By: Carlo Massimo
When people call Adams Morgan a “vibrant” neighborhood, they’re usually thinking of bars, restaurants, and the Sitar Arts Center.
Adams Morgan is a vibrant neighborhood. But it’s no secret that the old life and color of the neighborhood are in peril, especially as high rents force old communities out. But there’s hope for neighborhood. And it’s behind 18th Street, which is on the 1700 block of Kalorama. At 1724 there is the old hulk of an office building at 1724. Next door, 1700, has a sign for Sitar.
Between these two buildings is the ticking heart of a neighborhood known for its diversity and at constant risk of a whitewash. The old office building was purchased. Soon it will become an affordable housing block.
Jubilee Housing, a nonprofit that provides affordable housing in the District, bought 1724 Kalorama NW with the plan of building 25 affordable units, priced for renters making between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income (AMI).
“As low and moderate income families are being squeezed out of the District due to lack of affordable housing,” says the Jubilee website, “our work makes sure they can benefit from the progress of the city. Our work creates justice housing.”
Now, Sitar is exploring the option to expand into its ground floor. “Affordable housing is essential to DC,” said Maureen Dwyer, executive director at Sitar. Sitar and Jubilee form a “lifelong partnership,” she told The Current. Jubilee was Sitar’s parent organization.
“Sitar finds the potential in every person, and in every family, to live their best lives, no matter what their background or income,” she said.
Furthermore, Sitar offers art classes, workshops, and childcare programs to about 500 kids and young adults from Ward 1 and across the District. Its range is so broad it would sound absurd in any other city. There’s after-school care, summer camps, full theater productions, live studio recording, prenatal care for mothers, and paid workforce development for young adults. There’s creative writing, 3D printing, belly dancing, mural painting, darkroom photography, and healthy breakfasts and lunches.
On a brief tour of the facilities, The Current saw racks of guitars, piano keyboards fitted to computers for musical transcription, a library, a study hall, a papier-mâché in progress, and posters with pictures of successful alumni.
“It’s a haven,” said a young man named Colin. “It’s an incredible place to learn.” The waitlists are long at Sitar – hence the interest in an expansion.
Moreover, Dwyer explained that about 90 percent of Sitar’s funding comes from personal contributions. Families pay for membership on a sliding scale, which is based on household income. A few District agencies contribute funds as well, including the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education.
And the list of nonprofit sponsors is staggering: the National Symphony Orchestra, Girls Who Code, the DC Jazz Festival, Mary’s Center, the Washington Ballet, the Young Playwrights’ Theater, For Love of Children, American University’s music program, and Jubilee Housing.
Sitar emerged from Jubilee in 2000. Both organizations are connected to the Church of the Savior, an ecumenical D.C.-based church. Both are also members of the Platform of Hope, a strategic nonprofit alliance that helps struggling families in Adams Morgan.
On Sunday, September 23, Platform of Hope will launch its latest project: a holistic, self-directed, one-year support program for a cohort of 20 local families.
According to a press release, “Sitar is very proud to offer its services and to help address the racial and economic inequities that stand in the way of these families from living their fullest lives as part of our Adams Morgan community.” As rent crawls up, that’s quite a relief.