Mayor Gray Honors John Harrod, Founder of Arts Center at Eastern Market
Bronze Plaque on Eastern Market Wall Unveiled
by Larry Janezich
Today, Mayor Gray and CM Tommy Wells paid tribute to John Harrod, the founder of the Market 5 Gallery and Kuumba Center at Eastern Market – the longest surviving neighborhood arts center in the city. The occasion was the unveiling by Harrod’s son and daughter of a bronze plaque attached to the wall next to the north entrance to Eastern Market’s North Hall.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 50 who gathered to celebrate the event, Gray recounted that in 1973, after Mayor Walter Washington started a neighborhood arts initiative in each ward of the city, Harrod founded Market 5 Gallery at Eastern Market – a neighborhood arts center dedicated to art, poetry, music, dance and theater. Gray honored Harrod’s work and recounted how 31 arts and crafts vendors contributed funds to cast a bronze plaque after Harrod’s death in 2008.
Located in Eastern Market’s North Hall, the Gallery exhibited the work of local and international artists along with that of aspiring youths. The Gallery expanded outdoors in 1983, with Harrod’s sponsoring of the Sunday arts and crafts festivals. The resulting crowds eventually led to the establishment of the weekend flea markets on the Hine playground.
CM Wells recalled how Harrod “touched all our lives” and how he first encountered him when Wells was Ward Six coordinator for Marion Barry in 1986. “One thing I learned from him,’ said Wells, “is that sometimes controlled anarchy is a good thing.” He said that Gallery 5 thrived and grew and solidified itself and became the “heartbeat of Capitol Hill.”
Eastern Market Manager Barry Margeson cited Harrod’s profound love of all arts of all cultures, his deep humanity and appreciation for all people, and his strong convictions and stubbornness.
Tom Rall recalled coming to Eastern Market in 1983 and being the only exhibitor outside on Sundays. In those days, Eastern Market was closed on Sunday, and Harrod kept Gallery 5 open despite lack of water, heat, rest rooms and air conditioning. Rail subsequently spent the next 25 years as the manager of the outside Sunday flea market. Rail lamented the loss of the North Hall as exhibit space for art and pleaded with Gray and city officials to “return art to the walls of the North Hall.” Gray said he would work with others to see what could be done.
After being cast, the plaque languished, unhung, until the arts and crafts and other outside vendors recently mounted an effort to have the plaque installed. Vendor and artist Joe Snyder was credited with collecting the $1600.00 from outside vendors and farmers and coordinating the actions which lead to today’s ceremony.
Snyder told Capitol Hill Corner, “As you know, none of us, arts and crafts vendors would be at the market had it not been for John; in fact, the city wide weekend phenomena of Eastern Market in last 35 years probably would have never developed without him.” Snyder also gave credit to Peterbug Matthews, life-long Capitol Hill teacher and community activist who joined the effort have the plaque installed.