What is our vision for abundance in this city?
The dominant narrative of our current economic and political systems centers on scarcity. As adrienne maree brown noted in YES! Magazine, “We are living in an age of immense interlocking crises, from climate to pandemic to race. Although there are massive opportunities to grow and change — the fight for abolition, the proliferation of mutual aid in response to COVID-19 — erotic power, happiness, and satisfaction are not words I would use to describe our current collective state.”
“In summer, when the boughs are laden, Serviceberry produces an abundance of sugar,” Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote in Emergence Magazine. “Does it hoard that energy for itself? No, it invites the birds to a feast… Isn’t this an economy? A system of distribution of goods and services that meets the needs of the community?”
This summer, the Catalogue for Philanthropy echoes the question Yura Sapi asked in their Community-Centric Fundraising piece, “How do we collectively shift from scarcity to abundance?“
Understanding and valuing abundance as gratitude, reciprocity, and exchange, we’ve invited several of our nonprofit partners to share their visions for abundance in this city. Alongside their words, we also provide more detail on the way in which their missions and work allow our local communities to flourish. As you dive into these visions, we encourage you to see yourself in them and to engage with the efforts of your nonprofit neighbors. What is your own vision for abundance in this city’s present and future? How might you share this with others and be part of a larger ecosystem?
The Power of the Arts
“For Artivate, “abundance” means helping to create a diverse, inspiring array of performances and workshops which enhance education and create connections in ALL communities,” Diana Schenck, Director of Artist and Community Programming at Artivate, told the Catalogue. “It means providing professional artists with a wealth of opportunities to share their skills and traditions, while providing an ever-growing number of schools, libraries, parks, correctional facilities, and other venues with truly inspiring and enriching experiences for their communities.”
Since they were founded in 1995, Artivate has been engaging communities to create interactive arts experiences that inspire learning. Seeing the transformative power of the arts as essential to community life, they have grown from 80 programs serving 25,000 students and teachers to an average of 1,300 programs reaching 200,000+ children, teens, and families at 250+ unique school and community sites each year.
As Miranda Anderson wrote in Psyche, “Artworks both reflect and inspire transformative understandings of our own minds and our encounters with the world, widening and deepening the ways we make sense of our subjective experiences.” The process of engaging with art builds a reciprocal relationship with the work and the artist. Artivate expands this creative opportunity through spaces that allow artists from a diverse range of artistic disciplines and cultural traditions to share their art with children, teens, families, and incarcerated adults and youth — building relationships and creating a collective learning experience.
In the words of one of their participants, “Art not only frees our bodies, it relieves us from the confinement of our minds.” Where creativity has a place to play, grow, and flourish, communities have the room to express their curiosity about the world and each other.
We see this in the work of another nonprofit partner, Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (FoKAG), who uses the healing power of nature and art to champion green spaces in the city. A national park site along the Anacostia River, the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens features over 45 ponds filled with water lilies and lotus, along with acres of dynamic tidal marsh, and is the only national park site devoted to cultivated water-loving plants.
“In 2030,” reported the Washington Post based on data from Climate Central, “communities throughout the District will experience extensive and consistent periods of flooding, including the Yards in Ward 8, Kingman Island, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in Ward 7, and the entire Anacostia River Trail from Anacostia Park to Bladensburg Waterfront Park in Maryland.” Just as the history of the land is tangled with instances of environmental injustice, “the reality is that (the climate crisis) disproportionately affects communities of color and those populated by low-income residents like the area surrounding Kenilworth.”
In FoKAG’s creative project Down to Earth, a partnership with Caandor Labs and Capital Fringe, artists shine a light on the Gardens and Ward 7′s past, present, and future, with a sharp focus on the climate emergency and its intersectionality with systemic racism. Narrative figurative painter and Down to Earth’s Winter Season Artist, Rik Freedman, painted “Breakfast on the Anacostia,” a scene of the river in roughly 10,000 BC. “While researching the abundance of animal life that once depended on this river,” he reflected on the painting in their season recap, “it struck me as to how many of these animals were no longer here.”
Echoing this past in the present and future, Summer Season Artist Siobhan Rigg observed in the Washington Post that “Things that go down — like oil and gas — don’t necessarily go down to stay; they come back with the tide. So the damage over time continues to resurface. “What would it be like to reframe the narrative and look at the Anacostia as a potential source of sustenance?” (Emphasis ours)
An Inclusive Approach to Community
“Between its persistently hot housing market and an almost universally unaffordable child care ecosystem,” Conor Williams observed of this city in The 74, “D.C. is muddling towards a future where an upper-middle-class income may become a prerequisite for any family trying to live — and stay — in the city.”
Rents in the DC metro area have increased by 15.7% over the last year. One-third of people across the region experienced some level of food insecurity in 2021, and only three of the 49 full-service grocery stores in DC are located in Wards 7 and 8. Despite DC residents being some of the most politically engaged in the nation, “working to make the world fairer, better, safer, cleaner,” Williams continued, “(we) also (fight) to retain our ability to sustain and transmit our advantages to our kids.”
