Origins (The BloomBars Story)

The BloomBars Story:

“If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do.” Karl Paulnack, Program Director, Boston Conservatory.

Some have called BloomBars an artist and non-profit incubator, performance space, art gallery, theater, youth academy, and center for health, wellness, and community engagement. BloomBars is all these things and more. Both innovative and old-school-wisdom, BloomBars is a concept that seeks to unite, energize and inspire communities through the arts. Established in 2008 in Washington, DC’s burgeoning Columbia Heights neighborhood, BloomBars is driven by a volunteer team of artists, educators, and community and business leaders. Redefining the perception of a bar, BloomBars does not serve or allow alcohol on its premises. For us, no booze = more clear and meaningful connections between the artist and the audience, all are welcome, an environment ripe for growth and inspiration.

It all started in June 2008 when BloomBars launched the first of a series of spontaneous, underground artist showcases. These events, or “Blooms” as they’re called, infused art and music with local and global social justice causes and brought together a diversity of people rarely seen in Washington. The goal was to plant a seed and let growth happen organically. To date, we have hosted several film screenings, concerts, photo and art exhibits, and Blooms (linking with six non-profit organizations), including the 4th Bloom, which raised more than $5,000 for Haitian hurricane victims.

The 100-year-old former print shop is raw—old mortar, exposed brick, open 12ft ceilings—and its energy is palpable. And when the wide doors open “as an invitation to all who can hear its music and conversation spilling into the street,” according to the Washington Post, you know a special seed has been planted in Columbia Heights. Walk by during the day and you’d only notice the two-story building by its tagline hovering over the entrance, “You Bloom. We Bloom.” Simply put, BloomBars’ mission is to inspire people to reach their full potential, or Bloom—and as people invest a part of themselves in BloomBars—seed or sow, in whatever form—BloomBars in turn becomes the fertile soil, incubator, and food for a community starving for a safe space for creative expression, honest conversation, personal health and wellness, and of course, entertainment in a rich cultural environment.

Our vision is a global network of BloomBars-like spaces that serve as a training ground for a new generation of change agents who believe in the transformational power of art in all its forms. will carry the vision to the digital space providing a variety of original and live content, and chronicle the ever-changing Blooms.

We believe art has a critical role in community building, social justice, advocacy, youth development, and health and wellness. We believe art can be a powerful conduit to link individuals inspired to serve, and communities and organizations in need. We believe there is an urgency to unite people around these principles.

Word is spreading fast—Only a few months in, BloomBars’ “underground” status was revoked when the Washington Post ran a 2,000-word feature story on the front page of its Weekend Section, “Art Space Starting to Bloom.” It has been hailed by local bloggers as one of the “coolest art spaces in DC”, and “One of the best things to happen in 2008,” by the Washington Post’s Going Out Gurus. Most recently, BloomBars was voted “2nd Best Open Mic” venue in the Washington City Paper’s “Best of DC” edition—Despite never hosting an “Open Mic.” They just couldn’t find a box to put us in. In 2009, we hope they can create a new one. Stay tuned, our new Blooms will be revealed at our official opening in June. Visit: for a glimpse.

Contact:, for more information and to inquire about donations and/or volunteer opportunities.


• BUILD compassionate communities that nurture and support artists committed to service and social responsibility

• CREATE meaningful connections between artists and community-based organizations

• EMPOWER youth and parents to use art as an education and literacy tool

• ESTABLISH a space for artists and community members to learn and practice social activism, and entrepreneurship

• PROVIDE a premier performance space for artists to hone and share their craft

• PROVIDE a (live and digital) platform to amplify artists’ work, and engage and connect local and global communities

• FOSTER an environment that allows music and art (musicians/artists) to be more accessible to non-artists

• INSPIRE exploration and discovery of new ideas, places, and people within, and outside of the surrounding community

Our Guiding Principles—Community first, honest dialog, take risks, safe space, back to basics, experiment, innovate, embrace diversity, be green and sustainable, have fun.