Building A Community Through The Arts

It was ten years ago that I stumbled upon Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW). Although working full-time for a local jeweler (Kensington, MD), I needed an outlet for my other passion, dance. So once a week I traveled down into the depths of DC and taught an after-school ballet class. This is when I discovered my DC digs; my home away from home.

 CHAW_Ballet Class_Ballet Feet

Years rolled along and organically my teaching-artist position grew from one class a week, to up to 10+ classes every week; from children to adult ballet classes, as well as jewelry fabrication classes. I was offered the position of the Head Chair of the Dance Department, Early-Childhood Parent Liaison as well as the Faculty Representative on the Board of Directors (I like to wear many hats).

CHAW_Ballet Class_Photo by Leslie Mansour

(Photo by Leslie Mansour)

Even after a decade of being there, I’ve yet to encounter a single inquiry about why has CHAW always been a mainstay in my life. So, here’s why…

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Their Mission, “Building Community through the Arts”

LeElaine Comer teaches an adult ceramics class at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. She took the same class three years ago and got hooked on working with clay. (Astrid Riecken/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

(LeElaine Comer teaches an adult ceramics class at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. She took the same class three years ago and got hooked on working with clay. (Astrid Riecken for the WASHINGTON POST)

…and Vision, “A Place where the Arts Connect and Transform People,” is powerful.


Their history is rooted in the arts and full of enriching stories.


(Stephen Johnson and Regina Van Horne performing in CHAW’s “Backyard Circus” Photo credit: CHAW archives, article found on East City Art)

It is a community-based, not-for-profit organization founded in 1972 by Sally Crowell and other community members who were interested in sharing their artistic expertise with children and adults.  Arts instruction classes were held in several Capitol Hill churches until, in the late 1970’s, the organization obtained the use of the old B.B. French School (545 Seventh St, SE) from the District of Columbia government.


(Photo by Leslie Mansour)

The Workshop facility includes a dance studio, art studio, theater, art gallery, ceramics studio, a photography darkroom (the only “open” darkroom in D.C.) and private music instruction studios.

CeramicStudio_CHAW_DC_Art Classes

(Photo by Leslie Mansour)

They offer a plethora of Art Classes and Events for all ages and just won City Paper’s “Best Art Classes in DC!”


Their Tuition Assistance Program gives everyone a chance to ignite their creativity, engage and cultivate.

On any given day at CHAW, you’ll find people happily learning and creating in a safe, nurturing space. Depending on the hour, you might see toddlers and caregivers going to music class, or pre-school ballerinas practicing pirouettes as they line up behind their teacher. Adults may be focusing on their drawing and watercolor skills in the art studio.

After school, elementary and middle-school students rush in for ceramics, painting, theater, or private music lessons, and in the evening adults arrive for visual arts, photography, dance classes and music lessons, among other things. Perhaps you’d see a local professional theater company rehearsing for its next show in the black box theater, or hear a senior choir working through a new piece of music.

We know from experience that art, creativity, and community can transform people’s lives in positive ways. We’ve also learned that our creative community is enriched by all kinds of people from many different backgrounds. With generous donations, CHAW is able to create a place where everyone, regardless of background, can connect through the transforming power of art and creativity. Throughout CHAW’s history it’s been a priority to never turn anyone away from their classes and programs because they can’t afford to pay. In just the last two years, CHAW gave $125,000 in tuition assistance.


Most of all, the stories that come from CHAW warm the soul and touch the heart.

“Malachi, a 10-year-old boy who came to CHAW Arts Adventure camp last summer through our tuition assistance program- Malachi, along with his three younger brothers and his younger sister, lived with their mom in a former hospital room at the DC General homeless shelter, less than a mile away from CHAW. He attended several camp sessions with us and loved the atmosphere emphasizing kindness, creativity and community that imbues CHAW summer camp. Soon after his arrival at camp, it was clear that Malachi had a real talent for drawing and especially for dance. Ms. Laura, CHAW’s camp dance instructor, noticed Malachi’s natural talent and enthusiasm, and the way he lit up while dancing. She contacted a colleague at The Dance Institute of Washington, who arranged for Malachi to have an audition there. We’re happy, and very proud, to report that Malachi received a full scholarship for lessons in Hip-Hop and Ballet. After Malachi attended a few classes, the Dance Institute offered him a scholarship for Modern Dance lessons as well. He and his mom happily accepted the offer. CHAW Education Coordinator Ms. Leslie and Mr. Brian made sure that Malachi got to his lessons on days when his mom couldn’t get him there. Malachi’s family finally got an apartment of their own after months in the homeless shelter. As his family of five settles into their new place and Malachi continues his dance lessons.”

chaw_hip hop class_DC

“Marcus is one of CHAW’s newer students, who just started taking classes in January.  He is in middle school, and he’s been through some difficulties in his short life. His family’s periods of homelessness, as well as being attacked by some kids in his neighborhood, brought on trauma-induced depression. This in turn caused his schoolwork to suffer terribly. However, the intervention team at his school got busy and realized that Marcus has very strong artistic talent. They tried to nurture that at school and they helped him apply for the tuition assistance program at CHAW so that both he and his young sister could take art classes after school.  After a few weeks, adults in Marcus’ life started noticing that he was smiling more; soon his grades began to climb and he participated in class more readily. This turn-around happened due to the work of numerous people, and CHAW’s nurturing, accepting and supportive atmosphere, along with talented and caring teaching artists, are an important part of Marcus’ more hopeful outlook.”

CHAW_Music Class_DC_Classes

“My daughters derived so much benefit from the ability to take classes at CHAW as a result of tuition assistance. Our entire family learned from the experience as our lives were enriched with music we learned, ideas we implemented and new ways of looking at our daily activities through the lens of art lived rather than seen from a distance. My daughters grew tremendously, shared the joy of music and dancing with other children and made friends whose company reinforced their classroom experience. We cannot thank CHAW enough!” – A Mother’s observation 


Numerous studies show the educational advantages that children gain from the arts.

Whether simply looking at and learning about paintings, practicing an instrument or visual art technique, or taking part in a theater production, children’s minds are stretched and strengthened by arts experiences. The positive art effect intensifies as you move farther down the socio-economic ladder.

Improved Academic Performance for Students with High Levels of Arts Involvement and Economic Prosperity:

“Studies emerging from around the world show clear benefits to cognitive development when young children are exposed to the arts.” – America for the Arts, research reports

As the debate about our education system rages on, the arts are quietly contributing to lower dropout rates and improved academic performance. – America for the Arts, research reports

“Both schools and employers rank a degree in the arts among the most significant indicators of a job candidate’s creativity and innovation skills.” – America for the Arts, research reports

“Every day, more than 100,000 nonprofit arts and culture organizations act as economic drivers – creating an industry that supports jobs, generates government revenue, and is the cornerstone of our tourism industry. This study documents the key role played by the nonprofit arts and culture industry, and their audiences, in strengthening our nation’s economy.” – America for the Arts, research reports

Gather more information and research reports on the Arts & Eduction, Economy, Community & Health.


Last but not Least…

It’s Springtime and at CHAW that means it’s time for their annual fundraising Paint Bucket campaign, with their goal to raise $65,000 in 65 days! There are many ways to donate, but sometimes it can be as easy as:

1. Visit their website,

2. Click on the ‘Donate’ tab

3. Donate!


Learn the many ways you can be a donor, like a member of the Circle of Muses or through a Sponsorship.


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