Maps Glover // Photo: Timoteo Murphy

A Day In The Life With DC Artists Making Social Impact

Living in the DMV spoils us.

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

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

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

Photo: courtesy of JD Deardourff

JD DEARDOURFF

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Photo: Peter Gonzalez

XENA NI

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Ashley Llanes

MAPS GLOVER

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Photo: courtesy of Casa Ruby

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

It all starts with family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Kings Collective’s Brandon Hill and Peter Chang

No Kings Collective Is Here To Play Forever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A SCRAPPY START

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD ART FIRST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BREAD + BUTTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REAL RECOGNIZE REAL

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

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

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

“Be my guest,” he says, chuckling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: courtesy of Eaton

DC’s New Wave of Hotels: Socially Aware Cultural Hubs on the Rise

The way we experience commerce is changing.

In the Internet age, shoppers who make the effort to visit bricks-and-mortar expect more than an experience. They want to activate good – whether through self-improvement, support for local artists or improving the workforce.

Take the brand-new Apple store, now housed in the Carnegie Library, which was lovingly restored to include a learning atrium and upgraded space for the resident DC History Center. Initial fears that Apple would exploit and destroy the Beaux-Arts space have evaporated amid excitement that locals are promoting the stylish, revitalized platform. This includes a three-day block party hosted by creative agency No Kings Collective at the end of June to wrap up Carnegie’s six-week StoryMakers Festival.

The way we travel is going through the same evolution. In 2019, if someone is going to pause Insta and actually go somewhere, the most attractive hotels are those integrating social awareness, the arts and cutting-edge comfort with the guest experience – and enriching the local scene in the process.

Guests are not just buying a hotel room. They are selecting from a menu of self-improvement, artist and small-business support, and modern style. The stylishness is immediately obvious when you walk into Eaton DC, located on the quiet side of Franklin Square downtown. The enormous windows, lush natural foliage and blonde paneling immediately impart a sense of balmy well-being.

Eaton DC Radio // Photo: Adrian Gaud

But style – and Instagramability – is only part of the experience.

“Eaton DC not only serves as a hotel, but at its heart, as a platform reimagining hospitality as a vehicle for art and radical progressive social change,” says Katherine Lo, founder of Eaton Workshop, which encompasses the hotel.

The lobby includes a recording studio, home of Eaton Radio, and Lo is excited to officially launch Eaton Media later in 2019.

“As one of the core pillars of Eaton Workshop – culture, impact, media, wellness and house – Eaton Media’s mission will support underrepresented filmmaker voices and stories in line with the brand’s radical and progressive values, championing diversity and inclusivity across gender, race, identity and more,” she notes. “We will curate, develop, produce, distribute and celebrate original, rarely seen and commissioned short films from filmmakers whose development as artists and storytellers we are truly honored to support.”

LINE DC’s Full Service Radio // Photo: Pierre Edwards

Meanwhile, LINE DC leads with style and a sense of history. The hotel is an AdMo Insta-star for its location in a breathtakingly restored 19th-century neoclassical church (the church’s organ was transformed into a contemporary chandelier).

“The LINE is wholly shaped by the neighborhood that we’re part of, and by the city at large,” says Morgan H. West, creative/culture director at the LINE.

Guests can peer into the glass-enclosed recording studio, home of Full Service Radio, a community podcast network and Internet radio station. Recent episodes include “Opaline: Briona Butler’s Iridescent Utopia in DC” and “WPA Live Series: Veronica Swift & the U.S. Air Force Band.”

The LINE also operates the Adams Morgan Community Center, a community and nonprofit incubator space that provides free space and capacity for the arts and philanthropic efforts, with priority given to artists and nonprofits in Ward 1.

“Whether it’s through partnerships with the DC Public Library, the Ward 1 nonprofits working in the Adams Morgan Community Center, or the artists featured throughout the hotel and in our rotating public art program – we’re proud of the constant cultural and creative exchanges that happen across our spaces,” West says.

But not every stylish, socially conscious hotel needs a radio station. With a focus on modern budget travelers, Pod DC has led the way in integrating city life into its amenities and using them to move guests out into the District beyond the museums and monuments.

