GDS Opens Unified Campus to Neighborhood for Evening of Art

A mural painted by Jay Coleman ’90 and others during Tenleytown Art All Night. Photo by Kaiden J. Yu.

A GDS alumnus, Jay Coleman ’90, painted an imaginative mural on the wall of the Nazlymov Fencing Studio with students’ help on a recent Saturday night. Middle and high school students—as well as a local bluegrass band, The Shedkickers—put on a variety of musical performances for a cluster of audience members in the triangular park beside the new lower/middle school. Studio arts teacher Adrian Loving played a DJ set while participants printed t-shirts by the building’s entrance.

GDS sponsored Tenleytown Art All Night, one part of an arts festival spanning all eight of the city’s wards, on Sept. 25. From 7 p.m. to midnight, the school hosted performances and activities on and around the unified campus, attracting GDS students, families and teachers, as well as neighborhood residents. GDS participated in the event for the first time just two weeks after the start of the inaugural school year with all students in Tenleytown simultaneously. 

Elana Perl, the admissions engagement director, who organized Tenleytown Art All Night’s GDS venues, said one of the school’s primary aims was to give back to the neighborhood. “We’re here,” Perl told the Bit, “and we’re excited to be fully a part of Tenleytown now that we have both campuses.”

The school’s preparation for the event began last spring. Jeffrey Houser, GDS’ chief financial officer, sits on the board of Tenleytown Main Street, a non-profit organization that supports Tenleytown businesses and runs Tenleytown Art All Night, according to the group’s website. Houser was the one to agree on GDS’ behalf to participate in Art All Night, Perl said.

Coleman, a D.C.-based artist, spent the evening creating the colorful mural, which depicts a child wearing a GDS shirt blowing bubbles beside a Tenleytown Metro sign. In an interview while painting, Coleman said he wanted to create “something lighthearted and loving,” representing his experience at the school. 

Coleman explained that GDS helped prepare him for success as an artist, citing an instance when his art teacher included his work in a school calendar. “It really allowed me to showcase my work before I was a professional,” he said. 

Freshman Caroline Gann, who helped paint the mural alongside Coleman, described her experience at Art All Night as “fascinating.” She added, “It was enriching to be able to work with an artist, as an artist, and see what he became after graduating from my high school.”

Not far from Coleman’s mural, a crowd of people were assembled in chairs and on the grass at the triangle park to watch musical performances by The Shedkickers and GDS students. Over the span of the night, the informal stage featured high school jazz ensembles and groups of lower and high school singers.

Perl said she was impressed by the number of students who showed up to support their classmates. “It felt like we were at a sporting event rather than a concert,” she said. “There were parents there, but then there were also just members of the general public.”

The lower/middle school patio hosted perhaps the widest variety of Art All Night showcasings, including paintings by GDS students, slam poetry by high schoolers, Loving’s DJ set and a table for t-shirt making run by GDS’ new (and newly rebranded) Civic Lab. The patio was bustling with people moving from booth to booth, admiring the art and taking part in the interactive activities.

Loving said in an interview that he believes GDS’ participation in the event demonstrates its “commitment to the community” and shows that GDS isn’t just an “isolated institution.” Loving said that Art All Night allowed GDS community members to “showcase what we’re capable of to people on the outside who don’t know how creative and talented our students are.”

While the pandemic put a wrench in the school’s neighborhood involvement and performances for the past 19 months, Sept. 25 marked a revival of large, in-person GDS events: In addition to Art All Night, the school hosted Sports Saturday, an in-person alumni gathering and the high school homecoming. 

“Frankly, it was a beautiful night, and many of us haven’t been out much in the last year and a half,” said Perl. “It really felt like everybody was there to be supportive and to see people, and the mood was high.” Based on the success of the event, Perl said, GDS is planning to stay involved in Art All Night for years to come.