Bloom in Winter

BloomBars faces financial shortfall

BloomBars, the innovative arts and performance space in Northwest D.C., is in peril.

BloomBars, a nonprofit set up in 2008 and run by a volunteer team of artists, educators, and community leaders, is built around the notion that “art has a critical role in community building, social justice, advocacy, youth development, and health and wellness.” Its members and supporters “believe art can be a powerful conduit to link individuals inspired to serve, and communities and organizations in need.”

But all that takes money -- and with the economy still ailing, that can be hard to come by.

Founder and “Chief Executive Gardener” John Chambers says BloomBars needs to raise about $20,000 to meet its immediate obligations. A benefit concert and silent auction have been held, but the need is still great, so BloomBars is reaching out online.

“For more than two years, BloomBars has been a gift to the community,” Chambers told me. “In the last six months, we’ve been tweaking our model to ensure long-term sustainability and diversify or funding sources. But first we have to meet some urgent financial obligations to stay in our home in Columbia Heights.”

Once the immediate goal is met, “it will be critical for us to build and strengthen our infrastructure, organization, and capacity,” Chambers said. “We’ve got some super-qualified volunteers working on that now, and we’re hopeful more will join our team. If we’re successful at clearing this hurdle, we’ll look to raise funds to pay a small staff. Then we’ll grow in balance with our capacity. It’s a challenge. But we’re up for it.”

BloomBars already maintains an ambitious and diverse schedule -- a dozen weekly events, nine monthly events, and many workshops, classes, concerts and exhibitions. This Friday, BloomBars will host its first open mic for high school students and teachers.

“We’re thrilled to provide a supportive space for teenagers and other artists to interact and share their work,” Chambers said. “To make the event particularly special, Grammy-nominated D.C. native Christylez will be the featured artist.”

While Chambers’s immediate concern is financial, he continues to look ahead to his ultimate goal: “a global network of BloomBars-like spaces that provide a supportive environment for individuals who believe in the transformational power of art to affect positive growth in the community.”

“We planted a seed in a century-old two-story storefront in Columbia Heights and called it BloomBars,” he told me. “Above our big double doors we painted, ‘You Bloom, We Bloom.’ It was a message that preceded our mission because of the power of its intention: Individual and community growth can happen, and happen fast, when we look at it like a garden, and nurture its seeds inside a creative and welcoming environment rooted in the arts.”

BloomBars, a sponsored project of nonprofit arts service organization Fractured Atlas, is accepting online donations. For those who would like to help in other ways, opportunities to volunteer are available, and Chambers also suggests signing up for a BloomBars class or renting space for a private event or meeting.

“We sometimes hear people call BloomBars a ‘venue,’” Chambers said. “It’s not. It’s you. It’s me. It’s a community.”

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

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