Arts district helps transform community

It’s been 10 years since the establishment of the Gateway Arts District, which united Mount Rainier, Brentwood, North Brentwood and Hyattsville in an effort to foster an arts community that would spur economic growth.

Officials from the area say the effort has borne fruit culturally and economically.

The Prince George’s County Council is expected to recertify the district this month, extending incentives such an income tax waiver for local artists who sell work in the district.

The idea behind the district, which stretches about two miles along Rhode Island and Baltimore avenues, was to use a handful of anchor projects — such as housing for artists in Mount Rainier, gallery space in Brentwood and a proposed African American museum in North Brentwood — as economic development tools to attract private development, said Stuart Eisenberg, executive director of the Hyattsville Community Development Corp., which partners with Gateway Community Development on arts district initiatives.

Since its establishment in 2001, the area’s accessible tax base has increased by more than $250 million, Eisenberg said.

The artists themselves are another important benchmark, said Michael Gumpert, executive director of Gateway Community Development.

“When the Gateway started in 1997, the estimate [was] that there was about 100 artists that were working within the district. . . . Now the estimate is around 350. That didn’t happen by accident,” Gumpert said, attributing the increase to factors such as affordable studio space.

Before, many local artists didn’t know that others were working in the district, said sculptor Margaret Boozer of Brentwood. Now, a much greater sense of community exists.

“One of the things that Gateway does is make [artists] visible to each other and make us visible to other people,” said Boozer, who maintains a studio in Mount Rainier.

One result of that visibility has been an increase in participation and support from neighboring businesses, Boozer said. She remembers a local roofer who showed her a pattern of tar drippings that he had scraped out of a truck, thinking she might find it interesting.

“It changed his vision of what was trash,” said Boozer, who incorporated the tar formations into an installation in 2004.

In 2004, 44 artist lofts opened on Rhode Island Avenue in Mount Rainier 2004. In 2008, 44 more opened on Jefferson Street in Hyattsville.

Eakin-Youngentob Associates’ Arts District Hyattsville, a partially built mixed-use development, includes townhouse and apartment-style residential units and retail space. Some restaurants, such as Chipotle and Elevation Burger, have opened. Others, such as Busboys & Poets, are scheduled to open later this year.

County Councilman William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville), who grew up in the area, said the arts district had brought tremendous change to the area.

“We’re in a great spot right now,” Campos said. “Hopefully, the [Eakin-Youngentob project] will bring good momentum, filling in everything else we need for corridor.”

Campos said the district’s next focus should be the construction of the African American history museum. Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center is working to build a permanent facility in North Brentwood, Gumpert said.

“Before the Gateway Arts District, there was no effort being made toward redevelopment,” said former Brentwood mayor George Denny, adding that one of the project’s strengths has been that it was mostly community driven.

One of the resulting anchor projects has been the Gateway Arts Center in Brentwood, a $3 million effort of the corporation that opened last year and has become a gathering place for local artists and residents.

Read More >>>>>