Ever Changing Times
I’ve seen so much change in my decades of making DC home. Still, I’m amazed that a “metrobar” (an outdoor bar & entertainment spot) is next door to the Van Gogh immersion experience, which is adjacent to the beauty supply shop, next to Forrrrmannnn Millllllssss. For the new kids on the urban block, FM of those discount stores you don’t typically find in ‘hoods where Van Gogh selling out crowds.
The whole development at Rhode Island Metro is past, present & future in one big block. One side is Rhode Island Row & the other has Van Gogh. The old soul food of Carolina Kitchen can be found at the same metro stop as an old world artist. Nobody planned such a contrast. Did they?
Vincent, as he preferred to be called, was pained by the cruelty of the world & suffering from ailments where he could find no cure. He wanted to help others but, there was no help for his pain. He found some medicine in his art. The world saw his brilliance after he was dead & gone. Similarly, these communities that have experienced a Christopher Columbus-like discovery, were always beautiful. These once Black communities, like Van Gogh, deserved investment, but the poachers waited until devaluation (or death) before putting good money down. And like Van Gogh, the people who spent good years in those communities don’t reap the benefits of their time.
It was amazing to be immersed in Van Gogh for a few hours, though. The music & story boards & art takes you on a beautiful journey. The VR experienced, at the end, let’s you float through his world — magically. It’s pretty groovy.
While being surrounded by swirling images of centuries old art works of beauty, I had a moment recalled that those light painted walls once housed the “new, improved” Safeway grocery store. It was an anchor store, opened in the 90’s, within a shopping plaza, in the Black Edgewood, working class community. The shops were built to cater to a working class community of Black folks — or as developers see us (hair salons; Popeyes; Micky D’s; Safeway, with food that might not have always been as fresh as in whiter communities). Never mind Safeway chose to quit my working class neighborhood of Bloomingdale, for another. They didn’t care about us, their new community was on the Metro!
The spinners said it wasn’t that far away. The spinners wouldn’t have had to take that long, hilly walk, though. The new home was too far for Howard University students without a car — or without a friend with a car. I guess that doesn’t matter now, since some of those dorms are now condos & apartments. And, there’s a whole Whole Foods on the opposite side of the campus. The importance of that Safeway from back in the day was many graduating classes ago. Times have changed & property values have skyrocketed like works of art.
Others have found & made their riches from the limited life’s work of others — like Basquiat & Winehouse & Hathaway & Hendrix & Joplin & Jackson & so many others. Van Gogh had a lot on his mind. Hundreds of letters, mostly written to his brother, many works of art and quotes. Ironically, as Bloomingdale was being born, Van Gogh died.
I love this quote: “Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.”
Black people love(d) these neighborhoods of Shaw, Bloomingdale & Edgewood. But, so much has changed. Historical markers tell the stories that newcomers won’t care to remember. So, a former market, which had workers and shoppers and elders who could walk there (or use Metro Access), is now a blank canvas filled with a creative immersion of an artist long gone. Van Gogh would have probably liked the old hood, because he — In spite of his brokenness — wanted to help others.
The neighborhood still has a nail/hair shop & Forrrrrmmaaaaan Millllllls. A movie house is coming to join the shiny new apartments that will cost much more than the ones around the corner. That’s So DC. Perhaps, that blank canvas edifice will become a Whole Foods, Harris Teeter or Trader Joe’s — all stores within walking distance of the BloomingdalesShaw community that Safeway quit. If only they thought investing in our hood was worth it. They didn’t see the diamond, they was tarnished from neglect, but was no less valuable.
Many of us stayed around to see this metamorphosis, but many, like Safeway, quit us. Years later, the value of this community has increased, like the work of the old world artist. If they had only given us a chance and appreciated our value.
It’s said that Vincent only sold one of his pieces during his lifetime. Now, his work sells in the millions. Just like the houses in the ‘hood. You don’t know what you’ve got, too it’s gone.
That’s so DC — and America — and the world.
We, too, are artists. Respect our canvases.