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Hyattsville, Mt. Rainier And The Artist Gap

Is Mount Rainier's arts community more authentic and more numerous than Hyattsville's? Does it even matter?

When it comes to the arts, is Hyattsville a poser? Is Mount Rainier's arts community more authentic or more numerous?

These were the intentionally incendiary, if only slightly, questions raised at yesterday's Conversations in the Corridor discussion at Busboys and Poets on Baltimore Avenue in Downtown Hyattsville. 

(Ward 1), moderator for the event, used the questions to lead a conversation which tangled with the idea of how to make the four-city coalition of the –Hyattsville, Brentwood, North Brentwood and Mount Rainier–work as a cohesive unit. 

Justin Fair, content manager for MyGatewayArts.org and editor of the SoulStrong Arts blog, said it isn't a question of who has the more authentic arts community, it's how to turn Route 1 into a complete, interconnected arts corridor. 

"I don't really think it's a problem," said Fair. "I think the challenge is how to make people go to both locations."

Fair said that redevelopment over the last 10 years has been kind to Hyattsville, with the development of the and the , while Mount Rainier's Route 1 corridor appears to be lagging behind. 

"If most people want to get a bite to eat, they'll just think or ," said Fair. "How do we make sure people don't stick to these max americana stores and explore other parts of the corridor?"

Stephen J. Shaff, one of the key figures in Mount Rainier's arts revival, said ongoing arts-oriented redevelopment, rising gas prices would inevitably force major changes to the Route 1 corridor. But he cautioned that redevelopment of the area could lead to gentrification, pricing out the area for low and middle-income residents.  

"Artists go into rougher areas that have a lot of potential, and do something that makes the neighborhood stand out," said Shaff.  "Then the copycats start up, then bingo, the speculators come in. Then what happened in Shaw, they all got blown out of the water."

But Shaff said that by working with nonprofit community development corporations, cities could rebuild their communities without driving away low and middle-income families. 

"The CDC is an economic machine that has developed tens of millions of dollars in real estate," said Shaff. "It's the cheapest way to rehabilitate communities."

A perceived lack of public art in the Gateway Arts District was noted multiple times during the discussion. 

Hyattsville resident Robert Croslin said it was important to have something that shows you are entering the district, noting that there's practically no public art until you get near the Hyattsville District Court, which is graced by a number of large sculptures. 

Croslin, a gold and silversmith, did say that Mount Rainier is a more progressive town, more willing to invest in its arts community. 

"I don't think we have that in Hyattsville," said Croslin.

Overall, participants in the discussion sought ways the municipalities of the arts district could work together for a common goal. 

"The whole idea here is that if you are going to change the perception of the community, you need to get on the same page," said Shaff. 

Jack Engel March 12, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Article's failure to mention Brentwood (where much of the activity is focused) is a major oversight. jack engel
MyGatewayArts.org March 12, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Thank you for covering this event, Michael.
Jesse Cohen March 20, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Is it a competition? Both communities are working hard. I wish I was able to make this discussion. Over the past 3 years we've brought the area close to 40 art shows with well over 200 artists from around the area. We've enjoyed a number of Brentwood / Hyattsville collaborations. I see both areas investing in the arts. Maybe this is a bit rehtorical, but what exactly does that question mean, which arts district is more authentic? For some history on art shows in Hyattsville, check out our site at www.artdc.com .

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