Photo: Trent Johnson

Andrew Trueblood Brings Energy, Earnestness and Millennial Outlook to DC Office of Planning

There is an earnestness that exudes from Andrew Trueblood. The 36-year-old director of the DC Office of Planning (OP) – the first millennial tapped for that role by Mayor Muriel Bowser last November – has already made quite an impact on the city, garnering praise from his peers committed to preserving the cultural heartbeat of the District. With 15 years of city life and six of District government experience under his belt, he brings deep understanding of and affection for the nation’s capital to the table. Though his ultimate goal is to overcome the city’s growing housing gap and produce affordable housing across all wards, Director Trueblood is also an advocate for preserving the city’s authenticity through initiatives like those born from the first-ever DC Cultural Plan, released by Mayor Bowser in April. I sat down with him to dig into how being an “elder” millennial – his words, not mine – uniquely positions him to connect with the local community, how to tackle tougher issues impacting the city like gentrification, and his love of cycling, theatre and trying Michelin star restaurants.

On Tap: How would you describe your experience running the DC Office of Planning thus far? What have been the biggest challenges? Successes?
Andrew Trueblood: I’m excited to see Planning take the role that I think it ought to take given all of the challenges that we’re facing across the city. I’m excited to work closely not only with the Mayor but also be hand-in-hand with [other agencies]. Those connections have helped elevate our work and make sure that what we’re doing is aligning across the government but also achieving results that are important. We do have to think about all of these tradeoffs between growth and equity – between what we’re asking of residents and what we need to get things done. Because we can take that broader view, we can provide other agencies the needed information for them to make long-term decisions that are moving us in the right direction.

OT: So you get to be a little higher level and think big picture.
AT: Yeah. What we’re trying to do is both [high-level] work, which is incredibly important, but then tie it to tangible deliverables that residents can feel. Some of that is by thinking about how we engage residents, but it’s also about continuously engaging, releasing intermediate results and findings. [For example], we’ve released a map, which shows where affordable housing is and is not in the city. As we find things, we want to keep sharing them and keep the conversation going. The beauty of the way that media works today is we can have that kind of ongoing dialogue with the community.

OT: How does being director-level in District government as a millennial uniquely position you to support the city through the lens of younger professionals and city dwellers?
AT: My goal is to be able to hear from, understand and articulate the needs and values of every resident. That is the mandate and it requires a degree of empathy. The other thing that is different in the workplace now than before is iterating [and] being okay with trying things and maybe failing. That idea of quicker turnarounds, iterating and building is something I’ve always found to be a valuable way of getting things done, and I’m trying to bring that to this office.


Can’t Live Without
Outdoor activities with family and friends
My bike
The District, especially its amazing arts and culture
Coffee in the morning and nachos in the evening
Podcasts and audiobooks from DC Public Library


OT: How do you connect with the local community to make sure you’re keeping a pulse on what’s happening and stay relatable?
AT: What I’ve learned – actually more since I took this role than when I was [Chief of Staff at the Deputy Mayor’s Office] – is a lot of people appreciate that I am accessible and available, and will listen and try and make the mechanics of government move. I am trained as a planner, I have a degree, I’ve been in the city for 15 years. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I know all the things. I think being authentic and honest when I engage with residents or stakeholders is really at the base of how I’m trying to do this. I’ve gone out to groups that have been very critical of the Office of Planning. My goal is to be honest with them about what we want to try to do [and] try to find places of commonality that we can work together in. Sometimes, honesty means saying hard things or saying when we disagree.

OT: How important is it to you to make those connections in the community and keep them, and how do you integrate that into your role and decision-making process in local government?
AT: One thing I learned early in my public service career is often times, it’s very easy to say something that will make someone happy now but will make that official a liar in the future. [If I] say something now to take the heat off today but then in the future, people might feel like I was not honest with them. It’s more important to be honest today than to potentially lose that trust. So building that trust across the different groups I think is really important, especially in Planning where we are balancing all of these competing interests.

OT: The District has changed so much in the past decade – we’re on the foodie map nationally, plays are coming here to make their pre-Broadway debuts, venues like The Anthem are opening. From the OP perspective, do you see anything problematic about how this impacts our economic landscape or do you view it as exciting and embrace the changes?
AT: It is problematically good. The health of a city is about its ability to have amenities and grow and serve its residents. I think having good restaurants, entertainment and arts and culture is all critical. Our schools have improved over the last 15 years. Our [health care] facilities are top-notch. Our libraries are amazing. We as a city need to grow in order to utilize the infrastructure we have. We can control structures, but we cannot control souls. We can [choose] not to build things, but that doesn’t mean that people who have wealth won’t want to live in the city. If you have the same number of structures and more people with wealth coming in, that exacerbates gentrification. We need to figure out how we grow as a city. We have the chance to be very thoughtful about what growth and development look like.

OT: Do you have concerns about DC becoming gentrified and up-and-coming neighborhoods losing their heartbeat, affordability and accessibility of the locals as younger, wealthier professionals move in? How can the city combat that through OP initiatives?
AT: I am very worried about housing costs and the ability for residents – especially low- and moderate-income residents, residents of color, longtime residents – to be able to keep their homes. Gentrification is a lot more challenging to discuss because it is multifaceted. We’re trying to produce 36,000 housing units by 2025 [and] we think 12,000 of those need to be subsidized. I worry that by focusing on a few neighborhoods, we lose sight that the forces happening are often broader. The discussion about gentrification could take us away from thinking [about] the programs and policies we need across the city.

OT: What initiatives are you supporting or leading to create affordable housing options for locals?
AT: The Mayor made the funding and programs around housing the cornerstone [of her first administration]. I think for [her] second term, [we’re] taking a step back and addressing some of these more systemic, structural questions. Why haven’t we been able to produce the housing across the income spectrum? How do we make sure our programs are aligned to produce the housing we need for the residents who need it most and what are those needs? We are working on a housing framework for equity and growth. We’re looking to see how we [can] address these housing needs in different parts of the city.

OT: Walk me through your involvement with the DC Cultural Plan. Why do you view it as important to the city?
AT: I think culture is […] what makes a city what it is. It’s part of its DNA. I think recognizing culture as its own important value and concept is what this plan seeks to do and then also to build on that. I think that, as a touchstone, is really important. I think it’s also fascinating that this came out about a week before a lot of the #DontMuteDC protests started happening. There’s a two-page opening about black culture, for example, as an important piece of the city’s authenticity. I think as a broad statement, [preserving authenticity] is what the Cultural Plan is about. It’s stating why we are vibrant and a unique place and not just any other city.

