When a conversation on the arts in the District of Columbia comes up, the neighborhoods that usually generate the most discussions are Brookland in Ward 5, the H Street corridor in Ward 6, the downtown sector in Ward 2 and Georgetown, also located in Ward 2.

Rarely does Ward 8 get a mention but that is changing.

Attendees at a reception for the paintings of the late Lois Mailou Jones at the Congress Heights Arts and Culture Center in Ward 8. (Courtesy photo)
Attendees at a reception for the paintings of the late Lois Mailou Jones at the Congress Heights Arts and Culture Center in Ward 8. (Courtesy photo)

On March 31, Ward 8 businessman Phinis Jones hosted a grand re-opening of the Congress Heights Arts & Culture Center, which is located on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. Jones showcased his private collection of Lois Mailou Jones paintings on the main floor of the center and the event resembled an upscale art gallery opening with waiters circulating around the 40 people who attended the event with various trays of hors d’oeuvres and there was a cash bar available.

Phinis Jones told the {AFRO} that he has been an admirer of the works of Lois Mailou Jones, who taught at Howard University for decades and is credited with paintings that depict life in Africa, the Caribbean and Black America in a respectful manner.

Lois Mailou Jones’s paintings showcased Black people, primarily females, in various states of pleasant expression and showed them engaged in work and play. Her paintings are also noted for their varied use of colors and the creative use of thin Black lines to draw characters.

D.C. Council member Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), former Ward 8 D.C. Council members LaRuby May and Sandy Allen, Wanda Lockridge, chief of staff to D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and Dr. Janette Hoston Harris, the District’s official historian, were among the city leaders that attended the event.

Keyonna Jones Lindsay, the executive director of the center and daughter of Phinis Jones, told the {AFRO} that the remodeling of the center and the support that the event got that evening is indicative of how Ward 8 residents view the arts.

“When we were telling some people about this event, someone remarked that the grand re-opening was ‘arts in the Hood’,”

I had to get them straight,” Jones-Lindsay said. “This space was created for Black people and we want the young people who come here to understand that they are descended from kings and queens. We are creators and we wanted to expose the neighborhood to the level of art.”

Jones-Lindsay said that Black people need a creative outlet to deal with the stress of life and she doesn’t buy into the concept of starving artists, making the point that being an artist can be profitable if done correctly. She also said that ward residents of different economic classes enjoy good art.

“Ward 8 residents shouldn’t have to go uptown to appreciate fine art,” she said.

The center, which is the first gallery in the Congress Heights neighborhood but not in Ward 8, has space for workshops, art classes, professional offices and a rooftop that will have multiple purposes. While the center’s opening has drawn attention, it is by no means the only arts entity in the ward.

“The performing arts are big in Ward 8,” Philip Pannell, a longtime activist who has championed bringing the fine arts to the ward, told the {AFRO}. “We have The ARC that has put on plays and other productions and we have the Anacostia Playhouse that is in its fourth season of producing and showing plays, dance performances and concerts. We also have the Anacostia Arts Center on Good Hope Road, plus there are a number of murals on walls around the ward.”

Pannell emphasized that “Ward 8 has a thriving arts community” and that the late Marion S. Barry, a former D.C. Council member and four-term mayor of the city, had a role in creating a proactive arts advocacy organization, the 8 Arts & Culture. 8 Arts & Culture’s founder, president and CEO is Tendani Mpulubusi El, told the {AFRO} that while Phinis Jones’ event is fine, there is more going on artistically in the ward.

“We don’t focus on one-time art shows,” he said. “We are working to build a community through the creative economy.”