Photo: courtesy of Pod DC

Guests can access Cove, DC’s homegrown coworking brand, to get work done or network with local entrepreneurs. And rather than operate an onsite gym, guests use the nearby Washington Sports Club. Local guides lead walking tours from the lobby, and guests are encouraged to use the bike and scooter sharing services to get around.

And Pod DC has not sacrificed style in the process. Guests entering the lobby are mesmerized by the 60-foot-long multimedia art piece, created by painter Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann and glass artist Joseph Corcoran. The building also features other local artists through a partnership with CulturalDC, a nonprofit that partners with real estate developers and government agencies to ensure that arts and culture efforts are showcased across the city.

DC’s urban development incentives have certainly helped hotels looking to embrace local arts and community initiatives. But these Washington hotels have baked social and cultural dynamism into their brands as well as their business plans, and in the process are anchoring themselves in local life in a way that hotels have too often missed out on. I think it’s time for a staycation.

Eaton DC: 1201 K St. NW, DC; www.eatonworkshop.com/hotel/dc
LINE DC: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; www.thelinehotel.com/dc
Pod DC: 627 H St. NW, DC; www.thepodhotel.com/pod-dc

Photo: courtesy of Mi Vida

Beautiful Bathrooms: The Cool, The Creative + The Selfie-Ready

Photo: courtesy of Call Your Mother

Call Your Mother

Park View’s bagel shop has become a fast favorite for delicious bagel creations worth waiting in lines out the door for. In keeping with the theme of being a “Jew-ish” deli, the spot pays homage to another Jewish icon – musician, rapper and overall cultural phenomenon Drake. Photos of Drake and his mom are on view throughout the bathroom, complemented by the pastel wallpaper and kitschy colors Call Your Mother is known for. 3301 Georgia Ave. NW, DC www.callyourmotherdeli.com

Photo: courtesy of No Kisses on Instagram

No Kisses

No Kisses’ lush rainforest-meets-the-70s vibe is apparent even in their three differently designed bathrooms. In one, lemurs, owls, peacocks and more watch over you while you do your business, or can perhaps star in your next social post. The spot’s overall use of wallpaper is enough to make me want to plaster my own home with the most interesting patterns I can find and accent everything with jewel tones. Come for the cozy neighborhood bar vibes, stay for the bathrooms and their woodland creature stars.
3120 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.nokissesbar.com

Photo: courtesy of Bayou Bakery

Bayou Bakery

Arlington’s Bayou Bakery brings Southern charm to the DMV. Its bathrooms are plastered with old-school recipes torn from the pages of Southern cookbooks. Ladies can look upon desserts and pastries, and guys can get the inside scoop on the savory side of Southern cuisine. 1515 N. Courthouse Rd. Arlington, VA; www.bayoubakerydc.com

Photo: courtesy of Satellite Room

Satellite Room

The classic Shaw bar has four bathrooms, but you know you’re in for a good night when you find yourself in a stall that’s plastered with stickers. You can spot Stranger Things’ Eleven, NSYNC-era Justin Timberlake and Keith Haring drawings on the wall in this bathroom. There’s something new to be spotted with every trip. 2047 9th St. NW, DC; www.satellitedc.com

Photo: courtesy of Mi Vida

Mi Vida

The Wharf’s destination for modern Mexican fare is visually stunning across the board, and the bathroom is no exception. The bold colors and low lighting make the spot the perfect background for your next Instagram story or selfie. Don’t just take it from us, though – last summer, People Magazine included it in a roundup of best bathrooms nationwide, and the bathroom was up for supply company Cintas’ award for “Best Bathroom in America.” 98 District Sq. SW, DC; www.mividamexico.com

Photo: courtesy of Maydan

Maydan

Maydan quickly became a favorite in the city’s burgeoning dining scene upon its opening in late 2017. The large oven that centers the restaurant is a design element itself, as is the colorful food the travel-inspired spot serves. Its bathrooms feature a fish-shaped faucet, graffiti-like drawings and even a depiction of a tiger asking, “Please let me watch.” Don’t worry, he’s just a drawing and he can’t actually see you snap a selfie. 1346 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.maydandc.com

Awesome Con 2019

From April 27-29, Awesome Con once again took over DC’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center bringing a score of fun events for casual and hardcore fans alike.