OT: What value do you think the plan’s funding recommendations bring to the city’s creative community?
AT: There are some very tangible recommendations put in place around different ways to think about funding. I don’t think it was ever meant to say we shouldn’t use grants. Grants are obviously an important piece of any support for the arts. There are untapped resources that we can tap if we create these new programs, and so there were different loan funds proposed. I’m hoping that it’ll continue to be an important guiding document and help guide how we think about culture in the city and cultural investments.

OT: Are there initiatives you’d like to pursue in the coming year that may not be on the public’s radar yet, but that you feel passionately about and would like to share?
AT: The thing I spend the most mental energy on is housing. It touches everybody. I’m trying to help have a two-way conversation. Everyone has their own housing story [so we are] thinking about how we use those stories and experiences to drive our analysis and to drive our policies. It’s clear that there’s a deep housing gap. We’re not producing the housing [that we need to] as a growing city. If in the next six months, we can do things to think about how to overcome that gap and bend the curve of housing and affordable housing production, I think that’s the biggest win we could have.

OT: What do you do for fun in DC when you aren’t working?
AT: It’s amazing to see the growth of the food scene. I have my food tracker. I track how many of the Michelin star restaurants that I’ve been to, and that’s fun. The biggest thing I do outside of the office is cycling. I love long rides and seeing the world, but I also love riding around the city – whether it’s on a Capital Bikeshare or my city bike. I love the theatre scene in DC. I’m a Woolly Mammoth subscriber. I love Fringe. I love that Fringe is growing and bringing a whole other crew of people and interest to theatre.

Stay in the loop with OP initiatives at www.planning.dc.gov and follow Director Trueblood on Twitter @atrueblood.

Tommy McFly and Kelly Collis // Photo: Hayley Olivenbaum

The Tommy Show 2.0: Tommy McFly and Kelly Collis Are Back in Action

DC sweethearts Tommy McFly and Kelly Collis are in their eighth year of friendship, and their infectious morning banter is bringing vibrance and fun to the city in a new way. When The Tommy Show abruptly ended last fall after seven years on air at 94.7 Fresh FM, the tech-savvy Collis and McFly created an app for hosting the show to continue spreading real fun in the District. Since late February, they’ve been broadcasting live every weekday morning at 7 a.m. from Collis’ home studio in Cathedral Heights. McFly, also a contributor at NBC4, has hosted some of DC’s most fun-filled events like DC Field Day and the White House Easter Egg Roll, where Michelle Obama asked him to be the first person in U.S. history to emcee the event. Collis has also been active around the city at buzzworthy events like Cosmo Couture at the National Cathedral. We talked with McFly and Collis about their comeback in broadcast, their individual passions, and how they’ve positively impacted the city in major ways – both on and off the mic. 

On Tap: How would you describe The Tommy Show’s brand to folks who might not know about it?
Tommy McFly: We like to think of ourselves as real fun DC. We like to be all things Washington. We broadcast around the Beltway and beyond. DC’s our home base and it will always be that way. We really like to think of ourselves as the true and authentic local voice in a city that doesn’t have a lot of fun all the time, and also has media content – especially on the audio side – that’s piped in from other cities who don’t necessarily understand our city and our region.
Kelly Collis: We also like to be part of the community – not just using the microphone, but literally [to] be part [of what’s happening]. Whether it’s [hosting] 5Ks [for charity] or working with Arlington National Cemetery during Wreaths Across America, we really like to get involved and not sit behind the microphone. 

OT: How did you cope with having your show taken off the air?
TM: Not a week goes by that we don’t see somebody in the wild who listened to us on the radio and they’re like, “Whatever happened to you?” Every day, we have this adventure of getting to tell people where we are now, where we’ve been and how they can reconnect with us. I’ve taken so many phones [and downloaded the app for people]. 


Tommy McFly

Work Must-Haves
Portable recorder
Bose headphones
Google Docs
Spotify
Advil

Can’t Live Without
Cold brew
Extra battery charger
Burt’s Bees
Chevy Chase Acura RDX
Barry’s Bootcamp


OT: How did you keep momentum going and recover with this amazing new opportunity?
TM: We really actually give a shit, to be honest. I got my start on radio in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which is a small town. You meet the people that listen, and they know you, and we did the same thing in DC. I think that’s why we were successful because in a town like Washington, people know when you’re BSing, and I hope people understood that we were not. We’re here and we take being a productive member of the community seriously.
KC: When we went off the air, we did a bunch of gatherings of gratitude all around Maryland and Virginia to reunite with our Tommy Show fam we’ve built over the years. We believed when we were on the radio that [by] being part of the community, you actually had to be active. I’m a native Washingtonian and it’s an honor to be on the radio in my hometown and reconnect with the community that I grew up in, and I really take that seriously. It’s an incredible opportunity.

OT: What are some unexpected benefits of this new format?
TM: We love just diving in when we hear a certain need. That’s what’s so great about what we now do digitally: we can activate [when] things pop up. We have our things we do year-round and every year, but when we hear about things like families in need or a cool initiative, we can jump on it and help, which is our favorite thing to do. 

OT: Are there any recurring events near and dear to The Tommy Show that you’re looking forward to continuing with?
KC: For eight years now – and we will continue it – we visit teachers all around the DC area. We partner with Georgetown Cupcake. We like to surprise the teachers and show them appreciation. We call it our Teacher Tour. Throughout the year, we’ll find teachers who tell us an awesome story or [about] something going on in their community, and it’s just an easy way to show them that we appreciate them.
TC: Best Buddies is a huge one, too. I love serving as chairman of Virginia and DC. We’ve tripled the programs in DC, and we’ve started welcoming elementary school chapters into the fold of inclusion. The Friendship Walk is coming up in October. That’s always huge. We just won an award for Best Buddies in the Beltway region for being the biggest walk [out of] all the Best Buddies around the country. We have over 3,000 people on the Mall for a day of friendship and fun. 


