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Seoulspice's No Kings Mural // Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Real-Time Change for NoMa’s New Identity

In her office situated among the packed NoMa neighborhood, NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) President Robin-Eve Jasper recalls how about 12 years ago, nothing much was built north of K Street. Looking out over the packed neighborhood now, it’s hard to imagine anything else in this evolving spot.

“BIDs in neighborhoods that are a little bit neglected are established by property owners to do a better job keeping it clean and well-marketed,” Jasper says. “In this case, it was a place where a lot of different owners could say, ‘We are all competitors, but we can also collaborate to make this neighborhood really exciting.’”

Exciting might be an understatement. Since its establishment in 2007, the BID has seen the neighborhood experience rapid growth that skyrocketed once-vacant lots into a dense hub for business, retail, food and drink. A hallmark of the neighborhood’s ability to foster businesses and establish a sense of identity in a location that once had virtually none is a fierce emphasis on community and mutually beneficial relationships.

“I think we looked for opportunities that felt authentic,” Jasper says of the businesses that now call NoMa home. “People came to us with ideas. Wunder Garten is a great example. One of the people who started it is Bavarian by birth. He was an employee at NPR and he said, ‘We have no place like a beer garden to go hang out. We should have a beer garden.’ We listened to that and thought, ‘You know, that really does sound right to us.’”

NoMa’s recent notoriety in the food and drink world is all the more interesting given that when development of the area started, the focus was almost solely on office space. As the area evolved and people created homes instead of just workplaces, the turn to retail, food and drink space grew at lightning speed.

“We’ve got a whole lot more coming,” Jasper says. “I think what’s going to ultimately be a hallmark in the neighborhood [is] that there’s this great, nontraditional mosaic of retail.”

This progress can perhaps account for why some of the hottest and newest names in dining have taken up NoMa as their home. Breweries like Red Bear Brewing Co., game bar The Eleanor, sunny and spicy Laos in Town, and fast-casual fun Seoulspice – to name just a few – add to the mosaic Jasper speaks of. As the BID continues to grow and more people find themselves living, working and playing in NoMa, a strong sense of community and willingness to adapt to change will make this neighborhood even more dynamic.

Community Corner

We took an inside look at the community aspect of the neighborhood that’s been instrumental in incubating food, drink and reciprocal relationships among business owners.

Seoulspice

This spot for fast-casual Korean food uses fresh, local ingredients that call back to founder Eric Shim’s heritage and family recipes. Now with three locations, the restaurant differentiates itself from a sea of local fast-casual concepts by “always trying to improve so that the customer experience [is] one they can’t find anywhere else,” general manager Danielle Wilt says.

“We want people to want to come here because they feel like they are loved and appreciated.”

Beyond providing quality Korean food to residents and visitors, the spot has been able to foster a similar sense of community among other area businesses.

“The [BID] provides us with so many opportunities to make those connections and [is] willing to go out of their way to make a more close-knit community,” Wilt continues.

You can now find Seoulspice in Tenleytown and College Park, but Wilt says their home base of NoMa was instrumental in giving them a platform to perfect their business model and community aspect before spreading their wings locally.

“As the BID began to expand and the residential buildings began to pop up and really develop, we have been able to gain a following with residents – people that call this place home as opposed to just calling it their place of work. We’ve been able to really grow. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from the community in the past three years and really taken that to help us with our quality of service and quality of food.”

145 N St. NE, DC; www.seoulspice.com

Laos in Town

Laos in Town opened its doors merely months ago but is already making a splash by bringing the cuisine of Laos – along with an excellent bar program and thoughtful décor – to NoMa. When owner Nick Ongsangkoon and chef Ben Tiatasin set out to create a new destination for Laotian food in the District, they took a handful of different trips touring Laos to get a true, authentic feel for the food and the community they wanted to take home and share with diners. Upon returning home, Ongsangkoon looked for a place to set up shop and NoMa quickly became an obvious fit for all he wanted to accomplish.

“A couple of years ago when we started to launch this concept, we would go around eating and looking at other restaurants,” he says. “We fell in love with this particular neighborhood.”

He speaks of seeing restaurants, bars and beer gardens throughout the easily walkable, tree-lined area. The sense of community found throughout NoMa is a great platform for Ongsangkoon’s ultimate goal: to familiarize visitors of Laos in Town with the food and the culture of Laos that inspired him to open this spot in the first place.

“I would like to showcase the culture,” he says as he lovingly recalling his travels throughout Laos and all the cooking techniques his team has brought back to DC. “I believe that if Washingtonians would at least open up, they’ll fall in love as I fell in love. I want them to step into the restaurant and feel like they’re in Laos.”

250 K St. NE, DC; www.laosintown.com

Wunder Garten

Born out of a desire for a Bavarian-style beer garden and a way to fill a vacant lot in the middle of the neighborhood, Wunder Garten has become a go-to outdoor watering hole since its evolution as a pop-up in 2015 to its current location on First Street. Co-owner Biva Ranjeet says that although their transition from pop-up to permanent locale was not unlike other businesses that have made that jump, they “focused on the location, the neighborhood and our unique event programming.”

The space is open year-round and provides a whole host of unique programming along with a robust beer, wine and drink program. The CaliBurger food truck can be found for those wishing to snack, and the large space is conducive to intimate conversations or large groups wishing to catch up.

“We’ve built a dedicated, hardworking team that has become like a second family and cultivated a community both within NoMa and the region as a welcoming backyard in the heart of NoMa,” Ranjeet says of Wunder Garten’s unique digs. “We recognize that we’re not just another bar but a place where people can enjoy some great drinks, food and music in the midst of a carefully curated backdrop of flora – and from time to time, also some great programming. It’s a relatively simple formula but it takes a lot to get it right.”

She also notes that outside of the community it has curated within neighborhood walls, Wunder Garten has become “one of the large attractions to the neighborhood.” The spot draws both locals and visitors to their urban oasis, especially around Oktoberfest and other beer-driven Bavarian celebrations. NoMa resident or not, the once-vacant lot provides something special for all who visit to partake or imbibe in.

1101 1st St. NE, DC; www.wundergartendc.com

Notable NoMa

Carving Room NoMa
Known for:
A second location of Carving Room, featured on the Guy Fieri-led Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, popped up in NoMa this spring. The spot brings an array of gourmet sandwiches, small plates and burgers along with an open-air watering hole to the neighborhood. 140 M St. NE, DC; www.carvingroom.com

The Eleanor
Known for:
This spot features two mini-bowling lanes (pro tip: reserve your lanes online before you and your friends venture out), an inventive food and drink program, and perhaps the most DC namesake of a restaurant to date (its name is a shout-out to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton). 100 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.eleanordc.com

Lily and the Cactus
Known for:
An innovative blend of cuisines from the Southwestern U.S. and Africa, this restaurant offers classics and combinations of flavors you won’t find anywhere else – NoMa or otherwise. 1225 1st St. NE, DC; www.lilyandthecactus.com

Menomale
Known for:
Another beloved spot that decided to bring their offerings to NoMa, the pizza and salumi restaurant set up shop in the bottom of The Belgard apartments this summer. Residents and visitors alike can indulge in the Neapolitan-style pizza that’s made it a mainstay at the original Brookland location, which will open soon in NoMa. 2711 12th St. NE, DC; www.fb.com/menomaledc

Red Bear Brewing Co.
Known for:
Creative brews that are fun to drink and even more fun to order (think the Dom Peri-yaaaas!, a brut kölsch made with hops and full of floral, wine-adjacent flavors), lots of board games, and a fun, inclusive environment for all beer drinkers who walk through their doors. 209 M St. NE, DC; www.redbear.beer

Streets Market
Known for:
Providing visitors and residents of the AVA NoMa apartment building in which it’s situated with a one-stop food shop, plus 30 draft lines and a killer happy hour. 51 M St. NE, DC; www.streetsmarket.com

Free for All

As another way to foster community, the NoMa BID offers all its programming – often involving local businesses – as free to all who wish to attend.

“We make all of our events free so we never exclude anybody,” Jasper says. “It’s another dimension of welcoming people. It’s part of the DNA here and I think it’s had an impact on how people feel about being in the neighborhood.”

Catch some of the following programming throughout the summer. For more information on year-round events, visit www.nomabid.org.

