CEO Ana Harvey’s Notes From Underground

Last September, The Washington Ballet presented a pre-season showcase underground.

Dupont Underground, that is, the eight-year-old contemporary arts venue in Dupont Circle’s subterranean streetcar station, shuttered in 1962.

Though the ballet company “took a big risk,” according to Dupont Underground CEO Ana Harvey, speaking at The Georgetowner’s April 25 cultural breakfast at Evermay, the performances sold out every night.

Holding up a map showing the layout of the venue — a semicircular platform under Dupont Circle’s eastern perimeter, extending north and south into tunnels beneath Connecticut Avenue — Harvey rhetorically asked: “Who else has that kind of space in Washington?”

Partnerships like the one with the Washington Ballet fill Dupont Underground’s 200-seat theater on a regular basis. “The acoustics of the place are amazing,” commented Harvey. In Series opened its fall production of “Alceste” there, returning to perform “Las Místicas de México” twice in March for Women’s History Month.

Also part of Dupont Underground’s Women’s History Month celebration was a concert of music by women by the Washington Master Chorale with pianist Natalia Kazaryan and the venue’s second annual exhibition of art by women, “Thoughts, Questions & Shit to Say.”

Noting that “We do get 25,000 people a year” (despite only being open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, September through December and March through June), Harvey ticked off other programming: Drag Underground on the fourth Friday of the month, comedy, poetry. Intrigued by the space, “artists come almost every day,” she said. Though she gets many project proposals, “I never say ‘No.’ I say ‘Not yet.’”

In addition, Dupont Underground is part of the Dupont Circle Business Improvement District’s First Friday art walk and the Dupont-Kalorama Museums Consortium’s Walk Weekend on May 18 and 19. Harvey also made a point of acknowledging support from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

Other examples of recent programming at what Harvey called “a platform for new ideas to emerge”: an above-ground mural project with the Austrian Cultural Forum in the spring of 2022 involving three artists from the District and two from Austria; and an exhibition last spring of artwork by Falls Church-based Iranian American gynecologist S. Abbas Shobeiri, “Do You See Me! Paintings of Postpartum Trauma and Healing” (with record attendance on Mother’s Day).

All this activity takes place in a space with, shall we say, daunting utility challenges.

“I just discovered we derive our electricity from a lamppost outside,” Harvey told attendees, assuring them that rewiring was underway. And two weeks ago, she said, she put her hands under a spigot and announced, for the first time, “We have water!” The good news: “Bathrooms are coming.”

Only a fraction of the available space (“blocks and blocks,” she said) is currently in use. In 1995, the west perimeter was turned into Dupont Down Under, a food court that failed in a year and a half. “The potential to do the rest is amazing,” said Harvey, whose long-term vision includes converting the tunnels into artists’ studios. Due to the lack of climate control (why the space is closed four months of the year) and the need for improved ventilation and additional emergency exits, “This is probably Phase Four.”

Harvey’s background — notably stints heading the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, promoting women’s business ownership at the U.S. Small Business Administration and directing the District’s Department of Small and Local Business Development — makes her an unusually business-savvy arts leader.

“We want to be part of economic development,” she stated. She sees Dupont Circle, both underground and above-ground (with plans to deck over the adjacent sections of Connecticut Avenue on the drawing board) as D.C.’s “hub for the arts.” She wants the city to know: “We are now a big magnet in Dupont Circle.”

Still recovering from the pandemic lockdown, as is much of D.C., that “big magnet” is not as inviting as it could be. Responding to a question about vandalism and graffiti, Harvey acknowledged the problem, while lightheartedly sharing two incidents when she called law enforcement.

In one, two adventurous young teenagers asked to enter and she let them in. But after they made their way past the restored area open to the public, she locked them in until the police arrived. In the other, an old man showed up claiming to be a former streetcar conductor. He wandered off into the tunnels and, despite the best efforts of Harvey and the police, was never seen again. Perhaps he was a ghost, she remarked.

When first approached about the CEO position, Harvey declined, choosing instead to join Dupont Underground’s board. She soon changed her mind, however, realizing, “If I run it, I have a little more freedom to see where it can go.” Now, “I need board members,” she told attendees, and invited them to visit. “Come in flat shoes,” she said.

An opportunity coming up on May 29: Chamber Dance Project’s “Tango Underground.”






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