Kelly Collis

Work Must-Haves
QuickBooks
Coffee
iPhone
Portable microphone
Moleskine notebook filled with big ideas, random thoughts + to-do lists

Can’t Live Without
Alchimie Forever face cream
iPhone
Red wine
Netflix // Hulu // Apple TV
La Croix


OT: Tommy, tell us about your work with NBC4 and how you balance that with the show. Is there any overlap?
TM: It’s been awesome, and it’ll be three years in October. They’ve accepted me, Kelly and the show. NBC4 is our weather partner on the app, so Storm Team4 powers our weather. We have a new franchise called “The Scene” that focuses on the uplifting, fun events – in-the-know sort of stuff around the region. I get to be the lead correspondent on that. What we do with “The Scene” and The Tommy Show, it all overlaps. We try to be that bright, fun spot in the media.

OT: For being as busy as you both are, what else have you been spending time on this summer outside of work?
KC: I love going to paddleboard. I’ve been finding different places around DC, and I love to do that with my husband for exercise over the summer. And of course, Nats [games are] a big theme in our summertime routine.
TM:  I have a new puppy [and] his name is Cotoc. We lost Chip McFly in June and I think this puppy found my husband on the Internet. We adopted him in late June and he’s just a big, floppy ragdoll of love, so that’s been a lot of time spent on puppy raising.

Catch McFly and Collis broadcasting live on weekdays at 7 a.m. or listen to the show any time of day while it’s on repeat via the app. The Tommy Show app is available for download on Google Play and iTunes. Learn more at www.TommyShow.com

Photo: Nic Lehoux

I Spy a New Building: International Spy Museum Moves to L’Enfant Plaza

Spies are constantly in search of upgrades. The enhancements enable them to gather more data, intelligence and information, which in turn help them do their job more effectively. In this sense, DC’s International Spy Museum isn’t unlike the topics it covers. The establishment recently underwent its own upgrade, ferrying its collection, staff and visitors across town from their original downtown location into a sparkling, almost transparent building in L’Enfant Plaza.

The 140,000-square-foot space opened on May 12 and immediately doubled the museum’s size while providing more opportunities for interactive, spacious exhibits. With bright red accents, columns and a pleated glass veil, this architectural addition sticks out next to its Brutalist counterparts, making it easy for scouts to identify the city’s new addition “hiding in plain sight.”

“It had always been a dream to [move to a bigger space],” says Aliza Bran, the museum’s PR and marketing coordinator. “We had so many things we wanted to share with the public and there were only so many things that we could do in the building that we had. It was a fabulous building, but it had some limitations in that it was a historic building – you can’t change that. The subject matter we wanted to cover was far broader than what we could cover in that space.”

The concept of a new, larger space for the museum began five years ago, according to Bran. Before worrying about size, design and other physical attributes, the braintrust went about deciding what new artifacts, exhibits and displays they could bring to light if not for certain limitations. This included more in-depth looks at international stories and tactical collections, and how to make intelligence analysis digestible for visitors.

“We really tried to find a number of people so when we were putting this together, everything looked absolutely right,” Bran says. “It’s going through a lot of individuals and brains, and that was the most important thing while we were doing this because it was covering a lot of areas we had not before.”

Along with more room for their permanent collection, the building also features a lecture hall/theater, a multifunction event space and an area designated for a rotating collection. Though the temporary programs won’t roll out until next year at the earliest, the existing materials have experienced new life.

“We built this from the ground up,” Bran continues. “We got to choose where the walls went up, how big the theater is, how big the event space is and what we can do in each of the spaces. It really is beyond our wildest dreams.”
With this new lease, materials that once veered toward a reading-centric display are now more accessible to those more inclined toward an interactive experience – for instance, analysis.

“How can you make analysis interesting in a museum? Analysts laughed and said, ‘What? Are you going to have a coffee cup and a bunch of papers [and] have people sift through them?’ Fortunately, it turned out really well, but we really needed the input from people who worked in that space.”

These enhancements include games and impeccable displays in a breathable way that couldn’t be accomplished at the old location. And though the floor is set for now, Bran says the museum is still making tweaks to perfect that visitor experience.

“This is the first time doing it this way,” Bran says. “We’re figuring out how the flow works. We have been focused on that 100 percent since we opened. We want to be dynamic within that permanent space, but the first step is making sure everything is exactly how it should be and then seeing how we can adjust and update.”

Though the new space has sparked the imagination of new and old visitors alike, the next big event on the docket is sure to be of interest to those looking for a reason to check out DC’s upgraded place of everything espionage. On August 9, the museum is partnering with Brightest Young Things for Mission Impossible: Party Protocol.

“We’re excited to open up our space to [BYT] and the public for a rare look at the museum afterhours,” Bran says. “Whether it’s people who want to come to a cocktail event or people who want to see an author, we try to look at all of our different audiences.”

Whether you’re an espionage neophyte or a walking encyclopedia of all things top secret, the Spy Museum is likely to surprise and wow you in their facility. And you don’t even have to sneak your way in.

Go to www.eventbrite.com for tickets to BYT and Spy Museum’s Mission Impossible: Party Protocol on Friday, August 9. Tickets are $65-$80. For more information about the Spy Museum’s new location and upcoming programming, visit www.spymuseum.org.

International Spy Museum: 700 L’Enfant Plaza, SW, DC; 202-393-7798; www.spymuseum.org

Photos: Trent Johnson

DC’s Mixed-Media Master Kelly Towles

“It’s like a cave in here. It’s quiet and dark, and I get to just go nuts. This is my world.”

Kelly Towles is giving a tour of his O Street lair. The mixed-media artist is completely at home, donning an all black outfit consisting of a POW! WOW! Shirt, black shorts and a backward cap, which makes him look like a retired skateboarder. His studio space is a candyland for artists; there are 3D printers carving away at black blocks of plastic, a brick wall mimicking DC alleyways carrying his takes on Japanese subway graffiti and a warehouse backroom with literally hundreds of spray paint canisters. In its corners you’ll find neatly shelved sculptures, hanging LED neon signs and unopened boxes of, presumably, art materials sitting on tables.

The homegrown DC creator spends six days a week here, bouncing from project to project, painting, sculpting, breaking, fixing, designing, thinking and, if there’s time, eating.

“There’s nobody that tells me what to do, besides my wife,” Towles says. “No one is saying make this or that. I come up with my own direction and my own drive, and it’s awesome, but it’s also very selfish. If I want to paint purple elephants for the rest of my life, that’s what I want to do, but I wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of my community.”

Towles references his relationship with the District multiple times over the course of an hour. This is not lip service. His murals decorate several corners of the city, for private and public entities. He’s the creative director for DC’s iteration of POW! WOW!, a two week mural fest every  May. If not for his relationship to the city where he initially dipped his toe in graffiti, he knows he wouldn’t have a studio of his own. He wouldn’t be traveling to Los Angeles for a gallery in November. He wouldn’t hop on a plane to Japan for inspiration. Hell, he might not even be an artist.