THROUGH SUNDAY, AUGUST 4

FRESHFARM NoMa Farmers Market
Every Sunday this summer, you’ll find purveyors of the best local goods take to the streets of NoMa to share all they have to offer with the community. Find coffee, produce, prepared foods, flowers and more for sale. Visit the NoMa BID’s website for a full list of vendors and special events. FRESHFARM NoMa Market also accepts and matches SNAP, WIC and SFMNP benefits, and is family- and dog-friendly. Located at the corner of 2nd and L Streets in NE, DC

WEDNESDAYS THROUGH AUGUST

NoMa Summer Screen
Back for its 12th year, NoMa Summer Screen’s 2019 theme is “Who’s Got Game?” Don’t miss sports films new and old such as Bend it Like Beckham, Remember the Titans and She’s the Man. Every movie is subtitled, dogs are allowed on leashes and you can indulge in fine food truck cuisine. Visit www.nomabid.org/summerscreen for a full list of films and food trucks. Begins at sunset. Lot on 1st and Pierce: 1150 1st St. NE, DC

FRIDAYS THROUGH SEPTEMBER

Feel Good Fridays
Kick off your weekends every first Friday this summer with a visit to the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro Stop or CNN Plaza for free treats from NoMa vendors Galley Foods, Streets Market and Sweet Science Coffee. You’ll find coffee, breakfast food, friendly neighbors and a much brighter Friday await you. 7:30-9:30 a.m. NoMa-Gallaudet Metro: N Street in NE, DC // CNN Plaza: 840 1st St. NE, DC

THURSDAY, JULY 4

July 4 Bash
This family-friendly celebration of all things patriotic is the perfect way to spend your Independence Day. Come for the cookout and stay for face painting, moon bounces, live music and more. 12-3 p.m. Lot on 1st and Pierce: 1150 1st St. NE, DC

Photo: Refik Anadol, courtesy of ARTECHOUSE

Exploration Of DC’s Powerful, Impactful Art

In today’s social climate, art is the epitome of pushing the conversation forward. With many adversities dividing our communities, the use of mediums like design, sculpture and film allow the world to see a perspective through another person’s lens. Our nation’s capital is the epicenter of politics, diversity and community, so it’s no surprise that the District’s art reflects the same. New exhibits and installations are being created to highlight civil rights, social justice and political reform addressing the huge gap in peace and prosperity. We handpicked some of the summer exhibits and public works of art making a lasting impact in and around the city.

Photo: Tex Williams, courtesy of Hirshhorn

Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green)

The Hirshhorn has always been known for its focus on contemporary art, inspiring people to step back and take the time to think over what is being presented. The same case follows here for “Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green).” Through July 24, the exhibit from Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija is encouraging visitors to consider many sensory feelings – especially because curry from Beau Thai in Mount Pleasant is served as you watch the mural appear in front of you. We spoke with Dr. Mark Beasley, the Hirshhorn’s curator of media and performance art, about bringing this interactive exhibit to the museum and working with Tiravanija.

On Tap: What attracted you to Tiravanija’s work and why was it important for it to be showcased?
Mark Beasley:
[He’s] somewhat of a figurehead for the Thai artists that appeared in the 90s. He creates a social engagement with the audience. He facilitates a social space within galleries. The work is about activism and protest culture. It connected very well with the history of the city but also had two key threads: the serving of food as an art piece.

OT: What was the process like to bring this show to life?
MB:
The process in general was two-fold: food and drawings. With the food, we looked to find a collaborator in the city: restaurant Beau Thai. They worked with Rirkrit to come up with a recipe that he was happy with and seemed authentic to him. The 18 mural artists working for and with Rirkrit are drawing these images taken from the mainstream press of protests over the last 40 years both in Bangkok and Washington. At any time, there are [up to] three artists in this space drawing directly onto the walls.

OT: How does serving curry play into the overall sensory experience?
MB:
It is another flavor and ingredient in the room. It sets up a space of sociability. It is an immediate hook. You go and get food and sit, and then you are in a room of drawings so the discussion stems from there. In terms of sensory [experience], [it’s] very much this other vocabulary that most of us are not used to thinking of. We are not used to thinking through those textures or what that means to the space or a room. It brings part of Thailand into this space, into this museum.

“Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green)” runs through July 24. Go to www.hirshhorn.si.edu for details.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: Independence Avenue and 7th Street in NW, DC; www.hirshhorn.si.edu

Photo: Griselda San Martin

“The Warm of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement”

“The Warm of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement” at the Phillips Collection through September 22, presents a group of global artists whose work asks urgent questions about the experiences and conceptions of migration and the refugee crisis that many countries are living through. Through the lens of installations, videos and paintings, viewers are shown real and artistically created geographies creating tales of migration, while adding historical elements on top of them. Global artists Richard Wright, Isabel Wilkerson and Jacob Lawrence are featured in this exhibit, conveying the powerful message of migration that affects our world today. We chatted with curator Massimiliano Gioni, who gave us his interpretation of this impactful exhibit.

On Tap: How did you get started in this line of business? Why did you want to become a curator of art?
Massimiliano Gioni:
I was a teenager when I started getting interested in contemporary art and gradually, I wanted to spend my life being surrounded by it. Around 1990, when I entered the world of art professionally, I didn’t think curation was a profession. For a long time, I thought I would’ve had another life that eventually would’ve led me to art. I struggled for a while within the art community, but fortunately and beyond my wildest imagination, everything fell into place.

OT: What makes a piece of art something worth showcasing?
MG: 
It’s a combination of numerous things. On one hand, it’s the effect that it feels just right, that anything you do to it won’t compromise it, that nothing could be added to or subtracted from it, [that it’s] personal and individual to the point of being unconventional. On the other hand, it’s endlessly incomparable because every time you return to it, you learn something new and in return, you learn something new about yourself.

OT: Is there a specific impression you would like viewers to have of “The Warmth of Other Suns”?
MG:
There are three central questions in the show that they address. One is the representation of pain and misery. The second is the question of documentary and the repercussions – the way in which we can claim to tell the truth or represent a truth. And the third is the relationship between the individuals and the masses – between self and the multitudes of self.

OT: What inspired you to get involved with this exhibit? How has your background influenced your choice in curation?
MG:
This is my second show. I did a show in Italy two years ago called “The Restless Arms.” In the summer in Italy, we are used to seeing thousands of civilians die crossing the Mediterranean and in a sense, I felt that we had some kind of responsibility to engage in this issue through this exhibition. One of the reasons I went [with this exhibition] is to basically say, “No more.” Also, because of the diversity within this show, it presents a much more vibrant and open conversation [about] the multicultural idea of society in contemporary art.

OT: With the topic of migration at the center of this exhibit, what kind of realities have you faced curating these works of arts?
MG: 
I think the interesting aspect is that we are looking at certain realities as they are constructed through images – how contemporary art is addressing the concept of truthfulness and accuracy, and how images can contract reality. What I hope is that people will go through this exhibition and understand that the people we call migrants are not so different from ourselves and our own families.

Tickets are $12; exhibit runs through September 22. Learn more about “The Warmth of Other Suns” at www.phillipscollection.org.

The Phillips Collection: 1600 21st St. NW, DC; www.phillipscollection.org

Photo: courtesy of Torpedo Factory

Julia Kwon’s “More Than A Body”

“More Than A Body,” at the Torpedo Factory through August 4, represents Asian femininity within modern society. Enduring objectifications as a Korean woman, local artist Julia Kwon uses the art of textiles to address and open the conversation of cultural propriety within the United States. Her use of authentic Korean materials pays homage to her culture and allows her to focus on influences such as globalism and totalitarianism. Chosen from nearly 130 artists, Kwon’s exhibit highlights the fusion of authenticity and appropriations. Panelists Sandy Guttman, Michael Matason and Terrence Nicholson played a huge role in putting this powerful exhibit together. Before visiting, we caught up with Kwon to learn more about her experience creating this exhibit.

On Tap: How has your background influenced your work?
Julia Kwon:
I decided to study art seriously and make sense of the world through creating art. My work is directly influenced by the society that I live in. I discuss my experiences of being seen differently in the U.S. based on my gender and ethnicity. I also reference current sociopolitical events through the inclusion of contemporary logos to challenge the expectation of cultural purity.

OT: What inspires you as an artist?
JK:
Artmaking is the struggle to better understand myself, the world I live in, and what it means to live fully and justly. I am continuing to challenge myself to think of more effective ways to expose the problematic constructions of Asian femininity within the U.S. context.

OT: What objectification have you faced as a Korean woman?
JK:
I have experienced discrimination based on the way I look, which includes larger, systemic inequalities as well as microaggressions – whether that was being subjected to others gazes or racist and sexist comments. I’ve also felt the pressure to prove or perform cultural purity and authenticity, even from well-meaning allies.

OT: Why did you choose textiles to convey your message?
JK:
I became involved with textile art quite organically as it allowed me to effectively talk about my experiences of being seen differently based on my gender and ethnicity. I am drawing inspiration from Korean textiles because it is specifically Korean, yet the abstract designs allow the space for complexity, nuance and ambiguity. I use traditional Korean silk as well as fabrics that were created from around the world and found here in the U.S. to question the idea of authenticity and shift the focus to the influences of globalism, transnationalism and cultural hybridity.