On the weekend of both Avengers: Endgame and Game of Throne‘s epic battle-fueled “The Long Night,” fans carried a high level of enthusiasm for all things comic and fantasy. Awesome Con only helped add fuel to the burning fire of fandom by offering a ton of exhibits, panels and guests including Luke Cage’s Mike Colter, The Punisher’s Jon Bernthal, and numerous names from shows like Steven Universe and Riverdale. 

Other features including a special exhibit celebrating 80 years of Batman with memorabilia from movies, life-size costumes and poster-size prints of select cover art.

Photos: James Coreas

Rosslyn Reads on Central Place Plaza

Rosslyn BID hosted its second annual Rosslyn Reads! Book Festival with Carpe Librum and the Arlington Public Library. The one-day neighborhood bookstore featured thousands of used books, CDs, and DVDs for sale on Central Place Plaza, ranging from just $1-$8 (+taxes). All proceeds go to Turning the Page, a nonprofit organization that helps ensure students receive educational resources and a high-quality public education. In addition to a guest author, guests enjoyed live music by UltraFaux, tasty food trucks and a pop-up bar. Photos: Devin Overbey

Photo: Courtesy of Adams Morgan Day

Festival Makers: The Creative Minds Behind DC’s Iconic Events

Festivals can often be sensory overload for attendees. With food, drinks, art and whatever else you can think of all interlinking to create a vibrant atmosphere for those who participate, it’s no doubt that putting all these moving pieces in place takes a ton of work. Who are the masterminds behind are favorite local events? We caught up with a few of the creatives behind the scenes at some of the most iconic DC festivities.

Funk Parade
David Ross, Festival Organizer
Jeffery Tribble Jr., The MusicianShip Executive Director

On Tap: Why did the MusicianShip decide to start running Funk Parade?
Jeffery Tribble Jr.:
I’ve been a volunteer for a couple years so I was already promoting it and knew how effective it was. With our organization being all about creating musical experiences to benefit young people in underserved communities, it seemed like another great way to bring exposure to our cause.
David Ross: I was legacy. I was with Funk Parade last year. I was the third person. I was the first official hire. [Founders] Justin [Rood] and Chris [Naoum] had done it so long. When they wanted to take a step back, the MusicianShip seemed like an amazing opportunity to continue the tradition.

OT: What new things did you all want to implement and what was the festival already doing well that are you looking to accentuate?
JT:
As an educational organization, our emphasis is more on education this year. We’ll have a conference and an extension on the academy of funk, and we’re also going to have a marching band exhibition. We don’t only want to entertain and have a good time; we want to educate and for people to be better than they were when they first came. There have been some talks of Funk Parade East [at entertainment and sports arena St. Elizabeths East], but it’s more likely to be a 2020 effort if it happens based on conversations we’ve had with other interested parties and sponsors.
DR: There’s some interesting activations we haven’t done before. I’m most proud in the way we’ve creatively used U Street. We’re not using the big theatre settings for our showcase. We’re using the environment. We’ve adjusted because we’re using smaller venues like SXSW.

OT: How did the collaboration beer with Aslin Beer Company come to be?
JT: We brainstormed different ideas to raise the profile of the festival and by extension, raise the profile of Aslin. Because we are attached to so many venues, it made a lot of sense to offer the Funk Parade beer in said venues, and we are also using it as a fundraiser.

OT: Is this year more about sustaining the momentum of festivals past as opposed to putting a new stamp on Funk Parade?
JT:
You hit the nail on the head. This year is about sustainability and [maintaining] what has been done historically. After we do it successfully, then we can look at how to grow it. To be honest, I don’t have substantial thoughts on what we might do differently in the future. We’re so focused on making this Funk Parade [that] given the ecosystem of the parade and all of the [participating] venues both big and small, it fosters opportunities for growth.
DR: From having worked on it last year, the MusicianShip asked the right questions immediately. Any hiccups that came along the way, we were able to adjust them. This year, what I’ve seen is stronger preparedness and because of that, you’re allowed to grow.

OT: Why do you think the Funk Parade is so impactful for the local community?
JT:
Music changes lives and is a powerful platform, drawing young people to achieve in all areas in life. Music is a way to advance conversations about social justice and any other movement across time. It also doesn’t hurt that it facilitates a good time. We bring a lot of the city’s and the nation’s best musical acts to perform on this day. When people come out and experience it, it’s always new and friendly and the spirit of it is all about unification – which we need, especially now.
DR: I think this is a festival where DC allows itself to let loose. So often as a city, our identity is tied to what happens at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. People don’t know about the rich culture we have here. People really want to celebrate the city they live in, and this is a great place to do so – maybe more than any other event we have.