“I love DC. I really love the city. I love working here.”

Grafitti, Metal + Anime

Towles’ childhood years were spent in Australia, where he was surrounded by a desert landscape. Sitting on one of his black couches, he recounts influences from those early years: the slapstick silliness of Monty Python and anime characters like Astro Boy, but he was most captivated by metal music’s go-to illustrator Brian Schroeder, aka Pushead, known for his graphic depictions of cartoonish ghouls and iconic skulls.

“I think for me, the real intrigue where I remember art affecting my life was album covers,” Towles says. “His stuff really engaged me into that type of art. I was a weird kid anyways, it’s what I invested my time in. I was never doing sports or anything like that.”

In 1988, his family moved to DC. Fast forward a few years and you could find the teenage Towles spray painting buildings under the cover of darkness. Though he claims his first forays into street art were “terrible,” the concept of beautifying his new home with goofy characters via paint were unshakeable.

“[My career in art] happened organically,” Towles says. “When I was studying for my BFA at [the University of] Maryland, I’d always fall back to characters and spray paint, graffiti. I had a funny moment at my final show when a professor told me, ‘These are cute but they’ll never sell.’

That professor was wrong. After years of supplementing his art via bartending or graphic design gigs, so many people were pitching him projects and buying his work that eventually he had to make his craft his full time job, ie obsession.

“Working with Apple, NPR, the National Zoo, across the board, I’m having a ‘What the f–k? This is amazing’ feeling,” he says. “You have to kill yourself. You have to bust your ass. There’s no advice I can give other than bust your ass. Constantly work, because if you don’t, it shows. I have five shows coming up, and even if I didn’t, I’d make a show just so I’d have something to work toward.”

Experimentation + Implementation

Anyone can say “work hard” or “bust ass,” but these are so often overused catch phrases that don’t mean an iota without quantifiable evidence. However, when Towles throws these edicts around in his studio, it’s palpable. His work is tangible, physical and apparent. You can walk to several buildings in NoMa and literally peer up at giant pieces he’s had two hands in.

Before unboxing canvases, plugging tools or breaking down materials, he busts ass searching for a theme of inspiration. A through line that connects a series of sculptures or murals, an unmistakable fascination.

“It’s always a project on experimentation,” Towles says as he pulls out sculptures from a collection of boxes that were resting in a rolling crate. “Just attack. Come up with a narrative. A lot of young artists ask me how I do it, and I tell them to just pick one theme to build a show around. If you’re really into Golden Girls, go with that.”

A lot of artwork adorning walls on all sides in his studio are linked by his adoration for Japanese culture. Through a Crunchyroll subscription, visits to Singapore and China, and trips to Tokyo over the past four years, you can see the narrative Towles is fixated on. The sculptures he’s prepared for November’s Los Angeles show include Air Jordans made of ramen noodles, a take on Japanese manholes and a curry rice skull.

His spirited artwork has also garnered a reputation for him locally, allowing him to avoid solely relying on individual pieces to bring home the bacon. He’s been approached by bars, restaurants and corporate companies throughout the city, as clients are drawn to his unique thematics.

“I love it when people want my work,” Towles says. “It’s a hard line, there are commissions where people want me to do a luxury pattern, but what I’ll do is create a character to be enveloped by that pattern.”

The characters he’s referencing appear in a majority of murals, paintings and illustrations. Their appearance is what I can only describe as a cross between the Gorillaz cartoons fused with anime’s penchant for unbridled personification, each carrying features unique to Towles’ sensibilities as a creator.

“I try to keep my mind open about everything,” Towles says. “I know I’m not a photorealistic artist. I love playing to my strengths, which are sloppy, fast and positive.”

DC Embraces Street Art

“It was the wild, wild West,” Towles says, describing the city’s graffiti scene in the 90s. “I’m just happy to be a contributor. In the early 2000s, there were eight or nine galleries on 14th Street and you’d jump to like ten different shows. There’s always been an artsy community, but then the recession hit and it kind of dissipated a bit.”

Towles talks about DC’s scene with a gleam in his eye. It’s a point of pride for him to involve the city in any capacity when discussing art and the inspiration behind his works. The city has gone through ebbs and flows of triumph  and turmoil, but creatives will always inhabit the District.

“Public art and installations are on the rise, but to do those big giant pieces, you need investments,” Towles says. “It’s becoming more prevalent here because people have proven that it works. Think about the Beach exhibit at the Building Museum, it brought in droves of people.”

Early in his career, Towles collaborated with artist Jasper Wong, the founder of the first ever POW! WOW! in his native state of Hawaii. The 2011 festival built on public murals and installations proved a slam-dunk success, which allowed it to spread across the globe, from Tokyo to Taipei to DC, where Towles has pulled strings as creative director since 2014.

“It’s great because it’s accessible to everyone,” Towles says. “People know it’s there every year, people plan trips based around it. It blows my mind that people are willing to do that for murals.”

Planning for POW! WOW! is a year-round task, as securing spaces in NoMa and funding for each year’s diverse group of artists takes a tremendous amount of work. Like all concepts Towles attaches himself to, he busts his ass, grits his teeth and gets to work, all to contribute toward uplifting DC.

“Murals are visual messages, and nine times out of 10 if you put something shitty up there about death, doom and gloom, it’s not going to do it,” Towles says. “I want to do something that people will come back to. That’s a cool thing to make someone visually understand.”

To follow along with Towles creative exploits, visit www.kellytowles.com and follow him on social media @kellytowles. For more information about POW! WOW!, visit www.powwowworldwide.com.

Photo: courtesy of Jamilla Okubo

Jamilla Okubo Delivers Powerful Message Through Variety of Mediums

Jamilla Okubo is a celebrated mixed-media artist fresh off her first solo exhibit “Ain’t going to tell you no story, Ain’t going to tell you no lie,” which concluded at Mehari Square on June 7. Though she described the lead up to her show as chaotic, her schedule hasn’t freed up much since. 

Okubo’s talents have already been on display in a variety of other places, ranging from this summer’s StoryMakers Festival at Carnegie Library to an illustration in O, The Oprah Magazine to commissioned drawings in several children’s books. In other words, she’s a busy woman. 

The majority of Okubo’s illustrations could themselves be considered “A Day in the Lives,” as they frequently feature young black women doing everyday things. Though the figures populating her work are colorless, pitch black and without faces, they unmistakably represent elements of the black experience. 

