Halcyon Fosters a More Creative DC

The suggested attire for a recent event on a loading dock in DC’s Warehouse District was “revolutionary.” The “classical music rave” featured a full orchestra performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, along with world-class ballet dancers spinning beside audience members invited to dance the night away with them.

Granted, we’re talking Union Market’s Dock5, a space known for hosting trendy and experimental gatherings catered to culture-hungry urbanites. But the event’s intention was apropos as cries of resistance grow ever louder across the city.

And what was behind this pagan revelry? Halcyon.

One of the District’s newest and most exciting nonprofits, Halcyon grew out of S&R Foundation’s Halcyon House in Georgetown – a well-supported, in-residence incubator for social entrepreneurs founded in 2014. Halcyon launched this year as a standalone organization with the mission to “catalyze emerging creatives striving for a better world.”

The incubator remains a major part of Halcyon, where the types of projects fellows develop are businesses geared toward greater social good.

“These are not dating apps, as we like to say,” says Kate Goodall, Halycon’s CEO. “They are meaningful companies that are actually going to respond to what we’re seeing as a shift in consumer culture around what they want the products that they’re buying to be doing.”

Along with the incubator, Halcyon introduced its arts lab this spring, a sister program for civic-minded artists. Eight artists selected from DC and around the world will have the opportunity to partake in a nine-month fellowship that grants funding, resources, entrepreneurial support, and creative and intellectual collaboration. Fellows will live in the historic Fillmore School in Georgetown, and will broaden their community impact through a creative mentorship program with local high school students.

“[Halcyon] is about providing haven,” Goodall says. “It’s about creating a safe space and community for creative people to produce…and this idea of supporting and really being devoted to the power of creativity, which we think will be more and more important in the 21st century.”

For Halcyon’s team, that desire for meaningful creation also translates into desire for meaningful shared experience, the impetus behind the Rite of Spring event. So, in addition to the incubator and arts lab, the organization is taking collaboration and creative engagement into the community with several programs, including Halcyon Stage, Halcyon Stage pop-ups and Halcyon Dialogue.

Enter Septime Webre.

The city’s beloved and charismatic choreographer stepped down as artistic director of the Washington Ballet last June, after 17 years.

“I think what we’re seeing in Washington, DC is a kind of breaking of molds in lots of ways,” notes Webre, who says that his new adventure at the helm of Halcyon Stage is “dizzingly exciting.”

“As we started to envision how we might foster a dialogue about the nature of creativity in the 21st century, we knew that we needed to de-silo the conversations,” he says. “Creativity was happening in lots of places, but not in any sort of way that one could experience it the way we experience life, which is all of these exciting things abutting each other. And so that was the premise. We wanted to be as eclectic as our lives are, and be somewhat comprehensive, but also develop programming that was not being developed by other organizations, so that it would be unique.”

The resulting programming is indeed eclectic – from more intimate experiences like an incubator and artist meet-and-greet beer garden, to a one-man show with NPR’s Ari Shapiro, to the explosive DC premiere of BalletX with works from choreographers Trey McIntyre and Matthew Neenan set to the music of Amy Winehouse and the indie rock band Beirut (on May 13).

The stage events like the Rite of Spring rave and BalletX come with a price tag, but Webre and the other organizers seem aware that inclusivity and outreach is crucial. Halcyon Stage pop-ups and experiences “to activate the whole neighborhood” compliment ticketed evening performances. For example, at noon on May 14, there will be a pop-up dance performance to the music of Beirut right at Union Market, with a different three-minute public concert at Dolcezza at 12:15 p.m., another behind Cotton & Reed at 12:30 p.m., etc.

And while the pop-ups are sure to be a draw for the Union Market and Ivy City distillery-going crowds, beyond the urban elite, Webre says a suite of educational engagement programs are critical to help “unleash the creativity inside” everyone.

Halcyon Stage House Party, which culminated last month, for example, was both a public concert and a workshop run in partnership with KIPP Public Charter Schools. Using the theme “visions of the future,” one group of students composed and performed an original hip-hop song, while another group choreographed a dance to it, and still another 20 students painted original works inspired by their peers.

“That was the kind of empowering, educational [and] engaging program that we will replicate over time,” Webre says.

DC is a smart city, and one full of people and organizations pushing boundaries to make change in the world. But there are also changes happening here, now – and with everyone looking for their bite of the capital’s apple, it is critical that we all play an active role in making those changes the right ones. If Webre’s vision is any indication of what that might look like, Halcyon appears to have the promise of DC’s big names doing it right.

“We can find beauty all around our lives,” Webre says. “So it’s not just a moment for the community to come together, it’s also a really important metaphor – instruction, really – for how we should walk through our neighborhoods, the places we live in, the places we call home, and see the beauty all around us.”

Learn more about Halcyon and the organization’s upcoming events at www.halcyonhouse.org.


Courtney Sexton

Courtney Sexton is a New Jersey native who grew up between the Delaware River and the sandy Pine Barrens. She has called D.C. home for long enough to now be considered a “local”. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is the co-founder of D.C. literary reading series and writing community, The Inner Loop. She listens to a lot of music and sometimes even tries to make it. She writes a good deal about places and human relationships to them, constantly exploring the intersections of nature and culture. Her dog, Rembrandt, features prominently in her life and work.