The sixth annual Funk Parade takes place on Saturday, May 11. The festival is free to attend and features music from 1-7 p.m.,a parade from 5-6 p.m. and a featured showcase at 8 p.m. Various locations on U Street in NW, DC; www.funkparade.com

AFI Silver Film Festivals
Todd Hitchcock, AFI Silver Theatre Director of Programming

On Tap: How does the AFI balance so many festivals? What goes into planning each?
Todd Hitchcock: We’re mindful of what we’re going to do throughout the year. [They’re] what we call curated festivals. [Our staff] attends major festivals throughout the year beginning with Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and Toronto; at least two of us are attending and seeing as many films as we can, which is typically 50-plus. In all of these cases, you have to whittle it down and make a decision on what we’re going to include.

OT: How important is the balance of countries included to the authenticity of the festivals, particularly the Latin American Film Festival and the European Union Film Showcase?
TH:
When you embrace that identity and focus, that means that films from smaller countries are going to have an opportunity for inclusion and to get screened. It’s wonderful when you find a film from say the Baltic countries or in Eastern Europe; for instance, we’ve had a lot of success with Hungarian films. In Latin America, you could say that the region as a whole doesn’t get enough representation in the film world. We’re going to push to include Ecuador and Paraguay. We’ve had some terrific films from those countries.

OT: How do you approach the festivals in fresh ways?
TH:
I think our audience has a strong association with these festivals. If you graph it out, there’s been a growth spurt. These are new films from these countries, and in many cases, this is the only chance [the audience will] have to see them. The DC area has people from all these countries living here because of its diversity; it works out for everyone.

OT: Why do you think film is a medium that lends itself well to a festival setting?
TH:
I would say year in and year out, we find exciting films. There’s more than enough to be excited about as far as quality and exciting, innovative films. It’s an opportunity to see something that they might not otherwise see. The newness factor: that’s the huge reality of the film business. It’s exciting.

Upcoming Film Festivals at AFI Silver Theatre include the DC Caribbean FilmFest from June 6-12, the Latin American Film Festival from September 12 to October 2 and the European Union Film Showcase from December 4-22. For more information on these and other festivals screened at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, visit www.afi.com/silver. 8633 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.afi.com/silver

By the People Festival
Nicole Dowd, Program Director of the Halcyon Arts Lab

On Tap: There are a lot of moving parts with the By the People Festival. How do you select a curator and then work with them on the theme?
Nicole Dowd: We identify a curator a year in advance of the festival. We ended up with Jessica Stafford Davis [this year] because her focus hasn’t really been present in the art world over the last decade. I think that we definitely knew that we wanted to work with her in some capacity and some of the qualities other than her own amazingness are finding people with a strong vision.

OT: How far out do you plan?
ND:
We move pretty quickly. We’re quite nimble in the way we produce programs and events. In two to three months, we were pretty set on who we wanted to showcase. For myself, coming from the art and museum world, it’s a very quick timeline. Artists are very excited to be part of it and we work heavily with them to make something impactful in a relatively short amount of time.

OT: How do you balance the mediums of the work presented? 
ND:
A lot of it is dictated by the specific site. There are two roads working together. One is thinking about what would be most appropriate for the site: is it going to be performative or a painting? And then we think about who is going to look at the artwork: what’s most accessible and impactful?

OT: Tell us a little bit about this year’s new gallery feature.
ND:
People asked us last year where they could buy the art, so we’re trying to create an environment for artists who identify with the DMV to exhibit and sell their work to new [or local] collectors. That will take place at a location in Georgetown, and it’ll be open from June 8-23. It extends the festival and makes it more inclusive for some of the artists in the location.

OT: Why do you think a festival is such an effective way to deliver art, and what has the response been from attendees?
ND:
There are so many people [who view museums as] a barrier to appreciating art. So for us to meet people where they’re at – whether they’re in a public square or on the river or in their neighborhood – it’s a good way to get people engaged with art.