Drawing from influences in her own backyard to her family’s lineage in Kenya, the pieces are powerful yet graceful, and her use of color around the silhouettes is a masterwork of expression. We caught up with Okubo in a DC tea shop to discuss her illustrations, her upbringing as an artist and the significance of her work.

On Tap: Have you always been fascinated by silhouettes?
Jamilla Okubo: When I was at Parsons [School of Design], I majored in integrated design and my focus was fashion, but I could take other classes and tailor them to fashion. I had a class called “Love” and my professor had us figure out what our purpose was, what were we investigating. I went back to themes I was exploring at [the] Duke [Ellington School of the Arts]. I still loved fashion illustrations, so I wanted to tie those in. I started taking some of my favorite fashion magazines and began blacking out the models. I was studying how you can display emotions through pose or posture. 

OT: It’s a prominent feature in a lot of your work. What was it like the first time you used that aesthetic?
JO: It was exciting. I wanted to use it as a tool to create positive representation of black people, so then I started changing their features – maybe making their lips a little larger [and] making them more obvious. I took that and started illustrating with patterns [in the background], looking at African fashion that I was inspired by. 

OT: Was it a natural decision to make them completely black?
JO: I have thought about experimenting with using other colors like purple or orange. I’ve done it once, but you could say it was mostly monochromatic. I was scared. I feel like it evokes a different emotion when you use different colors. 

OT: What is your process like? What’s the difference between doing a project for a client and creating your own piece?
JO: My process for both is pretty similar: I start with a theme. I’ll come up with a color palette, figure out how I want to express that theme and mock up different ways of showcasing what I’m trying to say. 

OT: What’s it like collaborating with authors on children’s books?
JO: It’s been liberating because most of them gave me complete freedom to do whatever I want. They’ll send me a manuscript and I’ll ask if they have an aesthetic and they’ll just answer, “You.” It scares me, because what if it’s not that good?


Work Must-Haves
AirPods
Music playlists for different vibes
Snacks
Good lighting
Paint, markers and sketchbook


OT: What are the struggles you face with that?
JO: [With] the book that I’m finishing up right now, I had a hard time coming up with concepts. It’s a book about African folktales, and the stories are really complex. Some of them are dark. Just coming up with concepts sometimes can be the most difficult.

OT: Describe your first artistic memory.
JO: It was definitely elementary school. Early on, I had a really good art teacher and she had us always doing some crazy projects. My mom said I used to always paint pictures, and she noticed something about the way I used colors. 

OT: What kinds of things were you drawing?
JO: People – probably me, my mom and my grandmother. Family or scenery or animals. I remember being obsessed with cheetahs. 

OT: Was your family one to put things on the fridge?
JO: My mom was because she went to grad school for photography, but she didn’t finish. I think that’s a huge influence in how I got into art because she also went to Howard University for television production. When I was younger, she’d take me to classes and use me as a little actress in her films. 

OT: What steps did you take to push forward with your career path in the arts?
JO: At a young age, I just really wanted to do art. I don’t know if I was focused on a skillset. I just wanted to make pretty pictures. By the time I was in high school, maybe sophomore or junior year, I knew I had to take it seriously. I transferred [to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts] my junior year. That’s where I got my foundation training in drawing, painting and graphic design. 


Can’t Live Without
Alkaline water
Music (a must)
Nature
Dancing and laughing with my friends
Essential oils (amber oil and Egyptian musk)


OT: When did you start crafting your aesthetic?
JO: [The Duke Ellington School of the Arts] was really big on empowering a lot of the young black students. I had a great art history teacher, and he introduced us to black contemporary art and other worldly artists. I realized I could make artwork about my identity. I started looking into African fashion. I’m really into patterns and I wanted to design my own patterns, and that was a way for me to explore the themes of my work. I try to think about the African diaspora as a whole. I wanted to know more about where my dad is from – Kenya – because I grew up with my mom, so I didn’t know much about the culture there. I thought that looking at art and fashion would help me connect.

OT: Do you feel like your art is more important now in this political climate?
JO: I feel like it always has been. There are always political things going on. I think it’s a small portion of the grander scale of making sure women of color and black women feel empowered. Using art as a tool of empowerment is important. It’s a visual reminder that you are accepted and beautiful. 

For more information or to see her work, visit Okubo’s website at www.jamillaokubo.co and follow her on Instagram @jamillaokubo and Twitter @vivaIllajams

The Shop at Shaw's AC and Jamie Lynn // Photo: Trent Johnson

The Future is Now at The Shop at Shaw

Jamie Lynn and Aaron Claxton are something of a dream team. With a bevy of talented stylists – ones who put their art and customer care first – the co-owners opened The Shop at Shaw in 2018. In the year they’ve been open, the team has cultivated a different kind of salon environment. Cuts are genderless, the salon is receptionless, and creativity and inclusion are just as important as making sure you leave with a style that reflects your individuality. We chatted with Claxton (better known as AC) and Lynn about what makes their salon so pioneering, their passion for hair, and how they hope to encourage positive change and lead by example in the world of hair and beyond through their business.

On Tap: What first drew each of you to hair?
AC: As a kid, I always cut hair – like in my basement. I was in a lot of rock bands, so I did a lot of mohawks and some weird design stuff. My mom said I couldn’t live in the basement and play the guitar and not go to school or work. So, I walked into the [hair] salon where my girlfriend then – wife now – was getting her hair done because she was a hair model for a show. I looked around and was like, “These people are like me.” They’re listening to music. There’s this cool vibe. They’re not behind the desk – they’re being social, they’re being creative. I started sweeping the floor there the next weekend and continued to work on music, and then obviously just focused on the hair.
Jamie Lynn: My background is actually in art and I love everything aesthetically pleasing. I have a very visual eye, and I am very creative. I just kind of segued into hair. I always wanted to do it. I really like makeup [and] everything from fashion, so I just pushed myself and made myself do it. I was running a beauty salon out of my college bathroom. I thought I had another career in mind but then I was like, “Oh wait, I think I like this a lot.”

