New Leaf, 2007, by Lisa Scheer, a sculpture commissioned by the DC Commission on
the Arts and Humanities for the Georgia Avenue/Petworth Metro subway station. "When
designing this work," wrote Scheer, "my goal was to find an image and emotion that
would speak to the spirit of this neighborhood place. A leaf is a simple and familiar thing." Photo by Lisa Scheer.
Twenty years ago, boarded-up buildings in the Penn Quarter neighborhood were a
legacy from the 1968 riots, while the area around U Street, NW—once known as “Black
Broadway” for its plethora of theaters—was a high-crime area, mostly devoid of businesses.
Today, both neighborhoods are thriving, in no small part thanks to the arts
organizations that call those neighborhoods home. In the Penn Quarter neighborhood,
for example, the Shakespeare Theatre has paved the way for other businesses, like restaurants
and retail stores, to move to the area. It has further committed to the neighborhood
by building its new multimillion dollar Sidney Harman Hall just a few blocks down
from its Landsburgh Theater space. On U Street, historic music clubs, such as Bohemian
Caverns (open since 1926) have continued to draw business to the area by presenting
music legends from Billie Holiday to NEA Jazz Master Ron Carter, while relative newcomers
such as Busboys and Poets have become a vibrant community space for the literary
and visual arts.
While the arts certainly weren’t the only reason these areas revived, they played
a significant part in investing in their communities, which, arguably, helped make the
transformation complete. In this issue of NEA Arts we examine a few of the “neighborhood”
artists and arts and culture organizations that help make DC not just the
nation’s capital, but an arts capital.