The 2019 By the People Festival takes place in various locations around DC from June 15-23. For information about the participating artists and locations, visit www.bythepeople.org.

Adams Morgan Day
A. Tianna Scozzaro, Festival Organizer

On Tap: When you took the reins of the festival four years ago, did you think it would be where it is now?
A. Tianna Scozzaro:
I knew that the festival and the community were too strong for it to die. I’m so proud of what’s grown out of that really desperate place. We had two years where it was on the sidewalks and it was pretty lean, but last year was our 40th anniversary and this year, we have committees ready to go for September.

OT: Why did you feel so strongly about Adams Morgan Day continuing, and what are some of your favorite aspects?
ATS:
I think it’s eclectic and diverse in a way that is [true] to its identity. It was one of the [first] few neighborhood festivals in DC. In the past few years, we’ve seen the demographics of the city change [and] a lot of other great festivals have risen up. There’s a history of Adams Morgan Day that’s really special.

OT: What is surprising to people that may not know AdMo very well? Why is it important to introduce it to people who may be less familiar?
ATS:
I think the number of locally owned businesses that have been around for decades. Some people go to Adams Morgan for dancing and a jumbo slice but may not know of the great bookstores and the most delicious churros in town. It’s important for these local businesses to have an outlet that spotlights them. The funkiness as a whole is great: there’s been graffiti arts and hula hoop contests and [other] interactive, creative opportunities for people to participate in. We always need more of those activities in DC.

OT: Where do you think it’s going in the future? How do you see the festival evolving?
ATS:
The festival started as a park potluck [and] grew to its heyday in the 80s. That’s when DC was less safe, but this provided an opportunity for people to get out, celebrate and listen to go-go music. My desire would be to see the festival become sustainable with sponsors that support the festival as an intrinsic part of the neighborhood business and community cohesion.

Adams Morgan Day takes place Sunday, September 8. 18th Street in NW, DC; www.admoday.com

Photo: Rey Lopez

Game-Centric Bars Offer Next-Level Experiences

With a reputation for attracting the Type A working crowd, DC is a hardworking town deserving of a well-needed break from time to time. Enter bars with plenty of distractions in the way of arcade games, social sports and communal entertainment that also provide elevated dining experiences over the typical pub grub. In the past year, the city has seen a wave of bar openings that go beyond the usual food and drink offerings whether they be sport, arcade games, or providing a place to gather and unplug from the 9-5 grind.

DC newcomer SPIN recently opened its eighth location a hop, skip and a jump away from Metro Center, a hub for the downtown working crowd. Malin Pettersson, SPIN’s grand opening manager, reflects on what makes the ping-pong club an attractive destination for District denizens.

“You have to disconnect a little bit after work,” Pettersson says. “Everyone is so busy doing big, important jobs. SPIN is a place where you can really disconnect. We’re in the basement too, so you kind of have to disconnect.”

An oasis from the burdens of office life, the social sport club is an ideal refuge.

“When you play [ping pong], you can’t really focus on anything else but the ball,” he continues. “You can’t think about your issues at work or what you have to do. You just have to let go and watch that ball. I think that’s something that DC needs: a place to disconnect.”

At its core, SPIN is all about offering a place to create relationships on a personal, individual level.

“I think it’s great that [we] don’t want to sit still and want to have an activity, because it’s so much easier to connect with people that way.”

Beyond the escape aspect, SPIN offers an easy environment for folks to let loose and connect over an elevated bar menu and brews.

“Our chef is Filipino so he’s putting a little bit of an Asian twist on some of the items there and it’s been very well-received.”

Notable menu items include the fried chicken banh mi and crispy shrimp bao buns.

The Eleanor in NoMa is another bar raising the game when it comes to menu offerings and entertainment. When owner Adam Stein took the menu into consideration, he focused on comfort foods with some seasonal twists.

“We try to be super eclectic,” he says. “Even though a lot of our stuff falls into the bar category, we make as much as we possibly can in-house.”

Inspiration for some dishes came from the kitchen’s collective history of working together (think elote loco-style hush puppies or whimsical dishes from Stein’s childhood like the spaghetti sandwich.

“It was really important to us to elevate the food, the drinks and the service.”

Another important factor in his decision-making process? Keeping a sense of DC authenticity on the menu. 