OT: How did you come together to open The Shop at Shaw?
AC: We came together because I had already found the space. I was building it out and ready to go. I was looking for someone to be my right hand – someone who could be down here all the time to kind of run the show, which is what Jamie does. Two of my best buddies from high school [the Wilder brothers] own two restaurants here in Shaw: Chaplin’s and Zeppelin. They used to come to me for years. But then once they got super busy down here, they started seeing Jamie. I was looking for someone [to work with] and they told me, “You’ve got to meet this lady.” So, we went and got a drink.
JL: I had a vision of shaking things up – changing and curating things into a new idea of what a business behind hair would be. We’re receptionless [and] genderless. We let people run their own business within ours and we are all artists first, so everybody that we hire is an artist. Anything that anybody can bring to the table in that regard moves us forward.


AC’s Work Must-Haves
Hattori Hanzo shears
Work apron
Wahl 5-Star Cordless Magic Clip clippers
My amazing crew
My amazing work environment

AC Can’t Live Without
My wife Erin
My three kids Colette, Charlie + Maeve
Recording studio
Guitars
Boat + fishing gear


OT: Tell me more about the services you offer, especially the genderless cuts. Why was it important to you to set up your services this way?
JL: The biggest thing [with] the genderless [cut] is looking a little bit at the pink tax, [and] knowing that this was one of the last things that was acceptable for a woman to be charged more for – no matter the length of her hair or the length of time it took. It’s a no-brainer. We actually based it on the length of time it takes to do your hair. We’re kind of forgiving in any area when people book wrong – we just have to re-educate them. So saying, “This is actually what it means to cut medium-length hair, so it’s a medium-length appointment.” But it could also still be a long appointment. I tell people that have two inches of hair [but still] want to spend some extra time with me to book a long appointment.

OT: Do you find people are more comfortable with genderless services and feel empowered to embrace styles that truly make them feel like themselves?
JL: We definitely have targeted a very gender-neutral clientele. It’s really rewarding the first time you see somebody that got to book a medium haircut and they identify as they.
AC: It’s pretty rad, and as Jamie said, just a no-brainer. It’s just fair.

OT: Getting your hair done is both personal and an art form. How do you help your clients express themselves when it comes to hair?
AC: Part of it has to come naturally. Not everybody’s cut out for this. You can give some guidelines to people and you can get guidelines from people about what’s okay to talk about what’s not okay to talk about – What do you bring up? What do you leave out? – but I think 90 percent of it is you.
JL: I think it’s communication – having a clear understanding and building a relationship with trust. Make sure that you’re on the same page before you actually go in and touch somebody. Your head is a very intimate area. It’s also just admitting when something’s not your skillset. That’s how we end up really working as a team. Not everyone’s strong on the same thing. Even though it’s considered one industry, we all have different areas within that industry.


Jamie’s Work Must-Haves
Listerine strips
IGK Jet Lag Dry Shampoo
A good Spotify playlist
Interesting humans
Lysol

Jamie Can’t Live Without
A solid true crime podcast // documentary
Cheese
Glitter
Honda Ruckus
Fluffy animals


OT: What’s been the most unexpected thing you’ve experienced since you got your start in this field?
AC: Just how great everyone’s done in the first year. I am proud of Jamie and myself and our staff. Also, just the amount of love we got from the neighborhood right off the bat. I knew people would grow to like us, but it was like instantaneous love and it’s been awesome.
JL: I came from Logan Circle and I was there for seven years, and not a single person in the neighborhood knew my name. Before we even opened here, this entire neighborhood was so receptive and knew our names and couldn’t wait for us to open. It’s more of a community feel. Everyone was like, “We want to partner with you [and] see what we can do for you” and we were like, “Is this the city?”

OT: What is your hope for the future of hair, both as a business and how people approach their individual styles?
JL: I would like for it to grow to be more inclusive [and] more well-known for the art behind it and what it actually takes to become a great artist behind the chair.
AC: More inclusive with more safe and creative spaces. We got more involved with not just the art of doing hair but music, painting and all kinds of creative stuff.
JL: Instead of just going in to have an appointment, a lot of our guests come in earlier. We have free Wi-Fi and a bar that sets up where you can put your laptop while your hair is processing. We partnered with DC Brau so we always have a keg on tap. People will grab a beer and just chill out. It has a little bit more of that hipster, “Oh, I actually belong here” feeling instead of feeling like, “Oh God, I’m here and everyone’s looking at me. My hair is not done. Do they notice my roots?” Just more, “Oh, I actually belong.”

Follow The Shop at Shaw on Instagram @theshopatshaw and learn more at www.theshopatshaw.com.

The Shop at Shaw: 1924 8th St. #145, NW, DC; 202-265-7467; www.theshopatshaw.com

Marlee Milton, Kelcie Glass and Nicole Garder // Photo: Trent Johnson

GIRLAAA Collective Provides Safe Space and Creative Platform for Black Women

The subtle nuances of pronunciation never cease to amaze me. I’m sitting across from Kelcie Glass, Nicole Garder and Marlee Milton as they take turns saying the colloquialism that inspired their collective’s name. “Girlaaa” is a common greeting in the District, one generally used to express excitement. But Glass quickly points out that it can also have a “Girl, chill” vibe with just the slightest variance in tone. 

And just like its name, GIRLAAA’s ethos follows suit. While chatting with one-third of the nine-piece group’s powerhouse of talented women at Eaton Hotel’s flagship restaurant American Son, it becomes quickly apparent to me that every action the collective takes is meant to champion women of color and their accomplishments – but also challenge them by digging into substantive content and getting real. 

Over the past year, GIRLAAA has expanded from throwing women-centric parties around the city to hosting 15 killer events including three activations at the Hirshhorn, creating a biweekly podcast recorded at Eaton and coworking space 202Creates, and growing their tightknit crew to include visual artists, DJs, producers, hosts, programmers and more. Each one-hour episode of the “1-800-GIRLAAA” podcast includes interviews with local luminaries and a DJ set highlighting edgy sounds from strong women. 

Glass, a marketing and outreach guru, Garder, an ethically sourced jewelry consultant and documentary filmmaker, and Milton, a full-time musician with an artist development side hustle, walked me through what the collective means to them, why supporting the area they grew up in is critical, and why smoking a joint with Rihanna would be lit.

On Tap: What was the evolution from events to the “1-800-GIRLAAA” podcast?
Nicole Garder: Dominique [Wells] was the creator of GIRLAAA, and she reached out to women in different creative spaces to come together. We started out as a party and then from that, we saw an even bigger need to give a platform to all women in creative spaces.
Kelcie Glass: Then the podcast was born from that. We were doing GIRLAAA activations. Eaton reached out to us before we even thought about doing a podcast and said, “Hey, we want GIRLAAA to do a podcast here.” Nicole had a lot of production [and] programming experience. I do too, and I can also host. Marlee can DJ and also host really well. We record in multiple spaces now, but it was born from being asked just based on the premise of the collective.

