Atlas Performing Arts Center, presenter member

Originally built in 1938 as one of four movie theaters which once thrived on Washington, DC’s H Street corridor, the Atlas Performing Arts Center is now a community, multi-disciplinary arts venue. It presents innovative and thought-provoking performances while providing arts education opportunities. 

Sam Sweet, executive director
Washington, DC

Describe your organization’s mission and its work in 3 adjectives. Please explain the adjectives you selected. Contemporary. Provocative. Engaging. 

As a performing arts center, we present a full range of artists across disciplines with a strong focus on the contemporary. Presenting the art that is happening now provides a forum (and an audience) for today's artists, and reveals new forms, changing cultures, and sometimes radical ideas to our audiences.

That's how we can be provocative. Whether it's art that speaks to social justice, art that uses new forms, or art that expresses a way of thinking you haven't thought of before, we like to use art to be provocative. I think of the Atlas as a center for conversation and ideas, with art as a spark to get people thinking and talking.

The Atlas is engaging because, for all the focus we put on artists and their work, we always keep people - artists, audiences, neighbors - at the center of everything we do. We are a part of this neighborhood on H Street in Washington, DC NE and the artistic heart of our community. We connect with our audiences and artists, too, by being accessible, warm, and welcoming. By making people feel welcome, they can feel that this is their space. They can engage with the art and artists on their terms, which make it easier to build understanding. And while we have different kinds of audience engagement activities, some of the most meaningful interactions occur when the artists join audience members in our cafe for a beer after a performance. Art works best on a personal level.

What makes the ATLAS a unique organization? 

The Atlas is a former movie theater that went dark not long after the riots of 1968 decimated the H Street NE corridor. Some 90 buildings burned to the ground, and the neighborhood became known for its crime and drugs. When our Founder, Jane Lang, committed to renovate the Atlas and restore it to the community as a performing arts center, it began the revitalization that continues today. We are a community-based performing arts center, because we are rooted in the community around us. But "community-based" does not have to mean "second-class," as some people think. We present world-class artists. We house some outstanding resident organizations that work, rehearse, and perform here, too. Not only has the Atlas been a force for economic revitalization, but we also have been and will continue to be a force for cultural revitalization. I don't know if this qualifies us as unique, but it's fulfilling.

Where do you see dance in the future and how does your organization fit within that vision? 

I have no idea where dance will be in the future, except that it will still be here in some form (or many forms). Artists will continue to explore the art, and struggle to find ways to stay relevant and meaningful for their audiences. Exploring, trying new stuff, taking risks. I hope the Atlas will continue to be a place that will support them in that, and try to connect them to audiences adventurous enough to appreciate the exploration.