Local Color: A D.C. Church Undergoes an Artful Transformation
Less than a mile from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., at the end of an unassuming cul-de-sac, a local house of prayer sees new life as a vibrant setting for visual art. Outside, its massive façade swirls in splashes of pinks, blues, reds, greens, and yellows; inside, each inch of wall, ceiling, and floor serves as gallery space or canvas.
Once the site of Friendship Baptist Church, today the soaring structure is reimagined as Blind Whino, a not-for-profit arts club and events space home to contemporary art—and some of the city’s hippest parties.
According to its website, Blind Whino was founded by Shane Pomajambo of local gallery Art Whino and Ian Callender of D.C.-based events firm Suite Nation. Seeking to bring “cultural enhancement” to the southwest neighborhood, the two companies took over the church, which was built in the early 1900s but had been sitting vacant for more than two decades. Envisioning countless opportunities for the space, including live music and theater, they transformed it.
After commissioning Atlanta-based muralist HENSE to wrap the 15,000-square-foot building in technicolor, the new caretakers moved in: Australian-based street artist MEGGS colored the walls of the building’s main room with larger-than-life images of roses and lions, where stained glass windows pay homage to the building’s history; in a smaller room where a DJ booth has seemingly replaced an altar, a “cherry tree” sprouts from the dance floor, its branches and hot pink blossoms stretching across the ceiling; in smaller nooks and halls of the building, artfully upgraded sneakers and skateboards line the walls.
On every available surface, art rules. Rotating pieces, on sale from the 1,200-artist arsenal of Art Whino, dot the walls. A once-white piano is fair game for tags and notes scrawled with markers by party-goers-turned-artists. Butterflies flutter up ombre neon staircases. Even the bathrooms—especially the bathrooms—are not spared.
The project marks the launch of an effort to quite literally paint the Southwest D.C. as a new arts district—and it seems to be working. While somewhat of a hidden gem to most of the city’s visitors, Blind Whino has attracted attention in the art world (The Washington Post reports that a former school building across the street was purchased by renowned collectors Don and Mera Rubell).
Stakeholders already foresee this artful spirit reinvigorating the neighborhood and serving as an accessible destination for local art enthusiasts. Private parties (think DJs, salsa dancing, and fully stocked bars) help keep the building running. And many nights the space opens its decorated doors to the public for events like D.C. Fashion Week, the Art All Night project, and charity fundraisers. Visitors can stop in to explore Blind Whino by day.
Would you visit Blind Whino? Is there repurposed architecture in your neighborhood? Let us know in the comments below!