OT: What was your original goal in hosting the parties? Who did you want to bring together?
KG: It started as having a safe space for women, and we also wanted to highlight women of color who don’t always get a platform to show their talents. The party was cool but now we can do different interviews [and] live events with the podcast, [and have] real substantive conversations. Our most recent party was on the rooftop of Eaton for Women’s History Month, and that was crazy. 

OT: What percentage of your focus now is on the podcast versus hosting events?
NG: I would say we want to focus on both, with the emphasis on the podcast and doing live events. It’s really about engaging people online but also doing that in real life. 

OT: How do you pick the music for each episode?
Marlee Milton: Really, I just go with the vibe. I know our regular sets and parties are really centered around women in music and just that strong sound – like how Insecure has those really edgy, catchy, striking songs from women – that’s something I really try to hone in on. Just a good vibe, a good time. 

OT: What’s the creative process for picking your guests?
NG: It’s really figuring out what’s happening in our local community and then branching out toward the entertainment topics [affecting] women of color. That’s our target audience. We have different segments focusing on who is really inspiring us – women in power. It’s very important to use our platform to share with other people, and that’s also how we go about finding talent to [have] those deeper conversations.
KG: We hadn’t even started yet and [journalist and former Wizards cohost] Gia Peppers was like, “Yeah, I want to come on and do it.” We had Janea West [on the show]. She has this [DC-based] web series called Grown, which is really, really great. Nicole and I just went to Essence Fest where we popped up on Lena Waithe and AlunaGeorge. We’ll go where needed, especially if we have really great content. These women are huge right now. The concept is a good enough pitch for people to really engage with us.

OT: Any guests you’re dying to have on?
NG: People with big, expansive personalities and bringing those people to our local community, which is so important for me.
KG: I would say Tracee Ellis Ross [and] NAO. Obviously, Rihanna. I just want to smoke some weed with Rihanna and talk shit.
NG: Same. [laughs]
KG: I think she’d be down with the concept, too. That would be lit.
MM: I really want to speak to a lot of the independent women in the industry and a lot of the black pop and black punk artists [who are] women. I really want to get their perspective and process and experience.

OT: What about a local guest, maybe someone under the radar?
NG: I would love to have a conversation with April George of April + VISTA. I love the texture of her voice, but also she’s really focused on the issues that are happening in the DC space in terms of supporting creatives and what that really looks like.
KG: I’m leaning a little more political. I know some young women of color who are running for local office, but also national figures who are located here. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez follows us on Instagram because she saw our installation that included pieces of her by [visual artist, illustrator, animator and GIRLAAA member] Trap Bob. I would love to sit down with her and have a conversation. Also, I would like to bring the Mayor [on for a] women-centric conversation, but also just [to ask her] about what she thinks about the culture of DC right now and its trajectory and what we can do to build legislation around maintaining it. 


GIRLAAA MUST-HAVES
Great energy
Creative women in our circle
Tenacity
Bold personalities
Dedication to feminism
Love + appreciation for the native DMV culture


OT: What about event wish lists? What’s a space you think could really be a good platform or bring in the right people to highlight your mission?
KG: A lot of the spaces that we’ve been coming into have been to bring in this energy. They realize that they are lacking or have a void in terms of black women or creatives in their spaces. We are in talks with some major theaters right now. It’d be fun to do a podcast and then a party afterwards [at 9:30 Club].
NG: In the film sphere of things, definitely a screening, having those conversations with the directors.
NG: I would also love to do a women’s conference, specifically.
KG: A conference would be great. A women-centric one would be really cool – and regularly, annually. I would also want to venture into more of the political space. We’re potentially supporting a cannabis-centric event coming up in September that is about recreational cannabis, but also the business of that and how black and brown people get into those conversations. 

OT: What goals do you have for GIRLAAA – both the podcast and the scope of events – in the next year? Do you view it as more of a creative outlet or a transition to where you want to be full-time?
KG: We definitely want to travel more and connect with people in different cities. [And] more robust programming with larger artists. I think that’s feasible, it’s just the time and energy. [If we were] full-time, we could actually do more robust things and have these big artists come and do a whole weekend of events and things like that.
MM: I definitely see us being the go-to group for bringing our perspective and audience to events and programming in general. I really want to see a GIRLAAA festival. To me, all of us have come together for this mission and it’s full-time already even though we’re juggling so many things.
NG: That’s what I love most about the collective: if one person is there, we’re all there. 

OT: How did you come up with the name? What does it mean to each of you?
KG: Girlaaa is a slang in DC. Let Marlee say it.
MM: Girlaaa. It’s like, a greeting in a way.
KG: It can be a greeting. It’s basically like, “Girl, chill,” or “Girl, yes.” Either way, it depends on the context.
NG: It’s all about the tone.
KG: It depends on the context and the tone.

OT: What context and tone do you prefer?
MM: Excited, sisterly, hyping you up…
KG: I like the more questionable one. [All laugh] The GIRLAAA collective is definitely the hype energy one.

OT: What are some of your favorite things to do in DC when you’re not working or podcasting?
MM: Dance. I love to dance [at] U Street Music Hall, Eighteenth Street Lounge, Velvet Lounge, Cloak & Dagger, Sotto – so many places.
KG: I like to go to concerts [at] 9:30, Anthem, U Hall. I love concerts and music – very music-centric.
NG: I would say definitely concerts but also being one with nature. I spend a lot of time in Georgetown, so kayaking and paddleboarding.  

Listen to the “1-800-GIRLAAA” podcast at www.mixcloud.com/GIRLAAA. Learn more about GIRLAAA at www.domo.world/girlaaa and follow the collective on Instagram @girlaaa.world.

Monica Alford interviews Mayor Muriel Bowser at Culture House DC // Photo: Rich Kessler

Mayor Muriel Bowser Talks DC’s Grit, Growth and Cultural Authenticity

Mayor Muriel Bowser lights up when I ask about her 1-year-old daughter, Miranda. I’m curious about what mom-and-daughter adventures they embark on around the District, but more importantly, I want to know how she juggles being at the helm of DC government with motherhood. She urges moms to give themselves a break and do the best they can, but she’s honest that it’s a balancing act. Striking that constant balance extends beyond carving out quality time with her baby while leading DC. It’s apparent that she is simultaneously supportive of the city’s longtime residents while also embracing the changing economic landscape. From releasing the DC Cultural Plan and creating the Office of Nightlife and Culture to hiring bright millennials ready to lead in director-level positions, it’s clear that she strives for forward-thinking initiatives. As I sat across from Mayor Bowser on the stage of community art space Culture House DC, I caught a brief but powerful glimpse of what our city’s cultural heartbeat means to her and how she plans to preserve it. 