OT: What would you say to other women about handling these kinds of adversities?
JK: I aim to present my specific point of view and experiences as a Korean-American woman, as well as to spark conversations and position us to experience a more sweeping glance at issues regarding gender, ethnicity and other categories. I want women and other people who have had similar experiences to know they are not alone in the struggle to be a distinct and multifaceted human being.

OT: If there is one thing that you would like your audience to take away from your work, what would it be and why?
JK:
Although they may be initially drawn to the work for its vivid colors and lush materiality, the content of the work seems to be what ultimately resonates with them. I have had viewers interpret the positions of the figures very differently and I welcome diverse readings of my work. The fabrics are not only covering, blocking and suffocating, but also protecting, hiding and mystifying the body. The figures are both burdened by the expectation of authenticity yet free to be comfortably themselves behind the constructed façade.

“More Than A Body” runs through August 4. Learn more at www.torpedofactory.org and about Kwon at www.juliakwon.com.

Torpedo Factory Art Center: 105 N. Union St. Alexandria, VA; www.torepedofactory.org


“Art in Action”
The Library of Congress hosts many historic and awe-inspiring exhibits of art, including “Art in Action.” This particular exhibit feels quite crucial to recognizing events throughout history in a more fun and engaging way; presented in an easily digestible format, it brings together those taking in the art and the world that they live in. Some notable artists featured include Shepard Fairey, Pablo Picasso and Helen Zughaib. Runs through August 17. Library of Congress: 101 Independence Ave. SE, DC; www.loc.gov

“Chicago Titan”
One might not think of finding a large Romanesque sculpture outside of the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, but if you venture a bit from the city, you’ll find one nestled in the hustle and bustle of Rosslyn. “Chicago Titan” is a large sculpture created by Ray Kaskey, known for his large-scale civic art pieces that follow Greek and Renaissance themes. Look for it the next time you find yourself in Arlington. 1530 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.rosslynva.org

DC Mural Walking Tour
DC is often recognized as a place full of monuments and history, but it has become so much more. The DC Mural Walking Tour has become a staple, taking locals a step further into the variety of public murals in the surrounding wards and neighborhoods of the city. This tour makes the art both accessible and informative to the public and has much to offer expressively. Check the official website for more information on where to get tickets and what areas these tours start in. www.dcmurals.org

“I Am…Contemporary Women Artists of Africa”
The National Museum of African Art is putting a twist on their upcoming exhibit, featuring 28 female artists. While addressing topics like racism, identity and politics, it also shines a light on women empowerment and the African experience. This diverse approach to contemporary art opens versatile perspectives within the creative community. Runs through March 2020. National Museum of African Art: 950 Independence Ave. SW, DC; https://africa.si.edu

“Infinite Space”
We live with a sense that there will one day be an end, but we rarely stop to think of the infinite possibilities. “Infinite Space” reflects the concept wherein visitors can open their minds to endless ideas and opportunities, as well as the transformative ways of man and machine. The exhibit invites you to look through the lens of a machine and how it perceives the world as a human. If you’re looking for an experience that will both open and expand your mind, this is for you. Tickets are $16. Runs through September 2. ARTECHOUSE: 1238 Maryland Ave. SW, DC; www.dc.artechouse.com

“Lightweave”
One may not think of an underpass as having the ability to showcase a magnificent work of art, but “Lightweave” is a fun, interactive experience for everyone. This piece also brings the city to life because it takes all the varieties of sounds in NoMa and turns them into beautiful LED lights. “Lightweave” fully showcases the interactivity and accessibility of the city in order to bring a standard underpass to life. L Street Underpass: 2nd Street in NE, DC; www.futureforms.us/lightweave

“ReCOVERing the Classics”
Workhouse Art Center’s interactive exhibit showcasing redesigned book covers will have you reminiscing about the Scholastic Book Fairs of your childhood. This exhibit captures the importance of what is sometimes lost in modern literature. Runs through August 4. Workhouse Art Center: 9518 Workhouse Way, Lorton, VA;  www.workhousearts.org

“Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGTBQ Rights Movement”
Honoring the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the Newseum pays tribute to the LGBTQ civil rights movement by highlighting the trials and tribulations that sparked the revelation of LGBTQ First Amendment freedoms. With the use of artifacts, images and historic publications, “Rise Up” offers a glimpse inside this fight for equality. Runs through December 31. Newseum: 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.newseum.org

“Solaris Shelter for The Next Cold War”
Critically acclaimed artist Mark Kelner uses his artistic creation to make a fun, interactive experience at Culture House DC (formerly Blind Whino). His pop-up exhibit addresses the tension of war propaganda in modern America, and his funny sneer at modern advertisements creates a unique approach to using art as a way to address sometimes uncomfortable issues. Runs through July 7. Culture House DC: 700 Delaware Ave. SW, DC; www.culturehousedc.org

Photo: Vita Images

Diner en…Pick Your Color

“I have to buy a ticket and preorder my drinks – then pack food, table, chairs, flatware and decorations and drag them on foot, dressed entirely in white, across the city to a mystery location?”

My friend usually loves my party invites, but she was struggling with Diner en Blanc.

“In August in the swamp – are you serious?”

But she accepted. And she loved it.

From a spontaneous picnic three decades ago in Paris, Diner en Blanc has evolved into a yearly multicity extravaganza complete with waitlists, hashtags and FOMO.

“It’s the allure of the unknown,” says Bryer Davis, cohost of DC’s Diner en Blanc. “Everything is a mystery until the day of: the location, who you’ll sit next to, the spectacle, the weather.”

And the finished product is genuinely magnificent: a diverse gathering of thousands of Washingtonians clad in white, eating dinner, making friends, waving sparklers and framed by a DC landmark.

But what if your sartorial preferences forbid white? You’re in luck: the last three years, DC has also embraced Diner en Noir (DEN), an evening of feasting and celebration while clad in…all black. But these are not dueling events.

“While there may be similarities, DEN is a community-based event that aims to promote the local arts and business community,” says founder Howard N. Cromwell, who has also attended Diner en Blanc and encourages others to do so.

“It’s a magical, one-of-a-kind experience,” he says of Diner en Blanc.

While Diner en Blanc events around the world feature local artists, the global umbrella organization imposes more restrictions in terms of local charity and small business involvement, which DEN does not have. This year, DEN will make donations to the Northeast Performing Arts Group and the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation.

As for its part, Diner en Blanc offers a global experience with a deep history. Friendships have been formed through the years as enthusiasts travel the world to participate in other cities. Of course, the Holy Grail is Paris, where it all started.

“Diner en Blanc brings people together who want to experience it in as many places – with as many people – as possible,” Davis observes. “Everyone makes the evening uniquely theirs.”

Both Davis and Cromwell attended this year’s Diner en Blanc in Paris on June 6. The evening was also an opportunity to celebrate the 75th birthday of its founder, François Pasquier.

“The night was nothing short of spectacular,” Cromwell says. “We learned a great deal from some of the event’s original European organizers.”

David says he was blown away by the pop-ups, local artists and activations in Paris.

“It gave me so much inspiration for DC,” Davis adds.

I asked both Diner wizards for advice for participants.

“Preparation is always key,” replies Cromwell. “Great preparation prevents poor performance.”

“Pack your patience!” Davis exclaims. “Ultimately, the event is what you make of it.”

Diner en Noir will be held Saturday, July 20; more information available at www.dinerennoir.com/dc. Diner en Blanc is on Saturday, August 24; more information available at https://washington.dinerenblanc.com.

DC Weekender: Friday June, 28 – Sunday, June 30

Did you have a hard week?If you answered yes, then here are some food and booze festivities that will make you forget all about your worries this weekend. Cheers!

FRIDAY

Friday Night Margarita Cruise on the Potomac (DC)
Your heart will go on at this cruise around the Potomac. Sail around the city and forget about all your worries with a Margarita in hand!

Red, White & Rosé Party (VA)
Rosés are for the brozes at this 4th of July kick off. With 20 different wines, you’ll sure to find one that fits your taste buds!

Capitol Riverfront Friday Night Concert Series (DC)
Fridays are for good music. Spend some time by the water too, because its gonna be one hot one!

Caribbean Summer (DC)
Are you jealous of all your Instagram followers’ vacay pics? It’s okay, you can pretend you’re in the tropics this summer without stepping out of the District.

SATURDAY

Port City Saturday Food Truck (VA)
No need for an event, or any other excuse, to kick back at Port City.

BallstonGives Presents Pride Drag Brunch (DC)
There is nothing like a good brunch to kickoff your sinful weekend, but what about a Drag Brunch? Sip on some mimosas while seeing some true queens!

Cigar Lounge Grand Opening  (DC)
While food is for the soul at District Soul Food and this is a cigar lounge opening, you can dance a little. Eat a lot. Drink a little (or a lot, we’re not judging.)

Sicilian Ball at the Embassy of Italy (DC)
Did someone say caprese salad? Eat pray love in the district with an authentic Italian cuisine.

