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Southeast Residents Celebrate the Arts

Sam P.K. Collins | 7/31/2013, noon
Three-year-old Naomi Peoples shows off her modern day vampire look while her mother, Marlene, gets a click out of her daughter's fictional character visage, during the Arts & Humanities Festival at St. Elizabeths East on Saturday, July 27. Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah

Byron Granderson couldn’t believe his eyes when he entered the gates of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast. Vendors showcased an array of tasty treats, people danced to the sounds of D.C.’s own Experience Unlimited, and canopies dotted the landscape – each offering a different activity of which to enjoy.

Granderson’s three children soon found an activity that piqued their interests. They decided to try their hand at painting. Using red, green, yellow and pink paint, the children created a montage of colorful stick figures and symbols on three giant blocks of wood.

The smiles on their faces after completing their art project made the trip worthwhile, said Granderson, 51.

“This is not for me. This is for them,” the proud dad said. “Everything is always [in Northwest] so it’s good to see fun [activities] like this around here. [St. Elizabeths] is starting something good that can turn into something greater,” said the Southeast resident.

Granderson counted among more than 100 people who gathered on the east campus of St. Elizabeths on Saturday, July 27 for an afternoon of music, arts and crafts, and storytelling at the Arts & Humanities Festival at St. Elizabeths East.

The festival, organized by St. Elizabeths East, THEARC, a Southeast-based nonprofit that provides cultural, social, and recreational activities, and the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C., a Northwest-based nonprofit that funds community art projects, provided a fun day for families. The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development provided a $123,000 grant to ensure the success of the festival.

Guests cheered on local R&B artist IhsAn Bilal as she belted out tunes that resonated with the crowd. They also listened to the stories of painter Jay Coleman, who grew up in Southeast. Many enjoyed juicy hot dogs, burgers, pizza, ice cream, and cold beverages while strolling throughout the expansive campus on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Sheline Scriber greeted guests at the entrance of the east campus. She said that the festival was long overdue for young people who live east of the Anacostia River.

“You always hear negative things about Southeast and it’s unfortunate,” said Scriber, 20. “I’ve been living [in this community] for seven years and this is my first time seeing an event like this. I would like to see more young people out and about at future events,” she said.

The festival, the first of four to take place at St. Elizabeths East this summer, comes at a time when the campus is undergoing a total makeover that promises to usher in an economic boom.

In September, local residents as well as 3,700 U.S. Coast Guard employees will walk through an entranceway into St. Elizabeths East Innovation Hub, an integrated center of research, training, education, and entrepreneurship.

Catherine Buell, executive director of St. Elizabeths East, said that the recent urban redevelopment would be of the greatest benefit to Ward 8 residents.

“It's amazing to see it come together,” said Buell, 33. “This takes a lot of political, staff, and leadership support. There is no other example of a technology campus in the middle of a place in need of economic development,” said Buell who lives in Southeast.