Building a CHAWsome Community through the Arts

Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW)
Location: Washington, DC
Mission: Building community through the arts

For Jill Strachan, CHAW’s Executive Director, peace feels like what you have when people are working in community. “A sense of community is an important stepping stone to peace in the world because it increases the understanding we have of others. It breaks down stereotypes.” And in the case of CHAW, the arts provide the means for building the community, whether it’s sitting in class next to someone or collaborating with a whole group on a performance production. CHAW offers classes for children of all ages in a variety of disciplines: ceramics, yoga, photography, poetry, visual arts, performing arts etc. These programs are offered to participants in an accessible way; CHAW has $60,000 in tuition assistance, 92% of which goes to children.

More and more research is being done on the impact the arts have in such diverse areas as the economy, life-skills and civics. According to a recent study carried out by Americans for the Arts, in 2010 the arts industry generated $135.2 billion in economic activity in the United States. Partnership for 21st Century Skills writes in their Arts Map:

the arts promote work habits that cultivate curiosity, imagination, creativity, and evaluation skills. Students who possess these skills are better able to tolerate ambiguity, explore new realms of possibility, express their own thoughts and feelings and understand the perspectives of others. Furthermore, these examples suggest ways that study of the arts can help produce globally aware, collaborative, and responsible citizens.

Concurrently, Chorus America’s Chorus Impact Study states, “Greater civic involvement, discipline, and teamwork are just a few of the attributes fostered by singing with a choral ensemble.”

And CHAW is a testament to all these studies and the impact of the arts on economy, life skills and civics. Ms. Strachan estimates that 20,000 people per year walk through CHAW’s doors, whether to learn, to teach, to perform, to watch or to support. Tommy Wells, a community supporter and life-long Capitol Hill resident, sees CHAW as an anchor in the neighborhood that has brought it through tough economic times and is a driving force behind its current “amenity rich” renewal. Bruce McKaig, CHAW’s Photography Department Head, says, “Art is one of the best activities for developing evaluating skills. If I ever need heart surgery, I hope my heart surgeon has taken a lot of art classes.” And Rashawnda Williams, a CHAW student, camper and now counselor-in-training says, “When you’re doing art and working with other people, you form a different kind of relationship than just talking with people.”

It’s this kind of community building through the arts that has led other community organizations to invite CHAW to run programs for them. The VERA Institute of Justice approached CHAW to put together an arts program for youth that are detained prior to getting sentenced. The Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL) partnered with CHAW on a workshop on identity, integrating the different identities the youth have in different settings, through photography and dance.

The CHAW community has a word that describes the vibrant, creative, uniqueness of the place. The things that happen at CHAW are chawsome!

For ways to support CHAW’s work, click here.

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