SUNDAY

Free Weekly Bar Bingo w/ O’Sullivan’s Irish Pub (VA)
Make Sunday a funday by bringing your daubers to O’Sullivan’s! Did I mention there will be occasional free drinks?

DC Series: Rainbow DC (DC)
Paint the DC skyline the colors of the rainbow and live life colorfully.

Block Party at Milk Bar Logan Circle (DC)
What’s a summer without Block Parties? Enjoy some soft serve and a good ole burger.

Yappy Brunch at Santa Rosa Taqueria (DC)
What is better than booze, puppies and tacos? Nothing. Make it a pawty with your furry friends at Santa Rosa Taqueria this Sunday.

Mean Girls Trivia at City Tap Penn Quarter (DC)
Wear pink and drink, and try your best not to be personally victimized by Regina George at this trivia extravaganza.

Vintage Tea Party // Photo: Dominque Fierro

Different Artists, Influences Come Together With One Voice

One Voice, an exhibition featuring numerous DC LGBTQ artists created an inclusive space for activists, art lovers and pride month participants for an intimate experience at the Kimpton Carlyle Hotel. Creatives like Tom Hill, Jorge Carceres, Dominique Fierro and Wayson Jones each displayed individual works that illustrate their viewpoints in the selection. 

The exhibit runs through September 2, and opened at the beginning of June for Pride Month. Though the art is free to see, there is a $5 suggested donation for The Trevor Project.

Walking into the lobby of the Carlyle Hotel near Dupont Circle, you’re immediately greeted by works from Hill, both bright and captivating:  “Scratch Where It Itches, In a Whirl,” draws you into the building, until suddenly you’re into the main lobby area, where an entire room is utilized. Throughout, each artist is generously given their own separate gazing area, which allows the viewer to better take in and interpret the message behind the work. 

A DC native, Hill has always been an advocate for civil rights. From a young age, he’s been driven to bring peace and prosperity to those fighting for equality, which has given him a unique outlook on life, one that eventually brought him to his career in art. He’s specifically interested in what it means to be “queer,” in the modern era. Hill uses male figures, accents of glitter and striking acrylic. He draws his audience in with the intention to question the life of a man living in the gay community. With bold lettering and their own individual message, he defines it as sublime and multi-dimensional. Particularly placed within the exhibit, it casts light on the depiction of the queer man. 

As you make a lap around the exhibit, you also run into the work of Fierro, who uses photographic depictions of vulnerability. The black and white images of “Vintage Tea Party and Raw” have dire emotion, where you see women covered by shadows who appear timid and irrational. The presentation provides no particular direction, you observe in caution as though they were in the room with you. Fierro uses uncomfortable scenes to truly captivate her impression: their souls and she uses photos to show their world.  

Lastly, Wayson Jones places an element of surprise within his gallery. Surrounded by vibrancy, his luminous and eerie paintings rein over the room, stricken with curiosity an observer could even question the reality behind the creations. Does it relate to his identity? How does it portray to being in the LGBTQ community? And what type of impressions would this make on the everyday person?  But as he exclaims, the art is up for interpretation. His portrayal of black shaded figures within a white materialistic background; “Ancestor, Death Threat, Boxed In,” abides by his idea of a distaste for the mistreatment of his community. Members of the black and LGBTQ community have faced years of discrimination and supreme adversities.

These are all very different artists with unique influences who came together for this one night to help form a powerful message with a variety of perspectives influenced by nostalgic sentiments, nature and civil rights. Though each are strong and loud enough on their own, the impact of these works under one roof is undeniably heightened as they intersect and compliment to form “One Voice.” 

“One Voice” runs through September 2.  Learn More about the exhibit at here.

Kimpton Carlyle Hotel: 1731 New Hampshire Ave. NW, DC; 202-234-3200; www.carlylehoteldc.com

Brian Miller and Jason Maringola // Photo: Trent Johnson

Streetsense Cultivates Neighborhood Hospitality

Bars are more than the drinks they serve. Behind the beer, cocktails and spirits is the lay of the land, the setting, the vibe. It goes without saying that without good product, any establishment will falter, but a backdrop that melds with its culinary offerings will only serve to heighten the experience for the customer.

One way to achieve this elevated interior ambiance is by allowing professionals to take over, because it’s often not as simple as taking the ideas from your brain and putting them into practice.

That’s where Streetsense comes in. The company is described as an experience-focused design and strategy collective, and has continually delivered spectacular interior architecture on an international level. You’ve likely seen their decadent design around the District, including at Ivy City’s Coconut Club, Shaw’s The Dabney and Penn Quarter’s Daikaya, to name a few.

Coconut Club // Photo: Rey Lopez

One step into their Bethesda office and you’re greeted with a number of creatives all huddled up, sketches adorning drafting boards, posters lining the walls and retro knick-knacks placed throughout the space. And while the Streetsense office has a certain feel, the company’s aesthetic is as diverse as their extensive roster of clients.

“We do more than just design and we think differently because we actually understand the analytics and demographics of our areas and bring people to the table,” design director of interior architecture Jason Maringola says.

Variables for the Streetsense process include the typical timeline, budget and service, but one goal that never wavers regardless of scope is the team’s ability to connect with the client. This can mean traveling to South Carolina and visiting dive bars or hopping on an international flight to tour dojos in Japan.

“There are a number of restaurant projects I’ve worked on where we’ve gotten to travel with the clients to really dig in beyond mood boards, Pinterest and Instagram and figure out what they’re trying to draw from,” says Brian Miller, senior design director of interior architecture of Edit Lab at Streetsense. “We want to know how they think people get together over food and drinks, how people socialize, about how communities are oriented around those concepts.”

Daikaya // Photo Nikolas Koenig

This part of the process is what has always driven Miller and Maringola, who both grew up with a strong unwavering desire to work in architecture. As a child, Miller’s family moved around from town to town and he took note of buildings commanding attention. And for Maringola, even at an early age he’d memorize floor plans of homes his parents toured, sketch them out and offer critiques.

The collective childhood wonderment of all things hospitality design is reflected in their day-to-day, including the neverending goal of getting inside the brains of bar and restaurant owners to render artistic mockups that reach beyond visually interesting interpretations of what could be pretty or trendy. Instead, Streetsense seeks to establish a dominant thematic concept able to operate as a focal throughline. From there, they’ll determine one clear option with secondary layouts.

“I think we try to drive an approach that’s not to get us excited or the client excited, but about the people walking in the door of that business,” Miller says. “What’s going to make a really good experience for them? Is it a quiet night out? Is it a birthday?”

Maringola adds that their design isn’t really for the client. And while discussing the looks and feels of their babies, striking a balance between doing something personal and artistic is the toughest part of the process.

“Our clients are taking a risk, they’re putting a lot of money out to create a space and to trust us. The most rewarding thing for a client to tell us is that it’s better than they imagined. Most clients aren’t visual, so when they see the space and people interacting in the space, it goes from night to day. Then, they realize we really created something unique for the community,” Maringola says.

Moxy Atlanta // Photo: courtesy of Moxy

Some of the clients they work with aren’t backed by a corporate entity with limitless coffers, Miller says. When dealing with mom and pop shops, decisions are made with an understanding that livelihood could be on the line.

On the flip side, with larger clients, out of towners might require an entire education on the culture of a location or neighborhood. What makes this particular area unique? What does it need? For this, Streetsense sets up tours and activities to help the companies learn about their future clientele.

“The work our studio does [is] with extremely neighborhood driven places,” Miller says. “Clients look to us for that understanding, and some of our more exciting projects are when we get to work on a lot of places within a small area. This allows us to kind of create an ecosystem like [we created] in Blagden Alley.”

Big or small, Streetsense’s interior hospitality designs craft unique experiences for visitors. And with backdrop details such as lighting, theme and decor under their supervision, our favorite restaurants, coffee shops and bars can do what they do best; serve you.

“I always think of it as production design for a movie,” Miller says. “If that setting isn’t right, you know it’s not right.”

“But, the big thing is we could do all the beautiful design in the world but if the food sucks, service sucks, whatever we do won’t mean a thing,” Maringola says laughing. “That’s the catalyst.”

To learn about Streetsense, visit www.streetsense.com.

The Bygone // Photo: Maxine Schnitzer
Maps Glover // Photo: Timoteo Murphy

A Day In The Life With DC Artists Making Social Impact

Living in the DMV spoils us.

We have free access to world-class art at nearly every turn. But beyond its revered and iconic collections, the District is also home to an incredible array of artists working in experimental forms, crossing disciplines, and breaking down boundaries between tradition, style, design, politics and social justice. These artists are creating and chronicling the cultural landscape of DC today. They are not just leaving their mark on the city, but are also asking us to examine our own place in it – in a multitude of unexpected ways.

