Ward 8 is known for many things. It has the beloved Anacostia River running through it. It has a mix of small businesses that have long been established and brand-spanking new ones popping up. It has The Big Chair! It has religious institutions that are historic and well attended. It has schools, parks, single family homes and multi-unit dwellings. It is the only location outside of the National Mall that has a Smithsonian Museum. It’s known as one of the birthplaces and incubators of Go-Go Music. Ward 8 has cultural, community involvement, and political legacies that are as rich as the soil it’s been built upon. This often misunderstood segment of the District of Columbia is known for many things and if the Founder and Chairman of the Ward 8 Arts & Culture Council, Tendani Mpulubusi El, has anything to do with it, it will be well-known as an established arts community.
El was hand-picked by Ward 8 Council Member Marion Barry and his former Chief of Staff, Brenda Richardson in April of 2008 to revitalize and institutionalize arts outreach efforts east of the River. The mission of the Arts & Culture Council is to “engage, inform, and empower Ward 8 citizens and stakeholders to advance the creative community and the creative economy as a vehicle for socio-economic growth and cultural awareness”.
The year of 2014 saw a very ambitious agenda and comprehensive schedule of events for the organization. They produced activities and events that appealed to the whole family and developed programming to foster economic development. One of the largest events was Arts All Night at the Gateway hosted by the Council on September 29, 2014, which took place for the first time in multiple locations throughout the city, including Ward 8. Through a partnership with the DC Office of Motion Picture and Television, W8A&CC hosted a weekly Summer Film Series on a giant 20-foot screen at the Gateway DC Pavilion. They hosted Go-Go Fitness and Southeast Salsa to encourage Ward 8 residents to stay active and fit.
The backgrounds of the Council are as diverse as the type of programming they offer. The Founder and Chair, Tendani Mpulubusi El is a former Arts Commissioner and Youth Development Specialist who has spent the past decade giving back to the Ward 8 community and the District of Columbia. He is the owner of a Ward 8 based creative enterprise, Design Mind, LLC. El is a filmmaker and a distinguished interdisciplinary artist.
Native Washingtonian, Paulette Williams is retired from the Library of Congress. In addition to our Council, she has served on the Board of the Friends of Torpedo Factory. She teaches Creative Manufacturing and Costume Making and is personally mentoring several young women to develop their own clothing lines.
Kalik Housen, also a native Washingtonian is a government Systems Analyst and founder and Creative Director of ShutterDC Photography.
Karen Gamble works for AmeriSource Bergen. She is a Senior Reimbursement/Navigator who works in Rockville, MD. She is the Founder and CEO of a 501(c)3 organization, High Society Teen, based in southeast DC.
Philip Brown is a native of the DC area and CEO of Washington United LLC. He is a financial planner who works with small business owners to help bring jobs to the DC metropolitan area. His passions are providing financial education to the community and encouraging entrepreneurship.
Demetrius Brown, a proud Duke Ellington and UDC graduate with a vocal music background gave back to the community by teaching in DC Public Schools for three years. He is currently the Program Manager of Progressive Life Center, a cluster of group homes that provide wrap-around services for youth re-entering community.
Latasha E. Jones is an alumni of City Year DC Corps and the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools. She has served the children of the District for over 12 years as an educator, mentor, volunteer, champion/advocate, and servant leader.
CN: How is your organization structured?
TME: Right now, we have a five member Board and we are still seeking two additional members. Our 501(c)3 status is pending. It’s amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish without having tax-exempt status. Once we have exempt status, we expect massive funding to come match the massive support we have already acquired from the community. It will allow us to make even greater gains in resource development. Within the next few weeks our interim headquarters will be at the United Black Fund Building-Rolark Campus near the Anacostia Metro Station. Our overall membership is comprised of people from DC, MD and VA. Our council is made up of primarily Ward 8 residents, with one person hailing from PG County.
CN: What accomplishments are you most proud of for W8A&CC?
TME: Well for us, it’s the dedication to building substance, not just form. In this society we live in, everybody is so consumed with image. A lot folks will do events that don’t really have much behind them. We need to figure out how to make this a vehicle for social and economic advancement, connecting with folks who will help build infrastructure, housing, etc. One of the first events we hosted was taking a group of artists down to DCRA so they could better understand the technical and business aspects of being an artist. DCRA’s Director Nicholas Majett addressed our group personally.
In addition to the public activities you know we’ve hosted, there are activities that are more behind the scenes that relate to planning, education, and economic development such as Creative Economy Strategy and Small Business Policy Project. In partnership with the District Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) agency, we created Innovate 8, a Ward 8 based business incubator to counter the diversion of economic opportunities out of our community. We partnered with UPO to do a Cultural Ambassador Project. This project consisted of outreach to the Barry Farms community. We trained them on how to be Ambassadors, gave private tours around Ward 8 and shared the rich facts of local African-American history from 1800’s to present day. Smithsonian Anacostia Museum was involved in that program as well.
Another accomplishment is our education component for youth called STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). I really try to get across to young people that anything is possible if they are willing to think outside of the box and work hard. I dropped out of college three times. Yet, I still own a successful multi-media design firm. I travel and give lectures at colleges, I just gave one to Virginia Tech recently.
Personally, I am proud of how I am always willing to go to bat for Ward 8 on behalf of the Council or myself as a concerned citizen. At the groundbreaking for St. Elizabeth’s, I got into a very heated and public debate with Mayor Gray attempting to find out his plan to further engage Ward 8. The only thing he spoke about was how big businesses and federal agencies would benefit. I wanted to hear and see how what those in the community had to gain!
I’m not sure if you heard about the Chase Action Agenda. It was a 4 million dollar study done by the Office of Planning last year. All of the money was spent with outside firms, as in outside of Ward 8 or the District altogether. When they got down to the last $40K, then they wanted to hold a public meeting to finally find out what the residents of Ward 8 wanted to see in their community from an economic development standpoint. A developer on the project contacted us, to get our support when the outside consultants were holding events that were not relevant. This has been a trend in DC, bringing in outside people who don’t have the cultural competency, and really, in some cases, not even the professional competency to be doing business over here. I have appealed to Victor Hoskins, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) and Harriet Tregoning from the Office of Planning to stop bringing in outsiders to disenfranchise us.
CN: How do you feel the transition of city government might impact future work of W8A&CC?
TME: There might be some minor communication breakdowns and resets, but we’re not starting anything from scratch. You can always expect some type of lag from any transition. I think the new administration is only going to provide a greater enhancement for what we’re already doing.
CN: What is your vision, including some of your major goals for 2015?
TME: We hope to be able to get some development projects off the ground. We will be expanding on our Creative Enterprises initiative which includes multimedia, creative manufacturing, business to business model, building infrastructure, retail space. Our research and development efforts will develop Urban Agriculture projects, another type of business incubator like Innovate 8, but focused on agricultural technologies. At the beginning of 2015, the Council will kick-off programming for the Go-Go Institute of Washington, working closely with Council Member Barry.