Investigating Where We Live: Connecting With Anacostia
July 28, 2012–June 9, 2013 (exhibition)
July 28, 2012–June 9, 2013 (exhibition)
Click on photos above for caption and crediting information.
Investigating Where We Live (IWWL) is a four-week summer program in which students interpret Washington, D.C. neighborhoods through photography, journaling, creative writing, sketching, and artwork. Each summer approximately 30 students spend their Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays studying the history and development of the built environment by exploring the landmarks, culture, and homes that make up D.C. Students are required to keep a sketchbook of their work, complete creative writing assignments and photography workshops led by professionals, and present their photographic and written work in front of their peers and other design and building arts experts. The program culminates in an exhibition designed, developed, and installed by the students in the Museum’s galleries for nine months.
Since IWWL began in 1996, 500 teens have explored and interpreted neighborhoods across the District, and created visual ways of expressing themselves.
For the 2012 exhibition, all three teams focused on the historic neighborhood of Anacostia in the city’s historically underserved Ward 8, and explored and interpreted it through three themes they determined: Diversity, Change, Community.
What do you think when you hear “Anacostia”? If you are like us, your initial reaction might be based on something you read in the news. Perhaps you think Anacostia has low-income housing, terrible crime, poverty, and is a neighborhood you wouldn’t feel safe visiting. When you think of Anacostia, do you think of diversity? When we visited Anacostia we discovered a close-knit community of people who are proud of their neighborhood. To really find diversity you must take a closer look at the people, culture, and architecture. People of many races, genders, ages, and cultures are making this changing neighborhood their home. They buy the abandoned historic homes and fix them up or live in modern townhouses and condos. They work towards bringing more services to the community through new businesses and organizations. They bring many cultures together to create a diverse array of religions, businesses, and public art. Yes, there is diversity in Anacostia and it is a place people are proud to call home.
Change means a lot of things, but what does it mean to you? On our trips to Anacostia we saw change in a lot of ways. We noticed new developments, buildings being renovated, and abandoned buildings being torn down alongside new businesses like Mama’s Kitchen and Uniontown Bar & Grill. Change can be hard. It can benefit one person, but not another. Buildings or places that are torn down might mean a lot to some in the community but nothing to newcomers. New businesses can bring more people to a neighborhood but take away houses for long-term residents. Despite these things we think change in Anacostia is good. It can attract more people and help people look beyond the stereotypes. Change is not always a bad thing; change can be for the better.
Anacostia is defined by geographic boundaries, like the river, but also by the community inside. After exploring Anacostia our team coined the term “Anammunity” to imply both the location and our theme of community. When a friendly Anacostia resident told us that “community is just a big family,” it inspired us to design a new type of family photo, a symbolic family portrait. Our “family portrait” includes many individuals, but when they are put together they represent the community or family of Anacostia. Framing our family portrait are photos of other aspects in the neighborhood that contribute to Anacostia’s community. Let us show you our family portrait of Anacostia, where growing interactions promise a lively future.
The Museum and 826DC, a tutoring and creative writing organization, partnered to further strengthen the creative writing component of the exhibit. Staff and volunteers from 826DC met twice with the program participants to practice different styles of writing, brainstorm content for the exhibit, and review and revise written pieces.
Vivid Solutions is part of ARCH Development, an arts-based community development non-profit in Anacostia. The Museum worked with this Anacostia-based art gallery and print lab to provide an opportunity for participants to see examples of how to organize and hang a photography show. The lab also printed all the exhibition photos, providing a critical economic link with the developing neighborhood.
Major funding for Investigating Where We Live is provided by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, an agency supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.