Consider Northern Virginia native JD Deardourff, with works installed everywhere from overpasses to the bottom of a pool, who is helping to literally repaint the face of the city. Or Xena Ni, a designer who describes her interactive installations as “civic journalism storytelling physical sculpture lawsuit art,” and that’s in addition to her line of feminist superhero underwear. Or a performance by Maps Glover, which may as well be a portal into a whole other experience of the world you think you inhabit.

While their mediums and inspirations vary, their commitment to making a social impact will never go out of style.

Photo: courtesy of JD Deardourff

JD DEARDOURFF

On Tap: There is sometimes tension around the term “street artist” and what it means to different people. Do you identify as a street artist?
JD Deardourff: I probably would just say artist. The way I got into it was primarily as a screenprinter –  that’s sort of my go-to art form – and one of the cool things about it is a rich tradition of wheatpasting and dissemination of imagery, either giving it away or pasting it in alleys or on light boxes. I was doing it before I was doing more “corporate stuff.” I’m an artist who does screenprints, murals, paintings and collages.

OT: When you’re getting ready to start a new project, what are the main factors that you consider and what motivates your creative process? What draws you toward a new project?
JD:
I like to think of it as a “one for them, one for me” situation. Some of the work I get to do pays for me to do other projects for free. Murals and commissions are probably half the time. The other half of the time is some personal projects I’ve been working on. I had a show last year where I sold all of the artwork I had and it was also the release of my first zine, Uncanny Fantastic. It’s basically a catalog of all of the personal art that I’ve done in comic book form. I’m working on volume two of that zine, so making a new body of work, which will correspond to the pages of the zine I’m going to drop in September.

OT: It seems like your career has progressed pretty quickly. Does it have to do with DC?
JD:
It feels like I planted a shitload of seeds like five years ago and the way that they’ve built up is that they all bloomed simultaneously. For example, conversations for one mural project I’ve been working on near Hotel Hive started in 2016. Sometimes, there’ll be something that’s like two years in production and that will coincide with something where I get an email the week before.

OT: What are some of your favorite projects?
JD:
I love doing shows. Last year, a highlight was a solo show I did with CulturalDC’s Mobile Art Gallery at Union Market. And then I’m super proud of Uncanny Fantastic. The recycling truck for the DC DPW [Depart of Public Works] has my artwork on it. This pool in Silver Spring is super cool. It’s in a building call Central. When the art direction is solid, those murals look the best.


JD CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
My family (especially my eight-year-old nephew), my genius girlfriend Kelly + my friends, but mostly just my dog Bruce
Spotify, live shows + music (The Ramones, The Clash, classic rock)
Comic books 
Actually making artwork
Pop’s SeaBar
My little field notes book


OT: Do you think that mural arts are rivaling the “high art” that DC is known for?
JD:
I think definitely it’s one of those things where this art form has gained momentum. More and more people are commissioning murals. Initially, there were more bar and restaurant-type clients and now I think it’s cool to get, for example, law firm types interested in that kind of vibe. You get more of a critical mass. I don’t know if it’s a bubble sort of situation, but it’s definitely on the uptick.

OT: How do you feel that impacts both the physical and cultural landscapes of the city?
JD:
I think it’s good. For instance, Pow! Wow! just happened in NoMa and it’s is super cool in terms of the murals making that neighborhood what it is. It’s all the flavor. I understand some people might call it art-washing or make arguments that it can be bad for the community, but I don’t feel that way. And I think those battles are kind of over. It’s creating a cool flavor that wasn’t there 15 or 20 years ago.

Find Deardourff on the web at www.deardourff.com and on Instagram @jddeardourff.

Photo: Peter Gonzalez

XENA NI

On Tap: What brought you to DC and the art space that you exist in now?
Xena Ni:
I had just finished my fellowship at Code for America and was leaving Oakland where I was living. I was just sitting on the train and intentions for the next year popped into my brain. I wanted to make weird art with people. I was keeping an eye out for that when I moved to DC. I’d been assured by one of my coworkers that there were people doing weird things in DC.

OT: And did you find them?
XN:
Yes! I’m a designer and I’ve always been adjacent to art. But it was really coming to DC and finding my dream job that gave me mental space to take my art practice more seriously. An organization that’s been really great in DC has been The Sanctuaries. I participated in one of their fellowship programs. We were learning more about how art can respond to events like protests, and also to think more about how to work with communities in a respectful way.

OT: Do you feel like the people or places or themes or issues that you’ve encountered here have guided the work or the projects that you’ve chosen in a specific way artistically?
XN:
I have met a lot more working artists or artists who are taking their practice seriously, and realized how important it is to just know and be friends with other artists who are going through the grind. Collaborations have been so energizing.


XENA CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
The archive (a daily writing ritual)
My IUD (affordable healthcare and reproductive freedom make so much possible)
A clunky, squeaky, dependable Raleigh Sprite bike
Public parks (Kalorama Park, Kingman Island, Banneker)
Overflowing cart of art supplies


OT: What are a few projects you’ve worked on in the past couple of years that really stand out to you?
XN:
One that’s been really top of mind: the most recent iteration of it is called “Transaction Denied” and it is a room-sized, immersive multimedia installation, which showed at UMBRELLA in April. It tells the story of what it takes to apply for food stamps in DC and what happens when the government spends a lot of money to make the system work, but there’s not a lot of accountability and the government and the vendors dispute responsibility and as a result, thousands of people in DC either lose their benefits or face unusually long delays that are also really damaging.

OT: What did that look like, visually?
XN:
It takes abstract oppressing social issues and creates interactive, immersive big pieces to bring attention. I also wanted people to do something. People left their reactions, or their own stories on the walls of the exhibit.

OT: Where will the installation go next?
XN:
That installation is evolving. My co-artist Mollie Ruskin and I learned about a lawsuit a collection of legal aid organizations had brought against the city to seek justice for all the people who had lost their benefits or faced delays. We are now working with one of the main organizations that brought the suit, Bread for the City, and they are going to install it temporarily in their space.

OT: Any other notable projects?
XN:
I also like traditional, representational art. [This project] started off with not having any photographs of what my older relatives looked like when they were young because they couldn’t afford photography or they had to destroy when the Communists took over, and I just started drawing what I thought my grandmother looked like when she was my age. It felt like I was reclaiming my history and also underscoring that I could never actually access that history. It has morphed into this less personal project, which is drawing possible portraits from the future.

OT: How do you draw portraits from the future?
XN:
It’s like time travel in portraiture. It’s work that usually happens one-on-one with someone interested in orienting. It’s partially like a guided meditation [or] playful interview where I transport people to a scene from their possible future life. What I’ve really enjoyed about it is both what people come up with and their emotional reactions. Usually someone cries.

Follow Ni on Instagram @msknee and check out www.averyseriousdesigner.com.

Photo: Ashley Llanes

MAPS GLOVER

On Tap: You do a lot of performance art, as well as working within more traditional mediums. What drives you creatively?
Maps Glover:
DC has this electric energy that forces you to address social issues on a daily basis, and so that’s really what has kept me here and fueled my practice. A lot of my work really is a commentary about social dynamics. Where are we going? What are we trying to understand?

OT: Is that why you came back to DC?
MG:
Yes. I started making art in college and transitioned into doing things in New York. Coming back home, I wanted to see what I could contribute to this scene. There weren’t a lot of artists that were doing performance and I really wanted to dive into understanding what that felt like in DC. I felt like DC was a really good space to do it because it’s the intersection of politics and anti-establishment.

OT: When you’re approaching a new project, what are the most important factors?
MG:
Sometimes it’s a matter of what is fueling me at the time. Sometimes it’s something I feel really passionate about, or sometimes I have personal relationships with the subject, whether it be police violence or some of the work that really feels like an introspective experience of me analyzing my internal dialogue through visual interpretation. As an artist, I personally feel like it’s our responsibility to be social commentators. There are issues that may come up that we may not be fully familiar with, but to creatively explore those topics, I think that artists should try to be more fearless in taking on different spaces that don’t necessarily relate to them.

OT: In those instances, how do you get to the point of understanding something well enough to create something that you feel can open the dialogue?
MG:
I think that you should educate yourself first and foremost. At the same time, the artistic process is a learning one. It’s kind of like this experimental method and then it becomes this conversation of how does this connect to the larger picture?


MAPS CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
My sketchbook
Micron pens
Talenti mint gelato
Hugs from my very special friend
My mom’s cooking (tries to get down to her house every other week to grab a plate of food)


OT: There are times when it must be a struggle between letting this process happen and also being aware of what it means to people once you put it out there.
MG:
That happens all the time, honestly. I’m always looking for the experience that I’m having to be real and true to myself and then I just see other people witnessing that – the authentic experience that I have within myself. For example, I did an exhibition at the Transformer gallery back in October and I really wanted to create a space that was a response to the spiritual connection that I was really beginning to have a dialogue about in my work.

