Creative Life in the Gateway Arts District
Last week was a dreary one. Hurricane Joaquin had been raining all over us and it seemed like everyone had a touch of the blues (or yellows, or greys, or mean reds). It was on a particularly dreary Thursday that I trundled down Route 1 to meet with Gateway Community Development Corporation’s (Gateway CDC) newest team member.
I walk in the door and exchange pleasantries with the staff and lock eyes with my interviewee. Neither one of us is feeling it. It’s raining, it’s cold, I sense that she wants to be curled up with a hot beverage and a book far away from this workspace just as much as I do. Still we decided to meet in the conference room instead of abandoning our posts for cozy slippers and a cup of tea (my wish). I am so glad we did.
Lashawnda Batts-Bowser joined the Gateway CDC “family” as their Open Studios Tour Coordinator through her American University’s Arts Management program fellowship. We settle down at the conference table, her with a cup of soup from Yes! Organic Market and me with my laptop, and for the next 25 minutes I get a small, but exciting slice of the Lashawnda Batts-Bowser story.
Lashawnda describes herself as a wearer of many hats, “that’s the nature of my life.” She’s a mom, wife, student, teacher, performer, entrepreneur, choreographer and “closet scientist.”
Born and raised in Miami, Florida, this is not Lashawnda’s first time living here. She moved from Florida for love and school, got married, and was accepted into a graduate program at Morgan State University to study psychometrics. She puts it simply in response to my confused face: “psychometrics is the statistical, metrical side of psychology. We construct assessments and analyze and test the validities of standardized tests.” She tells me her dream was to prove, “we’re all more alike than we are different.”
It was here in the Gateway Arts District that she managed to find time in her busy life to become a certified ASA! Fitness instructor. “ASA! was born right here in the Gateway Arts District,” she tells me. She describes it as “ASA! The premier low-impact workout evolution, an engaging fusion of modern club movements with cultural African energy into an enchantingly upbeat event, a life-changing total body endurance experience.”
Opportunity struck when her husband was offered an incredible opportunity in Nigeria. So Lashawnda moved again. It was in Nigeria that she discovered and fostered the arts management side of her career. During their two years there she went from being a volunteer at a school to running a business she and her husband founded: The Cultural Arts & Development Bridge. “I was the arts side and he was the development side,” she said, “the experience was priceless.” During that time she created and piloted programs that lead to the realization she wanted to learn more. Though she wanted to return to psychometrics, she ended up finding the perfect fit in American University’s Arts Management program where her graduate studies focus is in International Arts Management.
It’s from American University that the Gateway Arts District was able to land this talented woman. Through the program she connected with the Gateway CDC. As an Arts Management Fellow she is taking on the job of Open Studios Tour Coordinator with an additional interest in building awareness and buy-in to the Gateway CDC membership campaign. She believes that Open Studios Tour (OST) is a great way to motivate artists to join Gateway CDC as members.
But does membership really benefit artists? Lashawnda believes so, “if artists live in the Gateway Arts District, it’s useful to be connected to the community through the CDC.” “Additionally,” she argues, “Gateway CDC has very useful resources that artists can benefit from in terms of studio space & access to the office,” and more importantly, “the ability to connect into and start building a network within the Gateway Arts District.” Lashawnda’s ultimate goal is to build an artist network where artists have the opportunity to, “mix and mingle, get some exposure, develop future collaborations.”
Lashawnda dreams of Open Studios Tour growing to national, even international fame. She sees a future in which OST is a destination event where artists, artist groups and arts studios from around the world all meet, mix and mingle right here in the Gateway Arts District. She dreams big but knows her limitations. “I’m way too vain to fail at this,” she laughs, “I wouldn’t bring an idea to the table if I wasn’t fully capable of realizing it.”
Some of her ideas include expanding the scope of the OST to incorporate more children’s activities and performing arts experiences for attendees. She’s faced some challenges. As many local artists and organizations know, Open Studios Tour is a beautiful monster. Opinions on the tour are widely varied and the process of doing something new and different requires some courage. To that Lashawnda smiles and replies, “Just follow me, I promise I won’t let you down.”
In order to process some of those OST opinions she’s “decoding” handwritten notes taken during a feedback session from last year’s rainy tour day. But this process doesn’t bother her. “I enjoy the planning process … I enjoy the meetings when we’re in the space of hashing out ideas, when ideas are flowing across the room. I enjoy the interaction of brains, ideas meeting and when it results in a resolution. That’s a WOW!”
Challenges or no, Lashawnda gets a charge out of the community here in the Gateway Arts District. She’s here to “plant roots, foster relationships” and “bring some new life to the Open Studios Tour.” Her catch word is “renewal.” Not only does she seek to renew the OST, but for people to “feel a sense of renewal” after the experience.
I know I certainly feel a sense of renewal after chatting with Lashawnda. I’m shocked to find nearly half an hour has passed as it’s only felt like 5 minutes. I’m inspired by how she seems to patiently and effortlessly juggle family, graduate school, work and other commitments all while remaining in the present moment, with me, chatting over a cup of soup. If I get this sense of renewal from a simple chat with the lady, I cannot wait to see what she does with Open Studios Tour.