Anthony Bowen YMCA gallery enters its second year with vibrant mixed-media exhibit evoking the Caribbean islands

by Athena Naylor

This article was first published on The DC Line and can be read on their website here.

The Shaw neighborhood’s Anthony Bowen YMCA, the organization’s first African American branch in the world, has an extensive track record of social engagement spanning its 166-year history. With Gallery Y, an exhibition space that debuted last year, the Anthony Bowen YMCA aims to further its mission to foster diverse local voices within the creative community.

Gallery Y, which acts as an open community space accessible both through the lobby of the YMCA and the adjacent Sweetgreen restaurant, currently displays 28 pieces by artist-in-residence Tracy Monsanto. Her show A Journey in Mixed Media opened June 7 in conjunction with National Caribbean Heritage Month, a celebration dedicated to honoring the history and diversity of the Caribbean islands and the numerous cultural contributions of Caribbean Americans.

Monsanto — a Caribbean American artist who grew up in Trinidad and now lives and works in Tampa, Florida — specializes in vibrant mixed-media pieces. While A Journey in Mixed Media features some stylized figurative work, Monsanto’s creative process shines most in her non-figural abstract pieces, which illustrate the artist’s interest in intuitively exploring relationships among color, texture and material. 

Monsanto’s larger works, like her 2019 “Time to Refresh,” highlight collaged materials of hand-painted papers and found objects, while smaller pieces like her 2016 composition “Night Dreams” feature mark-making suggestive of personal artistic motifs. Monsanto’s “Love Holds Us Together II,” completed in 2019, features the artist’s use of thick paint with glaze, a process that results in an almost enamel-like effect. In this piece, the technique results in an organic green form on the canvas that feels almost geographic, a fitting association since Monsanto derives much of her inspiration from nature.

The exhibit’s opening marked the one-year anniversary of Gallery Y. Diane Taitt, executive director of the Anthony Bowen YMCA, developed the gallery space and artist residency in order to foster community engagement and collaboration in the Shaw neighborhood and beyond. 

In its first year, Gallery Y launched three shows, starting with its inaugural artist-in-residence, Marielle Barrow. Barrow, a Caribbean-born visual artist, social entrepreneur and arts management consultant, earned her doctorate in cultural studies at George Mason University. Her show also coincided with Caribbean Heritage Month and examined cultural associations among place, space and belonging. The gallery hosted the launch of Barrow’s book Sacred Spaces: A Sense of Place, co-written with Antonius Roberts, and her residency included a Caribbean American Heritage event. Barrow continues to engage with her Caribbean heritage through the arts journal she founded, Caribbean Intransit.

Last September, Gallery Y presented its second exhibit — Seven Centuries, which featured Leslie Anne Hansley’s paintings inspired by African masks along with the photography of Maryland-based photojournalist Donovan Marks. More recently, the Rev. Sandra Butler-Truesdale, another Gallery Y artist-in-residence and the president and founder of DC Legendary Musicians, organized an “Art Meets Music” event in May that celebrated the DC jazz scene. 

With Tracy Monsanto’s A Journey in Mixed Media, Gallery Y is kicking off its second year of exhibitions. 

Through Gallery Y, the Anthony Bowen YMCA is building on a history of cultivating creativity in the community. Established by religious leader and educator Anthony Bowen in 1853, the organization found its first permanent home at 1816 12th St. NW in 1912, seven years after it was officially recognized as a branch of the YMCA of Washington. It was there that Langston Hughes wrote poetry when he was working as a busboy, Thurgood Marshall devised legal strategies, and legendary Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson Jr. practiced his game. The YMCA branch was formally named after Bowen in 1972, and in 1988 it moved to its new location on W Street NW, which was renovated in 2013. 

Gallery Y looks toward a future of continued community engagement with new projects, including its first National Endowment for the Arts grant and a partnership with local curator Beth Ferraro of the creative consulting project The Art Island.

The YMCA’s Taitt expressed excitement for Gallery Y’s role as a “vibrant cultural community node.” She says the gallery is always on the lookout for new partnerships, funding and volunteers to sustain its mission. Details on the space’s programming and opportunities are available on its website

Located in the Anthony Bowen YMCA at 1325 W St. NW, Gallery Y is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. A Journey in Mixed Media opened June 7 and will be on display through Aug. 2. All exhibited artworks are for sale.

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