OT: How did you do that within the bounds of a gallery?
MG:
We had six weeks with each artist. We transformed Transformer. My religious background is Christian, so I was eventually crucified within the center of the stage. I had a friend who grew up in a cult, so she did a kind of ritual ceremony. I had a friend create a website live and DJ at the same time. It just had so many layers, and that is why I felt like the piece was successful.

OT: DC is in an interesting place in terms of what it does and doesn’t support in the arts. What do you think that looks like in terms of opportunities right now?
MG:
We need safe spaces for artists to be able to live and support themselves in a city that is continuously changing. If you don’t incorporate or consider the creatives who are part of the fabric of why people even come to this city, then what’s the point? The amount of channels and space for artists of all kinds to show is just very limited and everyone is scratching for the same resources. To get to the higher levels of creativity, people leave the city.

Learn more about Glover at www.acreativedc.com/maps-glover and follow him on Instagram @mapsglover.

Photo: courtesy of Casa Ruby

Some Place To Lay Your Head: DC’s A Beacon of Hope For The Transgender Community

It all starts with family.

Because without support at home, transgender people can find themselves spiraling, according to Earline Budd, a transgender woman of color who has been an activist in the DC transgender community since the 1990s.

“One of the most outstanding issues we [trans people] face is estrangement from family,” she says. “Then housing becomes an issue because you’re homeless and you have to survive, which was my case at age 13.”

Budd says because she faced homelessness at such a young age, she found herself in and out of the criminal justice system and doing sex work just to survive.

“The struggle when I got out [of jail] was still not having any housing and having to grow up on the street,” she says. “In my case, I contracted HIV.”

The 60-year-old activist says she’s heard stories like hers from younger transgender people throughout her work with various LGBTQ+ support organizations. Not having a support system, especially at a young age, is the catalyst for many of the other adversities transgender people face throughout their lives.

Because once she was put out on the street, Budd had limited options as a trans woman of color, especially back in the 1970s. But things are different now, according to Budd there are more places transgender people can turn to when they’re in need. DC’s own Casa Ruby is one such place.

Casa Ruby is the “only LGBTQ+ bilingual and multicultural organization in the metropolitan Washington, DC area” that provides an array of services including housing, health and social programs to help LGBTQ+ individuals hurdle any barriers they may be facing at the time, according to its website.

Thirty years ago, Ruby Corado, a transgender Latina immigrant, arrived in DC and realized there were no services available to support her needs. This led to the eventual formation of Casa Ruby, Inc. followed by the opening of the first Casa Ruby Center in June 2012.

“Today, Casa Ruby employs almost 50 people [and] provides more than 30,000 social and human services to more than 6,000 people each year,” according to the organization’s website.

Holly Goldmann, director of external affairs at Casa Ruby, agrees with Budd in that many of the plights transgender people experience “start at home,” especially for transgender women of color. But that’s where Casa Ruby comes in.

“We’re there to provide the most vulnerable population in the city with life skills to save their lives, make sure they’re not dismissed and give them a family,” Goldmann says. “We want to make sure they’re always welcome – not just at Casa Ruby, but in the world.”

Goldmann says Corado plans to establish a second wellness center under the Casa Ruby name in Southeast DC, with the tentative opening date scheduled for some time in June. Budd reveals she was ecstatic for this news and commends Corado for all of her service to the transgender community over the years.

“Ruby has been absolutely phenomenal when it comes to stepping up to the plate,” Budd says. “She’s seen as a kind ear and someone who has been very important in our community.”

Along with Casa Ruby and other organizations focused on trans rights in the District, Budd says DC in particular serves as a beacon of hope for transgender people because of its policies addressing gender identity.

“DC is probably one of the most liberal places where you can come and be your authentic self,” she says. “It’s a leader because of all the things that have been put in place for transgenders.”

In 2014, then DC Mayor Vincent Gray announced that public and private health insurance plans regulated by the DC government were required to cover transition-related care. But transgender rights in the DC justice system were acknowledged long before Gray made his declaration.

Since 2009, the District has permitted transgender inmates to be placed according to their gender identity, and to begin hormone therapy while in custody. Peter Nickles, who served as DC’s attorney general in 2009, wrote in a statement that “these provisions, along with other aspects of policy, will help to ensure that the rights of transgender prisoners are respected and that their unique needs are accommodated, to the extent practicable, while they are incarcerated.”

Budd says this policy, along with gender transition health insurance coverage, makes DC a place where transgender people feel more heard and accepted.

“We’re probably one of the first places in the country where the Department of Corrections developed a policy for trans inmates,” she says. “That’s unheard of in a lot of other places.”

Charlotte Clymer, a transgender woman activist for the Human Rights Campaign, says while she feels lucky to live in DC because of how the city’s police department has improved its treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, there are still shortcomings.

“There is a lack of understanding about LGBTQ+ people and the obstacles we face, so when police interact with us, they are not always passionate or sympathetic,” Clymer says.

While there is still work to be done, there is also a strong movement within the city to address these misunderstandings. The Capital Pride Alliance is one of several DC organizations dedicated to enlightening people about the barriers faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community.

At the annual Capital Trans Pride celebration on May 18 and 19, Capital Pride Alliance Board Member Ian Brown says the nonprofit held workshops on issues faced by the trans community in order to make them more visible.

“When you’re able to put a face with an issue, it becomes human,” he says. “You can no longer ignore it. That’s something I think is missing in the larger context of policy and national change. Our visibility is very important.”

The Capital Pride Alliance is holding its annual Capital Pride Celebration from May 31 to June 9 at locations all over the District. This year, the theme is “shhhOUT” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a series of demonstrations in New York City which served as a catalyst for the modern LGBTQ+ liberation movement.

Brown says while this year’s theme largely has to do with acknowledging this important moment in the history of LGBTQ+ rights, it also makes a statement.

“We wanted to acknowledge the forces that continue to try to silence our community,” he continues.  “In being about to shout, we’re definitely giving a shout-out to our past and how we’re here now proudly speaking out in the present day.”

Budd, who will serve as a grand marshal at the Capital Pride Celebration, says she is honored for the chance to tell her story through this appointment and hopes she can inspire more transgender people to follow in her footsteps as an activist.

“I do it because I’ve been there and I believe someone has to be a mentor and be there for those who are coming through now,” she says. “But it’s not easy [to be an activist] when you don’t have some place to lay your head.”

Celebrate Capital Pride from Friday, May 31 to Sunday, June 9 around the District. Learn more at www.capitalpride.org.

Capital Pride Alliance: 2000 14th St. NW, DC; www.capitalpride.org
Casa Ruby: 7530 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.casaruby.org

No Kings Collective’s Brandon Hill and Peter Chang

No Kings Collective Is Here To Play Forever

“A mural’s not going to stop anybody from getting murdered. But is it less likely for bad things to happen on a super visible corner? Probably.”

I’m sitting across from Brandon Hill and Peter Chang when Hill tells me with full earnestness that it’s easy for an artist to tell the narrow story of, “We painted a mural, so things are better now.” But it’s the ability to shift a community’s perception by making a street corner feel safer that truly makes an impact.

We’re sharing a high-top overlooking an eerily empty Nationals Park on a recent Saturday morning, just a stone’s throw from the pair’s latest mural capturing the Americana spirit of DC baseball. When I arrive, the artists are putting some final touches on their new work, and it’s immediately apparent to me that the founders of creative production brand No Kings Collective embrace the hustle.

I don’t mean this in a buzzwordy kind of way. They’re not “creatives” or “tastemakers” that press the flesh at events and slap their name onto a project for brand recognition. They haul gallons of paint, set up ladders, break down scaffolding, brave the elements. They paint for a living.

But that isn’t to say they don’t use their brand for good. They’re both adamant about supporting the city’s art scene, especially in neighborhoods that benefit directly from their work.

“We’re all about bringing accessibility for arts and culture to the DC community,” Chang says.

He brings a fierceness and intensity to the conversation, one that commands respect, as he and Hill open up about some of the misconceptions of how No Kings came about and what they actually do.

“I’ll take this chance right now to set that straight. We’ve done a mural for Turner Elementary in Southeast. We have multiple projects in Ward 7 and Ward 8. We work with so many different nonprofits in the city. We’re all about not taxing the artists, not taxing the people. Almost all of our events have been 100 percent free.”

The artists say community projects like Turner Elementary are no-brainers, and while they are working artists relying on paychecks from commissioned pieces, they go above and beyond on a regular basis to give back to the city’s many neighborhoods – especially those that are struggling.

“I think artwork in public spaces is the bee’s knees,” Hill says after letting me know that he’s about to get super meta for a second. “I just think that it’s the bee’s knees to be able to get paid for something that benefits the public.”

