BloomBars cultivates and grows D.C. arts

The arts are blossoming at BloomBars in Columbia Heights.

Started three years ago by Howard University alumnus John Chambers, BloomBars offers a welcoming space for artists to learn, grow and share their work with the D.C. community.

With a background in social marketing and communications, Chambers said he has often sought to build a community around a cause.

“This was all coming around the time of the [Obama] campaign,” Chambers said. “I was thinking about ways to channel energy of that time back into local communities and community based organizations. I’ve always thought the best way to do that is with art.”

Chambers said the arts are a tipping point for people to think about their places in their communities, their roles in society and ways to create opportunities for their own personal growth by stepping outside of their comfort zones and boundaries.

BloomBars facilitates dance classes, theater, film, music and a wide range of special events. Chambers describes it as a place to interact with a lot of different people and bring experimental ideas to a group without judgment.

“There is so much talent in this city, but a lot of those artists who could be the next John Legend, Alicia Keys or whoever, don’t get to have the exposure to larger audiences,” said Chambers. “We really just wanted to create a support system to grow them as artists and people.”

Chambers also looks to local students as resources for the group’s sustainability and future collaborations.

“We are ripe to bring in more students and more young people to play leadership roles and to help grow the organization,” Chambers said. “If I had one wish, it would be for some really talented video production students or film students.”

Don Michael Mendoza, BloomBars’ theater coordinater and 2010 graduate of American University, is described by Chambers as someone with a lot of energy and excitement.

Mendoza took the helm of the theater program at BloomBars in July 2010 and has since focused on three areas: establishing a quarterly cabaret, facilitating workshops and reaching out to partner with other D.C. theater groups.

A recent workshop on theater of the oppressed revolved around an ongoing partnership with the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Chinatown. Participants attended the production of Oedipus El Rey and channeled their reactions to the message of oppression via monologues and poetry inspired by the show.

Recent cabarets have featured monologues, songs, scenes and basically anything to do with stage theater, Mendoza said.

“I wanted to break the stereotype of what a cabaret really is,” Mendoza said.

Breaking out and experimenting are common threads tying the diverse arts at BloomBars together. An upcoming theater project will focus on the gentrification of Columbia Heights, a theme Mendoza calls a touchy subject.

“Columbia Heights isn’t Tenleytown. There aren’t a lot of affluent people around here. It’s really just young people, low-income families and working-class people,” said Mendoza. “I think BloomBars fits well because it welcomes those people. It’s not intimidating, it’s a place people can enjoy themselves.”

The events are open to all ages and do not have a set cost. Instead, they ask those in attendance to make a donation.

“We suggest a donation, but if you really, really, absolutely can’t pay the donation, we won’t turn you away,” Mendoza said.

Weekly events at BloomBars include the garden open mic every Monday, independent films on Tuesdays, samba class and improv on Thursdays and an afternoon drumming class on Sundays.

Other classes offered include belly dancing, capoeira – a unique Brazilian form of martial arts and bachata – a style of dance originating in the Dominican Republic. Every third Thursday of the month, Cipherstock takes the stage to perform a two-hour jam session without competition, fees or pressure.

“When you’re in a city like Washington, you’re exposed to a lot of different opportunities and communities, but I think there aren’t a lot of places you can go where you get a diversity of people, where there is not a power dynamic,” Chambers said.

Chambers hopes students seize the opportunity to come in and bring their ideas and energy to the creative space.

BloomBars is located at 3222 11th Street NW.

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