Saturday, May 26, 2012

SoPAL's Featured Friends

"Bridging the gap between artists and the community."

By C.T. Ibanez

With so much history surrounding us, if we tossed George Washington's proverbial half dollar across the Potomac today, it certainly might not reach the other side but it is sure to land on something worth writing about.

Moving forward... The coin finally landed at 921 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE in Washington, DC, on a building I affectionately came to know as my gentle giant. This building I speak of was originally commissioned by President Lincoln to serve as a Naval Hospital during the Civil War. Designed with elements of Italianate-Greek Revival, and Second Empire, and a stone, brick and mortar facade, it has seen the end of the Civil War in 1865, suffered with the wounded, tired, and old, as an old soldiers home, helped educate medical personnel by serving as a training school, and for several years thereafter left alone quietly in repose until it was needed again.

Although time heals all wounds, it is not kind and so the years took their toll. In the late 20th Century this gentle giant welcomed inner city at-risk youth and gave them a home. Once again the building was called upon to be a servant of the community as the home for the Center for Youth Services (CYS). It was at this point in its history that I was introduced to the Old Naval Hospital as an employee of CYS and later as a volunteer building manager.

But, my best memories of this building will always live on the top floor, where I spent most of my early years as an artist painting, sculpting, writing, teaching, and, most importantly, living my dream of having my own studio on the Hill. Although the Old Naval Hospital desperately needed repairs inside and out, it never failed to display its dignity against the harsh conditions it encountered.

In 2001, that half dollar turned into $11 million when funds poured in "to restore the Capitol Hill landmark, its grounds, and monumental wrought-iron fence to historically appropriate and environmentally friendly standards" by the Old Naval Hospital Foundation. Due in large part to the tireless efforts of Nicky Cymrot, a Capitol Hill advocate for the community, this gentle giant now proudly stands as the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital where its purpose of serving the community is once again required.

Art is no longer confined to the former IBANEZ Studio on the top floor like a closely held secret but graces the walls throughout its numerous galleries. By rotating exhibits highlighting contemporary work by emerging and established artists, the Hill Center gives talented individuals, perhaps like you, the opportunity to be a part of history. This structure once old and tired has gotten a facelift welcoming it into the 21st Century.

To learn more about becoming a featured artist at the Hill Center or renting a room for a day, come to the South Potomac Arts League (SoPAL) first Inaugural Artist's Meeting scheduled June 26, 2012. Or visit SoPAL's page du jour at