A SCRAPPY START

No Kings is a familiar name in the District, attached to a myriad of projects and pop-ups. But like so many of us that play in creative spaces, what they actually do sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of their hip factor. 

“It’s interesting to hear how we’re perceived because I know what the story is, and it’s a lot more scrappy than it might seem,” Hill says.

The pair banter like an old married couple, ribbing each other mercilessly and bouncing ideas around weighty topics off one another in the same breath. Their friendship goes back 14 years to senior year of college; Hill hails from Baltimore originally, but has called DC home for the last decade, and Chang grew up in Silver Spring.

Chang says as a brand, No Kings stretches back to 2009 but became a business in 2013.

“A lot of people don’t understand a lot of the things we’ve done even before No Kings was a brand,” he says. “They think we’re just this thing that popped up out of nowhere.”

I ask the guys for clarity: No Kings is a group of artists that does large-scale public fine arts projects and gets people really excited about art content and art happenings. They use the term creative agency(ish) to demonstrate they’ve got the resources to take on projects much broader in scope than what a typical artist or art group could tackle.

When it comes to division of labor, Chang gives Hill full credit as creative director for the past year. And Hill says Chang’s ball game is creative direction in the agency(ish) space, “where murals or public artwork can be merged with social happenings or activations and require real strategic planning.”  They split administrative work, business development and other unsexy parts of the daily grind evenly; they both have zero interest in taking all the credit or making it about themselves.

“We just do what we have to do when we have to do it to get things done,” Chang says matter-of-factly. “Everything just falls under the No Kings wheelhouse, so anything we produce, we just tell people we [are doing it].”

Their refreshing lack of pretention extends to their team of five part-time artists who support projects as needed. They’re not looking for the biggest names in the local art world. They need problem solvers who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.

“Just because someone’s a really, really talented artist doesn’t mean they’d be a good worker to paint murals because you have to problem-solve a lot of practical issues, and those issues do not exist in a controlled studio,” Hill says. “Sometimes you’re just fighting the weather or you’re coming in at night to do your projection work. You’re always defeating something and none of that can aesthetically be shown. People see flowers. You need a mixed bag of art and contractor: someone who can think with both of those brains.”

GOOD ART FIRST

It’s been a busy year for No Kings, with no plans to slow down anytime soon. The agency(ish) turns 10 this year, and Chang says they’re going big. Next up is their block party on June 29 to close out the Apple Carnegie Library’s StoryMakers Festival, and the launch of a No Kings-themed corned beef and kimchi sandwich at old-school Brentwood deli MGM Roast Beef on July 13.

Hill says they’re also currently working on 15 walls throughout the city, and while the Nats mural had its big unveiling in mid-May, he still plans to make minor changes throughout the summer to ensure it’s fan-proof. He wears the hat of a sentimentalist and a pragmatist simultaneously, walking me through the symbolism of this homage to America’s favorite pastime while also being real about the high-traffic location of the artwork.

“A really good piece of art can age, so that was a challenge to think through. How can we execute these more pressing goals – to reflect the organization and baseball as a whole and to make it as Nats-y as possible – but then also make sure it’s something that can age well both from an aesthetic and technical perspective? There’s going to be beer and popcorn and children and people leaning on the wall. How do you keep this thing looking good?”

Hill takes the collaboration seriously, especially because the team approached No Kings directly and had a vision in mind for what they wanted the piece to represent. He likens murals to getting a tattoo, where you navigate any gray area with your tattoo artist before deciding what that rose or anchor is going to look like on your body. But with the Nats, he and Chang had to encapsulate the feeling of newness in the ballpark while also reflecting the nostalgia and family values tied to the sport.

“Baseball is a really unique thing because it goes back to the 1850s, but it’s [also] a completely modern thing. Everything in this ballpark is modern – alien grass, alien dirt, Under Armour – there’s technology in this park, right? But we still think about it with a nostalgic lens. That’s a constant challenge [with] anything that’s OG: trying to always be relevant, [and] trying to explain its newness and oldness at the same time.”

Hill and Chang had another first this spring in terms of creative direction for a commissioned project. Amtrak contacted them to help visually inform its annual Sustainability Report, taking form in a mural behind social sports company DC Fray’s Brentwood office [full disclosure: No Kings shares office space with DC Fray, which owns On Tap Magazine]. Hill collaborated with Amtrak’s creative team to tell a visual story about what Amtrak does through the piece, including the incorporation of lesser-used colors in the railroad service’s color palette.

Now, he’s working with Amtrak’s head designer in the sustainability department to bring the report to life by the end of this summer, with photos of rail workers and other Amtrak employees in front of the mural on hand. Hill is all about the process: he’s drawn to projects that give him the opportunity to inform the public, and possibly shift their perception of a piece or area. 

“I love the ability to be able to defend work and tell a story. If you were already familiar with a piece, that’s the best kind of art because you get to learn new things about a thing you thought you were already familiar with.”

I’m not the first reporter to ask the artists how they feel about the potential impermanence of some of their work, but they tell me it’s something they take into consideration often. Hill says in a weird way, painting a building that might be demolished soon is actually desirable because they can take greater risks with the content and attract more eyeballs.

“If it’s a really awesome piece and it’s got a shelf life, people are going to rush and make sure to catch it before that shelf life’s over.”

I ask another common question because I find it truly fascinating: how do they feel about their work being so Instaworthy? Hill doesn’t view the selfie as a unique issue for art but says it’s strange nevertheless to have an entire group of people who have nothing to do with fine art distributing your work.

“When I’m on the computer designing, I am not inserting a little character of a person to figure how good they will look,” he says.

Still, he says it’s a net win for artists if their work is included in a vanity shot on someone’s Instagram, and someone in another city can easily follow the photo credit back to the artist’s website and consume their content. Chang cuts to the chase with a more direct answer.

“A lot of our clients will say, ‘We want it to be Instagrammable.’ And we’re just like, ‘Why don’t we make good art first? And if it’s good, then people can decide [if they want to post it to Insta].’”

BREAD + BUTTER

Nearly 90 percent of No Kings’ current output is commissioned work pitched to Hill and Chang, but they remain selective about what projects they take on. The real bread and butter, they tell me, is the opportunity to take projects they’ve been asked to approach in a traditional way to the next level. Sometimes this happens by chance, and other times because they’re charged up about the subject matter and know they can take it up a notch in record time.

The former “Work It, Gurl” mural on 14th Street is their self-described bread-and-butter case study. The piece (originally meant to be a 20 x 20-foot mural on a building wall) was commissioned by the Whitman-Walker Clinic at Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center to bring visibility to their work in the LGBTQ+ community.

When the guys learned about the clinic’s efforts, they refused payment, got a grant from the DC Office of Planning and reached out to their sponsors for support. No Kings painted the entire building and threw 14 events in two months.

“We just ballooned that,” Hill says. “We had this public art thing, but we went beyond the aesthetic to try and figure out: How can it be used? Who can we help? But we don’t know everything so it’s kind of like if you build it, they will come, right? We knew people would interact with it. But we didn’t know how, so let’s execute the aesthetic and then let’s just see what else can happen.”

The inspiration for these projects seems to be mostly altruistic in nature, but I see a bit of a competitive flicker in their eyes – not competitive with other artists in the market, but with themselves to face the challenge of making something bigger than anyone originally though it could be.

“That’s why our goal for every event that we do, every mural we put out, every project and collaboration that we do, [is to] push the bar further,” Chang says.

A more recent example, and undeniably their most successful art event yet, was 14th Street’s UMBRELLA in April. The opportunity to plan the three-day pop-up in a mixed-use development fell into their laps; they were approached about using the space before it was torn down and decided to put something together with people they respect who are doing cool things in the District.

“Afterwards, our project manager was like, ‘Wow, I think that was the most successful art fair that DC’s ever done,’” Chang says. “And Brandon and I were like, ‘We threw an art fair?’ And then we looked back at it and we were like, ‘Yeah, it was an art fair.’”

The guys are particularly proud of this effort, as they should be – the event was planned in a whirlwind month-and-a-half and brought in at least $100,000 for participating artists.

“We made zero dollars on UMBRELLA,” Chang continues. “We didn’t take a commission. That money directly impacted those artists.”

They also speak in earnest about the crowd that UMBRELLA – and all No Kings events – brought out. Chang says it’s super diverse, which feels uncommon in what they describe as a segmented city that still self-segregates itself along money lines.

“When you go to our events, it’s all ages, all races, all different demographics. I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve been proud of is to create excitement for the arts for everyone.”

REAL RECOGNIZE REAL

I’m admittedly surprised when Chang and Hill get real with me about how they’ve had to fight to carve out a space for themselves as working artists in DC’s creative scene. They recall countless galleries and “creatives” who wouldn’t give them the time of day a decade ago; and now, some of those same folks are reaching out to collaborate with No Kings. In fact, Hill says their name is reflective of their struggle to get into the “polished art scene” in their early days.

