WI Bridge

The Hood Needs Art

The Congress Heights Arts and Culture Center (CHACC) is located on MLK Jr. Avenue at the heart of D.C.’s Congress Heights neighborhood in Southeast. The large stone structure sits on a corner, modest yet intriguing. The house itself has been there for years but it’s only served as the center’s home for the last three.

In its first stage, the space functioned as a gallery for Artist in Residence, Shawn “Painta” Lindsay’s (SPL) first solo show. His wife and CHACC founder, Keyonna Jones-Lindsay (KJL), quickly recognized an opportunity to fill a void long felt by the surrounding community.

“Growing up in SE and having a creative spirit, there was nothing to nurture it. I didn’t realize it because my mother took me out of the south side; I was uptown, in Maryland and Virginia to nurture that spirit. It wasn’t until we started flowing in the second year that I realized this [CHACC] is what the south side really needed, for people that were creative and had no where to place it.” – KJL

CHACC serves as an entryway to, platform for and cultivator of culture. Its primary purpose is to simply open the mind to new ideas, spark creativity and insight expression.

WI Bridge's Claudia Watts chats with CHACC founder Keyonna Jones-Lindsay. (D. Carnegie Harty)
WI Bridge’s Claudia Watts chats with CHACC founder Keyonna Jones-Lindsay. (D. Carnegie Harty)

“We want to expose. We know who our audience is we know they don’t view art as a value or a tool for expression. Once we start exposing people, not only do they like it, they turn out how to be good at it. We show people how being a starving artist doesn’t have to be a thing, we teach people how to monetize their craft.” – KJL

The three-storied, mixed-use space features a gallery, offices for rent and a sizable rooftop deck. Common areas are also available for private rentals as well as public programs. On any given day visitors can check out a logo or print making class, unwind with a yoga session or Sip n’ Paint. Promoting small business is another staple of the CHACC, last week it hosted the second annual “Blackest Friday” pop-up shop and day party. The event celebrated local vendors of color and of course, the “Black Friday” shopping tradition.

Solo exhibitions rotate regularly within the gallery. The home of many “first” solo-shows, CHACC preps the artists from how to hang on walls, framing and pricing. Unlike many galleries, the only real requirements are that artists are brown and come with enough work to fill the walls.

“I realized that many artists never have solo exhibitions – after all these years of being in art school he [Shawn] never got that solo show, now in our space we have solo shows.” – KJL

As a nonprofit, the CHACC keeps it’s doors open through workshop fees, space rentals, and grants. The need to attract donors is understood, but Keyonna also knows the importance of demonstrating impact as a means of doing so. It’s her vision to get the center to a point where all of the workshops are free. She doesn’t want to take money from the people she serves.

Giving back and giving thanks are a constant state of being when you serve the community. As Shawn explains, “If you give with the purpose of giving, actively helping, you will see it come back in someway. Maybe not directly to you, but someone down the street may get that sketchbook or there will be more books available in the free library outside.” – SPL

The work of this organization is a reason for thanks. Exposure and empowerment are things historically denied to south side residents. Through creativity, the arts and culture; the CHACC is changing that narrative.

“It’s what the world needs. The world needs art and the hood needs art. It’s an outlet for expressing what happens to us everyday.” –KJL

And, that outlet has the power to shape a future.

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