“As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, we’re focused on renewal,” Diana Schenck shared with us of Artivate’s direction, “reestablishing long-held partnerships and discovering new connections that allow us to continue (our) reach, while making it even more accessible for everyone to learn from, enjoy, and be inspired by the arts.”
This priority — of ensuring that opportunities for creative expression and collaboration are accessible for everyone — is reflected in the work of fellow nonprofit partner, Young Playwrights’ Theater (YPT). “In YPT’s arts education programs,” Brigitte Winter, their Executive Director, told the Catalogue, “we invite our students, whose voices are too often minimized, to take up space, to create and express themselves with abandon, and to know that adults will affirm their ideas, stories, dreams.”
Not only does YPT believe that no person is an island, but they also acknowledge that truly collaborative expression simultaneously requires a respect for people’s autonomy and are therefore committed to both anti-oppressive communication and reducing the harm of oppression through their organizational structure.
From writing individual stories to creating plays as a group to performing original arts activism pieces, students in YPT programs participate in unique experiences that are tailored for the specific needs of each YPT community. Though no two programs look alike, underlying them all is a singular, unifying belief that Winter shared with us: “We hope for a day when every young person in our city knows their brilliance, and that brilliance shines across Washington, DC, and beyond.”
In our last article on redefining citizenship, we mentioned the abundance of love and care that fuel many of our nonprofit partners’ work and inclusive approach to community. We are inspired by YPT, who practices their vision of “an abundance of safety, creativity, and joy for the young people in our community” every day. Our experience of this region we call home — through the work of nonprofits like YPT — is that there is no shortage of love, joy, and energy.
Shepherd’s Table, who addresses food insecurity and homelessness, serving individuals from all walks of life, is another example of this mindset. “No one should have to go hungry or without shelter in a city of such rich abundance,” Holly Harris, their Communications Associate, told us. “Because there are enough resources to meet every need when we live in community with one another, we are working to create a table long enough to make room for every neighbor.”
From providing daily hot nutritious meals and to-go dinners to offering a resource center, clothes closet, and eye clinic, Shepherd’s Table envisions a DMV where lives are transformed with nourishment, empowerment, and care. In its 38-year history, and even through economic hardships and the challenges of the pandemic, they have never missed a single day of meal service.
That alone encapsulates the principle that “How we think ripples out to how we behave.” Here, we want to return to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s essay on abundance and the gift economy, in which she continues to elaborate:
“If we view these berries, or that coal or forest, as an object, as property, it can be exploited as a commodity in a market economy. We know the consequences of that. Why then have we permitted the dominance of economic systems that commoditize everything? That create scarcity instead of abundance, that promote accumulation rather than sharing?”
Healthy Places, Healthy People
“Our hydroponic tower has been exploding with arugula, kale and herbs and is just starting to have cucumbers and tomatoes ready to harvest,” Common Good City Farm wrote in a blog post this month, accompanied by gorgeous photos of greens and ripe strawberries.
In the Ledroit Park community where the half-acre urban farm is located, one-third of residents live in poverty and nearly one in ten has diabetes. Their aim is to increase food access and nutrition education, and to build community around the farm space, especially for their neighbors who may have less access to those things. “We hold a weekly seasonal produce market — using a pay-what-you-can model — where we offer what we grow as well as bring in food from other farms to make sure our customers have a variety of fruits and vegetables to choose from,” Emily Richardson, their Youth Programs Director, wrote on DC Action. “Our goal is always to positively influence nutrition for everyone in our community.”
This echoes a belief that anchors the Inclusive Healthy Places Framework developed by Gehl and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which guided DC Greens‘ process for creating The Well at Oxon Run, a new urban farm and wellness space in ward 8: “Every neighborhood should provide people what they need to live a healthy life.“
At the Catalogue, we agree that place truly does shape health. We’ve witnessed how structural racism and long-term disinvestments are disproportionately concentrated in communities of color. A case study on The Well states that “While Oxon Run Park is the largest in the District’s park inventory and a major public health asset, Ward 8 has some of the highest health disparities in the District — a product of decades of disinvestment, rooted in structural racism.”
With the opening of The Well, an incredible example of resident-led design, DC Greens has “built a channel for resources to flow into this community… so that neighbors have what they need to define and create wellness on their own terms,” be it a pick-your-own flower garden, an orchard with chickens, or a community gathering space for theater and dance performances, elders and youth. As Absalom Jordan, Chair of the Friends of Oxon Run, said, “I have this in my heart — this idea of preserving and connecting with the land.”
This city is a beautiful place. All of the nonprofit partners we’ve highlighted here, and so many more, are working to — in the words of Omar Hakeem, local artist and architect who created an installation for FoKAG — “transform the legacy of ‘you’re not welcome here’ into ‘all are welcomed here’” so that everyone is free to “play, wonder and dream.” In a time with multiple crises that require our collective attention and action to address, we both need and have hope that we can shift from scarcity to abundance, and from accumulation to sharing.