“It strikes a nerve because we’ve been busting our asses for 10 years and no one gave us the time of day or recognition,” Chang says. “Now [when] we get a little bit of it, people come out of the woodwork just hating.”

Hill keeps it light, inviting the haters to come out and work one of his days.

“Be my guest,” he says, chuckling.

Even still, he says the memory of No Kings’ evolution is long, deep and littered with lack of acceptance from DC’s art scene.

“[The haters] are still just not getting that a smaller city can make a bigger footprint by working together and not being divisive. If someone is going to say ‘No,’ I already can’t work with you. So we’re just going to do our own content and work with people that want to work.”

At the end of the day, the guys remain unphased because they knows the proof is in the pudding.

“When it comes down to the actual creatives in the city who are doing stuff, it’s just real recognize real,” Chang says. “I know who is actually putting in the work and they command respect, as we command respect from other people in our industry. The more you can open people’s eyes up about what’s going on in the city, and what artists are doing and what real creatives are doing, then the people who have just been masquerading really can’t get away with it anymore. I think it’s slowly happening.”

But Chang and Hill are still playing the game, because they are in DC for the long haul and they’re not about burning bridges – as tempting as it may be.

“I mean look, this ain’t 8 Mile,” Hill says. “I’m not going to drop a mic after the rap battle and be like, ‘F–k you all,’ you know? It’s a small town. You’ve still got to work with these people. It’s not personal, right?”

Resiliency seems to be the secret sauce for No Kings; there’s a lot to be said for maintaining a thick skin and positive attitude when you have to play in the same sandbox with artists determined to compete for the same resources instead of banding together to create and promote interesting content.

“They view us as this new guard or whatever, but me and Brandon have been here 14 years,” Chang says.

“On a lift working,” Hill chimes in, before Chang tells it like it is yet again.

“We’ve seen trends come and go, but we’re here to play forever.”

Follow No Kings Collective on Instagram @nokingsdc. Learn about their projects at www.nokingscollective.com.

Photo: Trent Johnson

A Day in the Life with Smithsonian Folklife Festival Director Sabrina Lynn Motley

Before pursuing roles as vice president of Vesper Society and senior director at Asia Society Texas Center, Sabrina Lynn Motley was a little girl often wandering the halls of various Los Angeles museums. 

“Museums made sense to me because they were a place of learning,” she says. “But [they’re] also a place where you can hide out while your imagination soars.”

A professional life behind the scenes, tucked in offices within vast buildings housing art and artifacts, always made sense to Motley. After successful positions in programming and exhibition planning, the Smithsonian tapped her in 2013 as the new director of its famed Folklife Festival.

Delivering a cultural smorgasbord on the National Mall since 1967, the event focuses on global cultural heritage and connects people to hidden gems of society. This year’s theme is The Social Power of Music, and though the programming has been shortened from 10 days to only two because of the government shutdown, it’s sure to once again evoke emotions and conversations.

To learn more about the festival and Motley, we met in her tucked-away museum office and discussed her early enthusiasm for culture, the shortened festival and the responsibility she feels to engage minds.

On Tap: Did you always want to be in the museum industry growing up?
Sabrina Lynn Motley:
Yeah, I was one of those kids. I loved me some museums. I was one of those kids who didn’t like the circus [or] going to parades. My mother would say that I was one of those weird kids who you’d stick in a gallery and I’d be as happy as can be. My mother knew I was weird.

OT: Everybody’s weird to some extent.
SLM:
Yeah, but let’s be real. I’m an African-American woman of a certain age and I’m sure my mother was like, “I have this little black kid who’s into museums and into this world.” And to her credit, she let me go and explore it. I thank my mother daily for allowing me to be odd and curious. Not every kid gets that, no matter what color they are.

OT: How did you get into festival planning from a sociological perspective?
SLM:
That is a question I get asked all the time that I have no way to answer. I’m a cultural anthropologist by training and disposition, and I’ve done work in museums for most of my professional life. Before this, I largely focused on an intimate scale, so having this opportunity to do what I’ve done for many years with people who are so committed to this kind of work at a larger scale on the National Mall, which has such historic significance to this country, was a challenge that I wanted to take. Even on my worst days, there’s still something in the back of my head that says this work in this way at this place is really a gift, and I’m really fortunate to be able to do it.

OT: Was there a particular reason you gravitated toward programming? Was it a function of necessity or did you choose to go that route?
SLM: No, I chose to do it because I really like the way that culture brings people together and not always in a loving, peaceful way – because sometimes it’s hard. Culture has the power to connect and disrupt and make change – I wanted to be in a place where I could facilitate that [by] coming to the Smithsonian where there’s research and community engagement components, and a real sense that cultural heritage is valuable.

OT: Switching gears to this year’s Folklife Festival, it’s shrinking to only two days. What kind of adjustment period did you go through upon returning from the government shutdown?
SLM: It was not an easy call to make. Certainly, we know there are people that have been coming to this festival since it started in 1967, and their kids and grandkids come. No one wants to disappoint our visitors. I think in this case, we decided to put those relationships with our partners, our artists and the public ahead of just pushing something out onto the Mall.


Can’t Live Without
A hearty laugh with my mom
Meals with friends and family
Irish breakfast tea
Good movies and better books
Music, music and more music


OT: Was that always the plan to have the Social Power of Music and Year of Music coincide?
SLM: Yeah. Huib Schippers, who runs the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and to a large degree acted as the champion of the Year of Music initiative, has said publicly and privately that an inspiration for the Year of Music was the Folklife Festival as well as the Social Power of Music. It was a nice coming together of a lot of factors.

OT: With this year’s focus on music and the shortened calendar, do you feel any pressure to differentiate it from other area music festivals?
SLM: Probably no more than yes. We have a commitment to do the Folklife Festival and what that means is engaging community, being researched-based and stoking larger conversations. In that way, we have a commitment and the pressure to do what we do, even if it’s two days. People should leave knowing that they had a festival moment.

OT: I feel like all music can carry social context, but what specifically were you focused on when piecing together this year’s programming?
SLM: It wasn’t about genres or songs; it was really about the way music and sound functions. How does music create community? It’s a natural environment, it’s a social environment, it’s all of those things. What I was hoping was to have the festival break open those ideas and surprise people. How are people actively using music and sound to create community and to connect with community? How do musicians make change where they think change is needed and lessen tensions when they think that’s needed? Our job as festival makers is to explore all of that with our visitors.


Folklife festival Must-Haves
Curiosity about the work of festival participants and staff
Quality time at our marketplace and food vendors
A good hat, sunscreen and water
A quiet moment in one of the Smithsonian’s museums
Music, music and more music


OT: What were some of the best parts about planning this particular festival despite the timeline?
SLM:
The theme has resonated with a lot of people and in some way, we knew it would be meaningful. But the response we’ve gotten both from the artists and the public has been positive. It’s allowed us to link to all sorts of people in community. Honestly, working as a staff, we’ve had to manage our own internal disappointment and frustration over the shutdown. But the fact that we’ve been able to focus on these two days, it’s reminded us of our mission and the opportunity we have to do this wonderful work.

OT: How do you go about identifying themes you want to hit on?
SLM:
One of the common denominators is trying to be relevant because of the way people think of folk and traditional arts as something old, dead, gone. There are a lot of ways those connect us to a shared humanity, and I don’t mean in a hyperbolic way. I really do think the interweaving of history, knowledge, skills and practice is something that’s very integral to what it means to be human. For us, our notion of folk is broad.

OT: Would you say that the battle for relevance is one of the tougher challenges?
SLM:
Mhmm. And money. [laughs] On a serious note, you’ve got to fight for attention. Say [there’s] this person weaving this beautiful grass basket from the Georgia Sea Islands or a singer delivering a devastating hip-hop song from a suburb of Paris; if they’re all in the same creative continuum, we want you to stand here and be present with us on the Mall.

OT: These festivals are great because they take a piece of the museum and put it in a more palatable platform. Do you feel a responsibility to spark interest in and push more people toward the more traditional settings?
SLM:
We try to make the festival very participatory so they can have a conversation or get their hands dirty and make a clay pot. We focus on the reflection of our own culture too; it’s not just you go to the Mall and have a good time [and] then you leave. Can we set up these environments where people carry things away from them that speak to their own lives? It’s a feedback loop we’re trying to facilitate. We take a lot of responsibility and we think about it all the time. Some of it is you just throw the seeds out there and they’ll bloom five or 10 years from now, and we may never know it.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival takes place on Saturday, June 29 and Sunday, June 30. Features of this year’s The Social Power of Music-themed festival include Smithsonian Folkways Recordings musicians, Grammy-nominated rapper GoldLink, producer Ruby Ibarra and others. National Mall in DC; 202-633-6440; www.festival.si.edu