By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]

On Wednesday, Nov. 6, Union Market’s Dock 5, in Northeast, turned into a watering hole for Washington, D.C.’s artistic, creative, entrepreneurial and political communities to come together, celebrate and network at the 34th Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards.  With show-stopping performances from local artists, hosting from some of D.C.’s favorite personalities and presenting of awards that truly highlight the District’s creative community and culture, the night was a true reminder that the nation’s capital fosters and offers great talent.
“It is true that we have been celebrating a lot lately- first the Washington Mystics, then the Washington Nationals, and also D.C. Public School students who are distinguishing themselves across the nation,” District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser said.  “And tonight we celebrate artists and makers that dedicate themselves to developing their talents and sharing their gifts with our community. Whether it’s sports or the arts, we are, indeed, the District of Champions.”

The 34th Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards was held at Union Market’s Dock 5 in Northeast, D.C. (Courtesy Photo by Salah Djimbanaou, OCTFME)

Presented by the Mayor’s Office of Cable, Television, Film, Music and Entertainment (OCTFME) and the newly created D.C. Creative Affairs Office, the awards show was both entertaining and allowed audiences to learn more about the District creatives from all fields.

“D.C. has so many incredibly talented artists and creatives,” said OCTFME, according to a press release, Director Angie M. Gates. “The new DC Creative Affairs Office was proud to produce the Mayor’s Arts Awards on behalf of Mayor Bowser. This award show gave us the opportunity to celebrate and recognize these individuals and organizations with the most prestigious honor the city has to offer the arts and creative community.”

Awardees included: Award for Excellence as a Community Arts Advocate: Vernard Gray; Award for Excellence in Arts Education: DC Scores; Award for Excellence in Media Arts The Content Farm; Award for Excellence in Performing Arts: MODELS INC.; Award for Excellence in Visual Arts: Katie Burk; Award for Excellence in the Creative Industries: Ian Callender; Award for Excellence in the Humanities: Herta Feely; Award for Excellence in the Nightlife Economy: Marc Barnes; Award for Visionary Leadership: The Kennedy Center; Emerging Creative Award: Marco Kay Photography; The Larry Neal Writer’s Award: Xemiyulu  Tapepechul; and Mayor’s Arts Award for Distinguished Honor: Andy Shallal, founder and CEO of Busboys and Poets.

The 34th Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards was held at Union Market’s Dock 5 in Northeast, D.C., with several honorees including Park at 14th owner Marc Barnes, recipient of the Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Nightlife Economy. (Courtesy Photo by Salah Djimbanaou, OCTFME)

Many awardees shared how important the moment was for them in their work and artistry.

“I am a D.C. native, and really my focus has always been to create unique environments for artists to really have that environment where they could be themselves. We’ve been doing this for a very long time, and I think this is only the beginning,” Award for Creative Industry recipient Callender said in his acceptance speech.  “I’m just a young, Black boy, who graduated from Dematha Catholic High School, and got an engineering degree from Drexel University, and I said, ‘What can I do to make artists feel like they’re appreciated?’ Artists don’t really feel valued. So we have to find unique ways for them to make them know their value- know their worth.”

Another native Washingtonian, Marc Barnes, owner of The Park at 14th, shared why winning the award meant so much to him after having worked and helped to cultivate D.C.’s nightlife industry for three decades. 

“Thank you Mayor Bowser, Angie Gates and the rest of everybody in the D.C. Mayor’s Office.  First of all I’d like to thank the city for all that it’s done for nightlife and entertainment,” Barnes said. “I don’t think you all really know what it takes.  A lot of people say, ‘What do you do in the day time?’ Two thousand people a night don’t fall out of the sky for essentially 30 years in a row. We’ve been doing this for a long time.  I love this city, I love the support it’s given me, and I appreciate this award tonight.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser, OCTFME Director Angie Gates, Council member Kenyan McDuffie and Interim Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio at the 34th Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards at Union Market’s Dock 5. (Courtesy Photo by Salah Djimbanaou, OCTFME)

Bowser’s top honoree, Shallal of Busboys and Poets, to whom she presented the award herself, won the Mayor’s Distinguished Excellence Award.

As the award show was a day after the general elections in Kentucky and Virginia, which elected two Democratic governors, Shalllal used his moment as a political platform.

“I’m honored.  Thank you so much.  On behalf of all the voters in Virginia and Kentucky, let’s make America blue again,” Shallal said before exiting the stage.

International clergy leader, adviser for several leaders, coalition builder and public speaker Rev. Dr. George E. Holmes was at the awards show, and told the AFRO, why the evening was so important to D.C. communities and culture.

“The mayor has a unique talent, of being able to find the extraordinary citizen, who is able to put creativity, performance, energy into emerging art… and she has this unique ability to make people better.  So she highlights individuals throughout the whole eight wards,” Holmes said.

The reverend and community leader shared why such events could have a major impact on improving District neighborhoods and residents.

“I would encourage this level of recognition that can go throughout all of our communities.  If we recognized persons more, it would discourage some of those times where they’re recognized for bad behavior.  We must recognize them for good behavior, so that when you do something well, you’re not only recognized by your community, neighborhood, ward and now the city, and I dare say, the United States and the world.  So let us continue this tradition of honoring the best. Even those who may not feel like that they need that recognition.”

The Mayor also shared how this award show is a way of showing the world that D.C. is fare more than simply what is seen through mainstream media.

“What we’re so proud of, and what we’ve spent a lot of time doing, is going around D.C., the nation and the world, and letting people know that we are more than the White House and Congress, and monuments and memorials in Washington, D.C.  That real people live here, real artists live here, who force us to break out the black and white- the way we look at the world- and see the world in color- pinks, and purples, and oranges, and blues, so that we can experience the fullness of our lives, because of the wonders of art.”