Founder and Chief Executive Gardner of BloomBars
As a product of two civil and human rights activists/social workers, John Chambers didn’t start out thinking he could change the world, but he knew he had to do something with purpose and impact. The first two decades of his life, he channeled his talent and training in communications and advocacy by working with non-profits, foundations and corporations on campaigns designed to raise awareness and change behavior. That work helped send millions of malaria nets to Africa, got millions of people to wear their seat belts, putting kids safely in the back seat, and engaged the nation in challenging issues like foster care, adult illiteracy, judicial elections and global poverty. Especially important to John, it helped build compassionate communities through love and forgiveness, and planted to early seeds that would help him grow into the next chapter of his life.
In early 2007, while working as a senior level executive for GMMB, John began a journey that would eventually lead him to his nonprofit organization, BloomBars, when he started exploring the power of the arts (and artist’s roles) in mobilizing and uniting communities. In all of his prior experience, engaging artists in large social movements and campaigns seemed like an afterthought. That summer, he traveled to Northern Uganda with a group of actors to teach theater to children in IDP camps and see the work of an organization on which he served as board president – The United Movement to End Child Soldering. The experience, chronicled in a documentary film, “After Kony: Staging Hope,” reinforced his belief in the transformative power of music and the arts.
In 2008, he worked on the campaigns of Donna Edwards and Barack Obama. Foreseeing a need to channel pre-election energy into post-election grassroots action, he began mobilizing musicians to perform at cause-related events around the country.
Seeing the dramatic demographic changes in his neighborhood of nearly a decade, Columbia Heights, DC, and realizing there were limited spaces for diverse communities to gather in an all-ages/alcohol free environment, he had a “light bulb” moment. A two-story 100 year-old building in his backyard would be the proving ground for a pilot that would seek to unite and inspire diverse communities through the arts and support artists who wish to serve the community – an environment where cost or culture would not be a barrier.
In 2009, John left his position as a Senior Vice President at GMMB, and a roster of clients including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Fetzer Institute, to devote himself full-time to his passion – BloomBars. Since then, he has helped to cultivate a creative community and a legion of artists who are committed to service as much as they are to their creative expression. Beyond the arts, many of the programs he has created serve duel purposes like combating drunk driving or promoting healthy eating habits. He serves as a mentor to artists and musicians, nurturing their growth as activists, advocates, educators and entrepreneurs. Among the Artist in Bloom residents who call BloomBars home, one has been nominated for a Grammy Award and another a Peabody Award. Artists from Brazil, Sweden, Pakistan, India, Japan, South Africa, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Germany, U.K, El Salvador, and Mexico have made the sojourn to BloomBars as visiting residents and performers. Hundreds of non-profit organizations, embassies and NGOs have partnered with BloomBars to help elevate their cause by using the arts as a catalyst.
In 2012, he launched BloomU, the college of BloomBars, to bring unique early-childhood development programs to the community. The positive response has been overwhelming. Parents from across the District attended classes and events nearly every day of the week. To help tell the powerful stories of this moment and amplify to voice of artists, he created BloomTV and The Weekly Bloom.
While he prefers to stay behind the scenes, John enjoys expressing his creativity through the guitar and djembe, sculpture, photography, and filmmaking.