“We definitely made sure we involved a lot of the local producers. A lot of our spirits [and beers] are from DC, Maryland and Virginia. In terms of food, we try to be seasonal, so we use a lot of local purveyors.”

Branded as a bowling lounge, bar and grill, The Eleanor caters to a multitude of crowds. No matter who walks in the doors, the mini-bowling lanes, arcade games and pinball machines ensure that anyone and everyone will have a good time.

Players Club on 14th Street offers an approachable cocktail program with throwback games in an environment where guests can have a “laid-back and entertaining time at the bar.”

“The venue works cohesively as a bar, a place to watch sports and an entertainment venue with plenty of options,” says director of operations Scott Herman.

Guests mostly fall into the category of “young professionals to bar and restaurant industry friends that stop by on their night off,” according to Herman. Although the retro basement bar doesn’t offer its own food menu, patrons can have items delivered from nearby Shake Shack.

“People love being able to order Shake Shack without having to leave the bar.”

At the end of the day, it all comes back to building an authentic connection.

“It’s been interesting to see how much people enjoy the games,” Herman notes. “We see lots of couples on dates – having games to play is an easy icebreaker for people that are just getting to know each other.”

Learn more about these game-centric bars below.

The Eleanor: 100 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.eleanordc.com
Players Club: 1400 14th St. NW, DC; www.playersclubdc.com
SPIN: 1332 F St. NW, DC; www.wearespin.com


Game-Filled Watering Holes

Looking for a quick escape with friends? Whether you live in DC proper or across the bridge, the surrounding areas have plenty to offer in the way of social activities and fun distractions to take you away from the daily grind.

Bar Elena
Adam Stein also co-owns the H Street spot focused on eclectic comfort food (think fancy nachos topped with cotija, radish and black bean puree and General Tso’s wings), local shellfish, and a seasonal cocktail program with diversions that come in the form of pinball machines, skee-ball and classic video games like Ms. Pac-Man. Rounding out the bar’s offerings are two happy hours to draw in the after work and late-night crowds. 414 H St. NE, DC; www.barelenadc.com

The G.O.A.T.
The Arlington sports bar is home to 50-plus HD TVs to catch all the live sports action, plus a gaming lounge complete with the newest arcade games and throwback favorites like shoot-to-win basketball and skee-ball. Snack on next-level bar food such as filet mignon skewers, bulgogi wonton tacos and pastrami egg rolls. 3028 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.thegoatva.com  

Jackie Lee’s
Brightwood Park’s Jackie Lee’s has fun on the forefront of its bar offerings. Patrons of the neighborhood spot can partake in vintage arcade games while chowing down on comfort pub fare like bacon-wrapped jalapeños and knocking back cold brews. Communal tables, Art Deco décor and an assortment of throwback games add to the social bar experience. 116 Kennedy St. NW, DC; www.jackieleesdc.com

Kraken Axes
What better way to let loose than by satisfying the primeval urge to hurl axes? The indoor axe-throwing haven recently relocated to Penn Quarter where guests can take a less traditional route to bar games. Throw back some brews while throwing axes and order up beer, wine at the bar and small plates from Kraken’s next-door neighbor Cedar Restaurant.
840 E St. NW, DC; www.krakenaxes.com

Pizzeria Paradiso Game Room
The local pizza chain’s Georgetown location debuted its game room early last year. The basement bar’s walls are splashed with colorful murals and it’s filled with familiar games like pinball, shuffle ball and skee-ball in addition to a rotating list of popular arcade games. As one can expect from Pizzeria Paradiso, the beer offerings are on point with 60 cans and eight taps featuring rotating craft brews. 3282 M St. NW, DC;
www.eatyourpizza.com/game-room

Punch Bowl Social
An adult playground of sorts, Arlington’s barcade features 25,000 square feet of restaurant, games, outdoor patio space and social activities galore. At the tri-level entertainment destination, guests can take part in all kinds of amusements including karaoke, bocce, bowling, table games (think Giant Scrabble, ping pong, billiards and foosball) and arcade favorites. Bar offerings include plenty of shareable items like sheet nachos and green chorizo fries to go along with boozy punch (of course), craft brews and signature cocktails. 4238 Wilson Blvd.  Arlington, VA; www.punchbowlsocial.com/location/arlington

Photo: Trent Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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