of New Jersey. I was a political appointee and when my boss left, I applied for a job at the Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco) in charge of their energy conservation programs and was eventually put in charge of their community economic development programs. Out of that, we started the ARCH Training Center. Marion Barry, who was Mayor at the time, and then City Council Chair John Wilson, both of whom I knew from the civil rights movement, worked with us to establish the program in an old school in Anacostia. Pepco gave me release time to develop the ARCH programs and funded them until 1996.  

"We started as an adult job training program. We expanded into a homeless organization, a housing organization, a community economic development corporation, and a construction company. Each of these programs grew out of the needs of the community. At the time, these organizations did not exist in Ward 8. There were no housing organizations, now there must be eight or nine. As more organizations here provided services, ARCH contracted to do the two things we did best: job training and small scale economic development using arts and culture and the creative economy as a way to regenerate Anacostia. 

"What ARCH is trying to do is to help develop businesses that either support the creative economy or are not totally dependent on the local population to support their businesses. There is not the disposable income in the neighborhood yet. Now, one of our projects is the Honfleur Gallery. If you took the physical facility of that art gallery and put it in SoHo, it would fit. It is a modern museum space and allows us to bring international artists, musical groups and poetry that attracts Ward 8 residents and those throughout the District. We try and combine the arts with the extremely relevant things that are going on here. 

"In the end, I think that it is more important to talk about Anacostia than to talk about me. Anacosita has a bad rap. The worst thing to ever happen to Anacostia was the Washington Post. If any crime happens east of the river, it is reported as being in Anacostia. For years, a murder would take place on Mississippi Avenue on the Maryland border and that would be Anacostia. We are working with a number of other individuals and organizations to try and bring back the feel of how this place used to be. We realize that now Anacostia is not a place of destination. People will only come here if there is something specific. People don't come her to walk around. We are trying to change that."

Duane Gautier is the founder and CEO of both ARCH Training Center and ARCH Development Corporation. Honfleur Gallery, a project of ARCH Development Corporation, opened in January 2007 as a contemporary arts space and cultural hub in Historic Anacostia. A second exhibition space and high end digital printing lab, Vivid Solutions, is dedicated specifically to photography and digital art, and opened in 2008.