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Artists Sizzle at Mt. Rainier's Better Block Night

Local Businesses Open their Doors to Growing Clientele

D. Kevin McNeir, Special to The Washington Informer | 4/30/2014, 3 p.m.
A couple mixed it up on the dance floor during Mt. Rainier's annual festival, Better Block Night on April 25. (Courtesy of Joe's Movement Emporium)

From its inception, Mt. Rainier’s Better Block program has been produced by Joe’s Movement Emporium, a partner for Art Lives Here, along with other community partners including the Mt. Rainier Business Association.

“This is a visibility campaign for small businesses and the creative community that make Mt. Rainier their home or place of work,” said Brooke Kidd, executive director, Joe’s Emporium Movement. “Our goal is to bring a larger audience to our business community and we’ve been successful in that objective by bringing in diverse forms of arts programming.”

Phil Fenelus, owner of Mon Cheri Gallery [3301 Rhode Island Ave.], is a Haitian émigré and entrepreneur that moved to Mt. Rainier just over two years ago to open his gallery that specializes in Haitian fine art and artifacts. He said that the arts district is gaining in both popularity and acceptance.

“The economy has made it tough because when folks are concerned about eating, they aren’t going to do things like purchase art,” he said. “But I have a loyal clientele of established customers and they, along with more people interested in our works that portray the magnificence of the Haitian landscape and the strength of our people, are making it possible for me to succeed in this location. The word still has to be spread but I’m convinced that Mt. Rainier has a great future.”

Several businessmen committed to seeing Mt. Rainier thrive shared their views about what they believe the future holds for the city. Anthony Henderson, the director of the Youth Work Force Program at Joe’s Movement Emporium, said he wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. And Mahiri Fadjimba, an internationally-respected West African drum instructor and founder of Farafina Kan, noted how things have changed for the better since his arrival 15 years ago.

“Youth come here from all over as young as four years old to learn the art of drumming or African dance,” said Fadjimba, more affectionately known as ‘Baba M.’”

“We have 80 children of all ages that are dedicated to learning more about the traditions of West and South Africa and how those traditions can make them better men and women,” he said.

Henderson agreed with Fadjimba’s sentiments.

“The Better Block Night is one of many ways in which our community comes together for common goals like the arts, sustainability and entrepreneurship,” Henderson said. “This is a community-based town that has tremendous potential and talent. It’s all about digging it up and making it present to a larger audience.”

And while both Henderson and Fadjimba appear to be pleased with how things are progressing in their city, gentrification still looms large.

“We recognize that gentrification in the D.C. area is a huge issue and conversation,” Kidd said.

“… Many of the businesses here own their property so it gives them deeper roots. Better Block and Art Lives Here agree that the goal is to both celebrate the current businesses and artists while also attracting complementary businesses that can fill the vacant buildings.”