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Residents plan new ‘gateway’

(Published Feb. 12, 2001)

By KRISTEN FORBES

Staff Writer

As you drive past the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue, Carpenter and O streets in Southeast Washington you may not notice the efforts of the Penn-Branch community. Nestled behind a shopping center, residents are trying to bring the community together to beautify their neighborhood in a grand way.

Former civic association president Alberta Paul calls her quiet community "the best kept secret east of the river." But Paul, current civic association president Rhoma Battle and others are seeking funding in hopes of drawing attention to their neighborhood by turning that small park at the crossroads into a community gateway.

"I was heartbroken to see older people out there breaking their backs to cut grass," said Battle. This was a result of the government not maintaining the property, he said: "We’ve gotten on them – we didn’t want an unkempt park."

The idea of a major beautification project grew from neighbors seeing residents like Paul and her garden club planting tulips in the neighborhood.

"We would submit a request to the Department of Interior to replenish bulbs for our tulip garden," she said. The flowers would be removed from downtown and given to the neighborhood group to plant.

That garden club effort started to spread from each block in the neighborhood to outer boundaries with other associations. "We had the opportunity to meet Fort Davis and Dupont Park to clean up the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor," Paul said.

Battle said he grew interested in the effort because "I travel downtown and see how other neighborhoods highlight the arts, but I didn’t see a lot of that going on in the Southeast area."

"Nearly one year ago I contacted the D.C Arts Commission and was told about their grant program," said Battle of his quest for project funding. After being on their e-mail list as well as attending workshops held by the arts commission, he decided to spread the word and apply for the full $35,000 grant.

The Community Public Art Initiative Program 2001, sponsored by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, brings together residents and local artists to area neighborhoods to create public art projects. The commission provides funding of up to $35,000 for each site and chooses a minimum of five sites annually after selecting nominations from D.C. residents. An advisory panel comprised of "arts professionals and community representatives" is then selected to match artists and the sites.

"The concept is to work with a Washington artist to create a piece or sculpture that will complement the community and enhance the park," said Paul, 10-year Beautification Committee chairman and former president of the Penn-Branch Civic Association.

Battle recently held a community meeting that was attended by a representative from the arts commission to talk about the initiative. "People were very receptive and we had a free exchange of ideas," he said.

Plans for selecting an artist include having artists bring photographs of their work to present to the community. "It’s not just Rhoma or mine – it’s our (community’s) decision," Paul said of the selection process.

Battle said hopes to have Paul on the committee that will help select the art sculpture. "She has a valuable range of input – from the garden to the arts," he said.

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator