Budding Artists in Columbia Heights

The Latin American Youth Center’s (LAYC) Art + Media House is hard to miss. The splash of vibrant colors jumps out at you, giving the sense of a lively, fun place to be. Add to that the large mural on the house next door and the adjacent newly renovated houses (all LAYC properties) and you’ve got a street that is a far cry from what stood there just a decade ago. These had been neglected, run down houses rife with criminal activity.

Today the Art + Media House is a place where young people are exposed to various art mediums that were previously unavailable to them. Classes are offered to youth ages 12-18 throughout the school year. There you can learn how to produce music, a radio program or video. You can also hone the craft of beatmaking, painting and photography. The house has not only awakened interests and imaginations, but it has helped youth cope with personal issues and larger societal ills.

Since their founding in the mid 70s, LAYC has always valued expression through art as a way for young people to deal with the issues facing their community. But the organization did not have a space dedicated specifically to the arts until 2003 when their vision for a high quality, youth driven arts facility became a reality with the opening of their Art + Media House. The house is located at 3035 15th St NW, right around the corner from their headquarters on Columbia Road NW and sits alongside four other houses LAYC has recently renovated. (Pictured: Mural completed by Art + Media House students on the property next to Art + Media House)

LISC has long partnered with LAYC to help the organization expand programs and gain a permanent stake in their Columbia Heights neighborhood. We supported the Art + Media House early with a $50,000 recoverable grant. We then provided a construction loan and several operating support grants to stabilize operations in their early years.

“The kids just love it, sometimes we have to kick them out at night”, says Lori Kaplan, Executive Director of LAYC. One of those kids is Joel (Pictured to the right). Born and raised in DC he has been coming to the Art + Media House since it opened. Now 17, he is headed into his senior year of high school. The House has cultivated a deep love of photography, something 6 he is considering studying in college. “This program is quality, there are true artists here. You hear about programs like this in New York and now we finally have something here in DC. I have definitely grown as an artist”.

Particularly striking is the number of young men who see the House as a safe place to express themselves. On a recent summer day there were about 20 or so young people sitting in the backyard, which has been transformed into an urban garden and small park space. Sitting at one of the picnic tables were three young men – Gabriel and Chris, both freshman and Israel a 10th grader. All live close by in Columbia Heights and freely announce that they “love hanging out at the House”. For Gabriel, the art house has deepened his love of music. The music program is one of the most popular programs – but it doesn’t just teach kids how to cut a demo, it helps them hone writing, performance and production skills. (Pictured below: Art + Media House students hang out in the backyard)

Chris has tapped into artistic skills he didn’t know he had while helping to put together the mosaic at Tubman Elementary and also the mural next door. Israel is planning to take a class in the fall, but he’s not sure which one yet. They all agreed that if it wasn’t for the Art + Media House they’d probably be at home doing nothing or up to something they shouldn’t be.

But even a program as popular as the Art + Media House is not immune to the downturn in the market. Because most students are low income and pay a nominal fee for classes, LAYC must raise funds to keep the building and programs running. This year, due to City cuts, they are down to just three full-time staff and are actively seeking funds to keep this program viable and strong.

This house is clearly meeting a need and is often the initial door through which kids learn about LAYC. Once in the Art + Media House, they can connect to other LAYC programs. This fall there are roughly 60 kids taking classes at the House. To keep up with all of the happenings you can visit www.immediatereaction.org.