On Tap: How have you watched the DC economic landscape shift over the past decade as the city’s become a foodie destination and arts and culture hub? Do you view this as a positive impact on the city overall?
Mayor Bowser: I think it’s outstanding that many, many more restaurants have located and created more jobs in hospitality. We have welcomed Michelin star ratings to the city and people are definitely talking about how the food scene has exploded. I think it’s all positive.

OT: How do you predict the arrival of Amazon will impact the DC area? Do you have concerns that we’ll experience a shift in affordability and accessibility due to the surrounding tech areas and overall tech industry?
MB: We’ve been focused during my entire tenure on how to create more affordable housing for Washington, DC and I’m very proud that we’ve been able to add thousands of new units. We have 20,000 units in the pipeline. But we know we have to do a lot more. By the year 2025, we have to add 36,000 new housing units to DC alone. For us to continue to be competitive and track down people and keep and retain families in the District, we know we have to [provide] competitive housing. 

OT: What measures are you taking to support long-time residents with concerns about gentrification? How can the city protect the local community while also embracing growth?
MB: Well, it takes everybody, right? It takes the government. It takes the community. It takes people who’ve lived here for five generations like my family, and people who are just moving to DC. Everybody finds something that they love about our town – that it’s growing, we’re improving [our] schools, parks, recreation, walkability, public transit – you name it, we have it. But there is a certain grit about Washington, DC that’s beloved and should be treasured. 

OT: Almost one year into your second term, what are your core priorities for the city? What high-level initiatives are you currently most focused on? What are some of the biggest impacts you hope to make over the course of the next three years?
MB: We continue to be laser-focused on housing. I see making DC more affordable as one of the most important things I can do in my second term. We have been focused on affordable units. We’re also focused on creating new jobs that are paying good, sustaining salaries. And that’s not just in tech, even though we’ve made a big play in tech and we were named again one of the best places for women in tech, and we’re attracting founders in startup companies and capital to come help those companies grow. We are also going into our fifth year of 202Creates. That’s where we promote the creative economy in DC and make sure people know that you can really earn a living in the arts here in DC. We’re talking about all art forms, housing, [and] affordable [and] creative spaces, and making sure people know that they can make a living in the arts. 

OT: How do you stay connected to the local community? How do you make yourself accessible to locals to make sure voices are heard, especially minorities and communities in need?
MB: We have very robust outreach [programs]. Last year, we formed a new Office of Nightlife and Culture (MONC). We do find that a lot of our newer residents don’t connect in more traditional ways to government, and so going to them where they are and connecting to them in many ways is super important. Our Office of Nightlife and Culture works with the business community and community groups to make sure our nightlife economy is thriving and forward-looking.

OT: MONC Director Shawn Townsend certainly had stiff competition, with 500-plus other applicants. Why was he the right fit for the role, and why did this office feel necessary at this time for our city?
MB: There were a lot of applicants. It has been kind of a maiden voyage as an office. It was important for us to focus its mission – and the mission is not all business, it’s not all community. It’s focused on how we can promote our nighttime economy. We have people from around the region coming to Washington to enjoy the restaurants, theatre, [neighborhoods like] The Wharf, sports, [etc.] that we’ve developed here. 

OT: It seems the focus of the office is two-fold: supporting the business aspects of nightlife and cultural preservation. Can you speak to Director Townsend’s plan for the cultural components a bit, as those seem to be grayer area with less tangible outcomes?
MB: I wouldn’t put that responsibility solely on him. We also have an office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment that does a lot to attract artists to DC and give them various ways to showcase their talent. We have an arts commission [the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities] who is responsible for helping to fund artists, including preservation projects and documentary projects. Our documentary on go-go is an award-winning documentary. 

OT: Tell me about citywide effort 202Creates’ celebration of the local creative community in September. Why is the census important?
MB: It’s a monthlong extravaganza, really. In all eight wards, there will be some kind of showcase of the arts including our creative hair stylists and makeup artists. 

OT: What impact do you think tapping Andrew Trueblood as the first millennial to direct the Office of Planning has made thus far?
MB: What’s important to me is to hire the best, and he was the best. He also represents a group of people who are in the government who had earned a promotion. He was in a group of about four or five people who had been serving in various capacities who at the start of my second term I appointed as directors. I think it’s important for all of the people that I manage – 37,000 people – that they see that their hard work, creativity and fresh ideas will be rewarded. I couldn’t be happier about those decisions.

OT: Do you see unique value in the ways millennial directors can connect with younger generations in the DC community?
MB: I think it’s important to have diversity of voices. Age diversity is one. I think sometimes younger people are overlooked because somebody will say, “Well, you don’t have the experience” or “It’s not your turn, wait your turn.” My view is if they have demonstrated hard work ethic and ideas, and have the propensity to lead, then they should be given the opportunity.

OT: What about local theaters or music venues? Are there any spots you really enjoy?
MB: We recently held my inauguration activities down at The Anthem, at The Wharf, and I’m reminded sometimes that people are introduced to new venues because I’ve invited them to some event, or the city has hosted something there. We really do try to go around the city to different venues to invite DC residents to make sure they’re checking out those venues. A lot of times, it’s [their] first time there. For a lot of people, The Anthem for our swearing-in activities was their first-time experience of the music venue, but also of the hotels and restaurants nearby. 

OT: As a mom devoted to her career, do you have any advice for women who are not in traditional 9 to 5s, that have more demanding career paths and want to truly excel as leaders in their field and also be wonderful, hands-on moms?
MB: I wish I was an expert, but I’m not. I’m doing the best that I can, and I suspect most people are. My biggest piece of advice is to give yourself a break and know that everything is not going to be perfect. Do the best you can and love your child and manage your time as best you can. I also try to protect our time together. When I have that scheduled time, I try not to let anything interfere with it.

For more on the DC Cultural Plan, go to www.dcculturalplan.org.

Learn about Mayor Bowser’s other initiatives at www.mayor.dc.gov and follow her on Twitter @mayorbowser.

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